Tag Archives: Two for the Road

Watch This, Not That: This is 40/Two for the Road

In this series, I will take a look at a film releasing in theatres this week and recommend an older/classic film either as a double feature companion (if the new release looks to be worth watching) or a substitute (if it looks like the new release is of the skippable variety). If it’s a double feature suggestion, it’ll be titled “Watch This, THEN That” instead, of course, but they’ll all be under the same category for easy navigation. I’ve had this idea percolating in my head for a while, as a way to highlight and talk about both new and older films, since I enjoy both. As far as which new release I pick any given week, that’s up to my whims and which one lends itself best to double-featuring/replacing. Obviously, if you’re interested in a new release I’ve replaced, feel free to treat it as a double-feature suggestion instead.

New Release: Judd Apatow’s This is 40

I’ll admit upfront that I’m not a big Judd Apatow fan, whether he’s directing or only producing. I did enjoy Freaks and Geeks, but I disliked Knocked Up, Anchorman, and Talladega Nights, thought Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall were just okay, and haven’t seen anything from him since then. I was considering checking out This is 40, though, simply because the one part of Knocked Up I did like was the Paul Rudd/Leslie Mann subplot, about a mismatched couple on the brink of marital disaster as they approach middle age. It had a melancholy, a resonance, and a realistic tint to it that I found utterly lacking in the main plot, and I was curious to see if that translate over to a full-length film focused on these characters.

Now, granted, I haven’t seen it, but I’ve kept a close eye on the reactions from other bloggers I trust, and it hasn’t really been encouraging. It seems the same problems I had with Knocked Up (a shrill and mean-spirited undertone in a story that goes for easy, juvenile laughs more often than real emotions) surface here, just as they seem to in the trailer.

So instead, I’ll recommend an older film about a disintegrating marriage, 1967’s Two for the Road.

Watch This Instead: Stanley Donen’s Two for the Road

Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn play a long-married couple who have gotten to the point where silence and bickering are their two main modes of communication. As they drive to a party to which neither of them really wants to go, they think back about the entirety of their marriage, considering whether it’s worth it to try to keep going or just break it off. These reminiscences are treated as flashbacks, with the conceit that all of the memories take place as the couple is on a trip somewhere (on “the road,” as in the title), and rather than being signaled normal flashback techniques, the transitions are accomplished by a car passing, which turns out to be their car in another era, on another trip. It may sound gimmicky, but it works beautifully, because it basically collapses time in on itself.

You see, every one of these memories, whether it’s the early joy they took in each other’s company as they were falling in love, or the awkward trips taken in tandem with other couples (one time with one of his ex-girlfriends), or the recent, much more trying trips where fighting and standoffishness had become the order of the day, is in some way “the present,” because they’re all still part of who Finney and Hepburn are as individuals and as a couple. That happy young couple is still part of them, as is the resentful middle-aged couple, and the couple that defines themselves against who they might’ve become with other people. It’s a fascinating concept that I haven’t seen used very much, but really gets at the heart of why marriage breakup stories are so heartbreaking – this is a couple that once delighted in each other and now does not. What happened?

The answers aren’t easy, nor simple, just as they never are in real life. The film focuses almost solely on Finney and Hepburn and depends on their ability to convey different ages and relationship stages through dialogue and subtle facial expressions, and they are more than up to the task. This is one of the most adult films I’ve ever seen, and I mean that in the best way possible – a film that treats not only its characters as adults but its audience as well, and gets at the raw emotional truths that underlie any story that purports to depict or explain the dissolution of a marriage. And yet it never feels dry or hard to watch, but is consistently entertaining and enjoyable, even as you ache for the couple in it.

Two for the Road is available on DVD from Netflix, or as a $2.99 rental from Amazon Instant.

Film on TV: October 12-18th

O Brother.jpg
O Brother Where Art Thou, playing on October 15th at 10pm on TCM

Mostly a lot of repeats this week, but a lot of those are extremely good – be sure to check through for anything you might’ve missed in previous weeks. Among the newly featured films, don’t miss Fellini’s masterpiece 8 1/2 on Monday, Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan (a film which ought to be better-known than it is) on Tuesday, and The Misfits (the last film for both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe) on Sunday. Also, TCM’s doing a tribute to the Depression era on Thursday night, showing two of my favorite ’30s throwback films, Paper Moon and O Brother Where Art Thou, as well as They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, which I have yet to see. And TCM’s one notable horror entry of the month is Dreyer’s Vampyr, playing late on Sunday.

Monday, October 12th

7:00am – 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 12:00N and 5:00pm)

8:25am – 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 Pulp Fiction-esque style and a fascinating religious backdrop (I’m still not sure where he was going with that) at the very least means an intriguing couple of hours.
2004 UK. Director: Danny Boyle. Starring: Alex Etel, Lewis McGibbon, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan, Christopher Fulford.
(repeats at 1:25pm)

1:45pm – TCM – 8 1/2
Federico Fellini translates his creative block in making his next film into a film about a director with a creative block – and in so doing, makes one of the most brilliant and creative films of all time.
1963 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée.
Must See
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – 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 1:45am and 1:45pm on the 13th)

9:45pm – IFC – Annie Hall
Often considered Woody Allen’s transition film from “funny Woody” to “serious Woody,” Annie Hall is both funny, thoughtful, and fantastic. One of the best scripts ever written, a lot of warmth as well as paranoid cynicism, and a career-making role for Diane Keaton (not to mention fashion-making).
1977 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane.
Must See
(repeats at 3:35am and 10:15am on the 13th)

Tuesday, October 13th

8:35am – 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
(repeats at 4:00am on the 14th)

12:00M – 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.
Newly Featured!

3:45am (14th) – 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.

Wednesday, October 14th

11:30am – 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 4:30pm)

7:40pm – 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 working for the Nazis assigned is to eavesdrop on a famous writer who may be working for the Resistance – 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.

8:00pm – 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).
2004 Japan. Director: Hayao Miyazaki. Starring (dubbed voices): Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall

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.

10:00pm – Fox Movie Channel – Barton Fink
One of the Coen Brothers’ most brilliant dark comedies (heh, I think I say that about all of their dark comedies, though), Barton Fink follows its title character, a New York playwright whose hit play brings him to the attention of Hollywood, where he goes to work for the movies. And it all goes downhill from there. Surreal, quirky, and offbeat, even among the Coens work. It’s based loosely on the experiences of Clifford Odets, whose heightened poetic style of writing has clearly been influential on the Coens throughout their career.
1991 USA. Director: Joel Coen. Starring: John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis, Michael Lerner, Tony Shalhoub.
(repeats at 2:30am on the 15th)

10:30pm – Sundance – 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
This unflinching Romanian film remains one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in the last several years. Set in the mid-1980s, it builds a thriller-like story of a woman trying to help her friend obtain a dangerous illegal abortion – yet it’s a thriller so deliberate that its very slowness and lack of movement becomes a major source of tension. When the camera does move, it has an almost physical force. I can hardly describe how blown away I am by this film…tough to watch, but incredibly worth it.
2007 Romania. Director: Cristian Mungiu. Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean.
Must See
(repeats at 4:20am on the 15th)

Thursday, October 15th

2:30pm – TCM – The War of the Worlds (1953)
The post-H.G. Wells, post-Orson Welles, pre-Steven Spielberg version. Mysterious ships land, disintegrate people with their laser beams, and generally wreak havok. The special effects are hokey now, of course, but still pretty cool-looking in a retro way; the really interesting thing is the way Haskin cut in actual newsreel war footage to lend an air of realism in with all of George Pal’s science fiction effects.
1953 USA. Director: Byron Haskin. Starring: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson.

8:00pm – TCM – Paper Moon
Peter Bogdanovich is known for his nostalgic streak, and he’s never worn it more firmly on his sleeve than with this film – a homage both to the 1930s and the films from that time period. Shot in lovely black and white, it follows the exploits of a con man and the young girl he begrudgingly lets accompany him, only to discover that she’s a tremendous asset to his “business.” Real-life father and daughter Ryan and Tatum O’Neal play off each other perfectly (so well on Tatum’s part that at age ten she became the youngest person to ever win an Oscar). There’s not a lot to the story, but Bogdanovich’s loving attention to detail, a strong script and performances, and a scene-stealing turn by Madeline Khan can’t fail to charm.
1973 USA. Director: Peter Bogdanovich. Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal, Madeline Khan, John Hillerman, P.J. Johnson.
Must See
Newly Featured!

8:15pm – Sundance – Wristcutters: A Love Story
Patrick Fujit slits his wrists and finds himself in a strange, limbo-like place where all the suicides get stuck after they die. But then he meets Shannyn Sossamon, who claims she’s there by mistake, and embarks on an odyssey to get her out of limbo. It’s a bit of a strange film, but it’s also very sweet and Sundancey, if you like that sort of thing. And I do.
2006 USA. Director: Goran Dukic. Starring: Patrick Fujit, Shannyn Sossamon, Abraham Benrubi, Will Arnett.
(repeats at 4:00am on the 16th)

10:00pm – TCM – O Brother Where Art Thou
I have great love for nearly all the Coen Brothers films, but O Brother Where Art Thou is the one I keep coming back to again and again. From its brilliant appropriation of The Odyssey to its oddball evocation of the American South, from the sublime to the just plain goofy, from its use of classic cinema tropes to the washed-out color scheme, it’s simply perfect.
2000 USA. Director: Joel Coen. Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Holly Hunter, John Goodman.
Must See
Newly Featured

10:30pm – 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.

Friday, October 16th

5:00pm – 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 9:45am and 3:15pm on the 17th)

Saturday, October 17th

4:30pm – 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

10:00pm – Sundance – Eraserhead
David Lynch’s first feature is a weird post-apocalyptic dreamscape of a film – what, you were expecting something normal? When you can have industrial decay and mutant babies?
1977 USA. Director: David Lynch. Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart.

2:30am (18th) – TCM – The African Queen
One of several films John Huston and Humphrey Bogart made together 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.
1951 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley.

Sunday, October 18th

7:45am – 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

1:00pm – TCM – Anatomy of a Murder
One of the best courtroom dramas ever made – James Stewart vs. George C. Scott as lawyers on a murder/rape trial that may not be quite what it seems. And that’s aside from the top-notch jazz score by Duke Ellington, which is in itself reason enough to see the film.
1959 USA. Director: Otto Preminger. Starring: James Stewart, George C. Scott, Lee Remick.
Must See

4:00pm – TCM – The Misfits
John Huston directs and Arthur Miller writes this final film for both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. Though the film is remembered for that tragic fact, it’s also a pretty solid film on its own, about a divorcee caught between two rough and ready men of the west (Gable and Montgomery Clift), then opposing them when she discovers their plans for the wild horses in the area. And of course, with Miller behind it, there’s far more going on than just that.
1961 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter, Eli Wallach.
Newly Featured!

6:15pm – TCM – High Sierra
Bogart’s breakout role as an on-the-run con man who gets involved with the lame Joan Leslie. (No, I mean actually crippled.) He’d been bumming around for a few years as a Warner second lead or villain, but with 1941’s double punch of High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon, he unequivocally arrived.
1941 USA. Director: Raoul Walsh. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Joan Leslie, Ida Lupino.

10:00pm – 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 5:15am on the 19th)

2:00am (19th) – TCM – Vampyr (1932)
Carl Theodor Dreyer takes on the vampire genre with this moody and imaginative entry. Dreyer and his cinematographer Rudolph Mate are both visual artists of the highest degree, and though I haven’t seen Vampyr yet, it’s one I’ve been anticipating for a long while, so I’m thankful TCM is including it this month.
1932 Germany. Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer. Starring: Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Sybille Schmitz.
Newly Featured!

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

Film on TV: September 21-27

2s0cqya.png
2001: A Space Odyssey, playing on TCM at 2:00am on the 22nd

There are several newly featured films worthy of highlight this week. TCM is playing a double-feature of Buster Keaton silents on Monday night, starting with Sherlock Jr. at 8pm. They’re also throwing out some noirs that are new to our listing – the Raymond Chandler-based Murder, My Sweet on Wednesday at 6:15pm and the Bogart-Bacall Key Largo Sunday at 6pm. And don’t miss a couple of really great romances – Two for the Road Friday at 4pm on the Fox Movie Channel, and Brief Encounter Saturday at 7:30am on TCM. Something for everyone this week, as well as the usual crop of repeats in case you missed something in earlier weeks.

Monday, September 21

6:30am – 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).
2004 Japan. Director: Hayao Miyazaki. Starring (dubbed voices): Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall
(repeats at 12:20pm)

3:45pm – TCM – The Window
Young boy Bobby Driscoll is a chronic liar, which makes it very difficult to make his family and other adults believe him when he claims he saw a murder being committed. But when the murderer finds out what he knows… A solid little thriller told from a child’s point of view.
1949 USA. Director: Ted Tetzlaff. Starring: Bobby Driscoll, Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman.

8:00pm – TCM – Sherlock, Jr.
Buster Keaton is a film projectionist who longs to be a detective so much that he dreams himself into a film he’s projecting so he can become the detective hero of the story. The scene of him entering the film is justly famous, though it’s a smaller portion of the film than its fame leads you to believe.
1924 USA. Director: Buster Keaton. Starring: Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton, Ward Crane.
Must See
Newly Featured!

9:00pm – TCM – Steamboat Bill, Jr.
One of Buster Keaton’s best-known films has him as the city-boy son of a steamboat captain who goes to learn his father’s trade. Many mishaps later, he’s left to rescue his father from a tremendous hurricane – that scene is one of Keaton’s absolute best set-pieces, as he remains implacable while buildings literally fall around him.
1928 USA. Director: Charles Reisner. Starring: Buster Keaton, Ernest Torrence.
Newly Featured!

9:45pm – IFC – Chasing Amy
Kevin Smith’s third film, not as low-fi indie as Clerks, as goofy as Mallrats, as irreverently genius as Dogma, as self-referential as Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, or as racy as Zach and Miri Make a Porno, but perhaps sweeter than all of them – Ben Affleck falls for Joey Lauren Adams, with the only slight obstacle being that she’s a lesbian.
1997 USA. Director: Kevin Smith. Starring: Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee.
(repeats at 3:15am)

10:15pm – TCM – On the Waterfront
Marlon Brando’s performance as a former boxer pulled into a labor dispute among dock workers goes down as one of the greatest in cinematic history. I’m not even a huge fan of Brando, but this film wins me over.
1954 USA. Director: Elia Kazan. Starring: Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint.
Must See

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, so I’m hoping to catch it this week.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 12:00M on the 22nd/23rd)

12:15am (22nd) – TCM – Dr. Strangelove
Trust Stanley Kubrick to find the funny side of the Cold War. Peter Sellers plays multiple parts, including the President, an insane general who wants to nuke Russia, and the limb-control-impaired doctor of the title. It’s zany, it’s over-the-top, it’s bitingly satirical, and it remains one of Kubrick’s best films in a career full of amazing work.
1964 USA/UK. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott.
Must See

2:00am (22nd) – TCM – 2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick’s visually stunning journey through thousands of years of technological evolution and man-vs-machine conflict is still one of the ultimate science fiction films. And it’s aged far better both visually and philosophically than one would expect. I think I watch it almost every time TCM plays it, and it never gets old.
1968 USA. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Starring: Keir Dullea.
Must See
Newly Featured!

Tuesday, September 22

6:30am – 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.

8:00pm – TCM – North by Northwest
Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) gets mistaken for George Kaplan and pulled into an elaborate web of espionage in one of Hitchcock’s most enjoyable and funniest thrillers. So many great scenes it’s impossible to list them all.
1959 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau.
Must See

10:30pm – TCM – Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock built the foundation for all future psycho-killer movies with his classic. It’s not as terrifying as it once was, but that doesn’t at all diminish its greatness.
1960 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam.Must See

12:30am (23rd) – TCM – Marnie
Marnie gets something of a bad rap, I think, because it comes right after Hitchcock’s amazing Vertigo-North by Northwest-Psycho-The Birds streak of genius, but I think it’s one of Hitchcock’s most underrated films, despite a few somewhat obvious plot devices and the fact that ‘Tippi’ Hedren can’t act. In some ways, the imperfections in this one are what makes it interesting.
1964 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: ‘Tippi’ Hedren, Sean Connery.

Wednesday, September 23

12:00N – IFC – La Jetée
Very few short films become classics (outside of silent films and arguably Looney Tunes), but Chris Marker’s La Jetee, told entirely in sequences of still photographs, is one of them. In a postapocalyptic future, a man is sent back in time to try and stop WWIII from happening. But he both falls in love and is haunted by a childhood memory – two things that are fatefully interconnected.
1962 France. Director: Chris Marker. Starring: Jean Négroni, Hélène Chatelain, Davos Hanich.

6:15pm – TCM – Murder, My Sweet
Humphrey Bogart is the screen’s most famous Philip Marlowe, playing Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled detective in The Big Sleep in 1946, but Dick Powell beat him by two years in this adaptation of Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely. It’s not the classic that The Big Sleep is, but it’s a solid noir detective film that’s more than worth watching, not least of all for Claire Trevor, who’s pretty much always worth watching.
1944 USA. Director: Edward Dmytryk. Starring: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger.
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – TCM – The Adventures of Robin Hood
I will state almost categorically that this is the greatest adventure film ever made. Maybe it’s a dead heat between this one and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Errol Flynn is Robin Hood, Olivia de Havilland is Maid Marion, a whole raft of fantastic character actors fill out the rest of the cast, and it’s all done in gorgeous Technicolor (it’s one of the earliest Technicolor films).
1938 USA. Directors: William Keighley & Michael Curtiz. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, Eugene Pallette, Alan Hale, Patric Knowles, Una O’Connor.
Must See

12:00M – IFC – Pi
Darren Aronofsky’s first feature is this fever dream of a mathematician searching for the numeric patterns that will unlock the secrets of the stock market – paranoid, fearful of human contact, and beset by terrible headaches, he’s also pursued by Wall Street factions and Hasidic Jews, each seeking the results of his formulas. It’s heady stuff, but Aronofsky’s the right guy for that.
1998 USA. Director: Darren Aronofsky. Starring: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman.
(repeats at 4:34am on the 24th)

2:00am (24th) – Sundance – Eraserhead
David Lynch’s first feature is a weird post-apocalyptic dreamscape of a film – what, you were expecting something normal? When you can have industrial decay and mutant babies?
1977 USA. Director: David Lynch. Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart.
Newly Featured!

Thursday, September 24

8:00pm – TCM – 3:10 to Yuma (1957)
The original version of 2007’s highly successful Christian Bale-Russell Crowe western is well worth watching in its own right – a little less actiony, a little more thoughtful, though its story of a peaceful farmer shuffled into the role of law enforcement to get a criminal to the train for his trial without having him rescued by his gang remains largely identical.
1957 USA. Director: Delmer Daves. Starring: Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, Felicia Farr, Leora Dana.

8:00pm – IFC – Gangs of New York
I found this film a difficult one to like when I watched it, but I haven’t seen it for five years – perhaps a rewatch is in order. It certainly is hard to argue with the concept of a Scorsese/diCaprio/Day-Lewis trifecta in a story about Irish gangs at the dawn of New York’s existence.
2003 USA. Director: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo diCaprio, Cameron Diaz.
(repeats at 2:45am on the 26th)

12:45am (26th) – IFC – The Sweet Hereafter
Acclaimed Canadian director Atom Egoyan directs one of his best-known films, a story of the aftermath of a schoolbus accident that forever altered life in a small Canadian town and a big city lawyer who tries to put together a class-action suit for reasons of his own.
1997 Canada. Director: Atom Egoyan. Starring: Ian Holm, Caerthan Banks, Sarah Polley, Tom McCamus.
Newly Featured!

Friday, September 25

5:30pm – TCM – The King and I
Oklahoma! is my unabashed favorite Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, but I have a lot of admiration for The King and I, if only because it addresses far more serious topics with far less happy outcomes than most musicals ever do.
1956 USA. Director: Walter Lang. Starring: Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr, Rita Moreno.

5:45pm – 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.
1974 USA. Director: John Cassavetes. Starring: Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk, Fred Draper, Lady Rowlands.
(repeats at 12:00N on the 26th)

4:00pm – 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
Newly Featured!

3:15am (26th) – 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.
2004 UK. Director: Richard Eyre. Starring: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Chaplin.

Saturday, September 26

7:30am – TCM – Brief Encounter
In this quiet little doomed romance, a married woman bored with her dull husband meets a man on a train – and continues to meet him every week, indulging herself in the way he makes her feel, even though she knows it can’t really be. David Lean brings a lushness and depth to this deceptively simple story (by Noel Coward), making into one of the most memorable romances of the 1940s.
1945 UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Cyril Raymond.
Must See
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – IFC – The Player
Robert Altman takes on Hollywood in this story of a script screener (Tim Robbins) who gets drawn further and further into a web of blackmail and double-crosses when he’s threatened by a screenwriter whose script he rejected. You gotta love it for the virtuosic opening pan at the very least; the rest of the Hollywood insider references are just gravy.
1992 USA. Director: Robert Altman. Starring: Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopie Goldberg.
(repeats at 2:00am on the 27th)

Sunday, September 27

2:05pm – IFC – Moulin Rouge
Baz Lurhmann admittedly has a love-it-or-hate-it flamboyantly trippy aesthetic, especially in the informal Red Curtain trilogy which Moulin Rogue! closes. And sure, it’s over the top; sure, the story is fairly routine; sure, the acting is so-so. I love it to pieces anyway.
2001 USA. Director: Baz Lurhmann. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent, John Leguizamo.

6:00pm – TCM – Key Largo
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall team up for the final time on this great noirish melodrama of a group of people, including a wheelchair-bound hotel owner, his recently widowed daughter-in-law (Bacall), a war veteran (Bogart), and a ruthless gangster and his girl, forced to take refuge against a fierce hurricane. Among the best films for all involved, and that’s saying something considering who all is involved.
1948 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Edward G. Robinson, Claire Trevor.
Must See
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – IFC – Fargo
Still one of the Coen Brothers’ best films, despite over a decade of mostly good films in the intervening years. Dark comedy is not an easy genre, and Fargo is the gold standard, blending shocking violence and a noir-ish crime story with comical inept criminals and a perfectly rendered performance from Frances McDormand.
1996 USA. Director: Joel Coen. Starring: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi.
Must See
(repeats at 1:30am on the 28th)

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.