Tag Archives: Wild Strawberries

Scorecard: January-February 2013

Most of January was spent trying to watch whatever documentaries we could get our hands on, mostly on Netflix Instant, so we could nominate films in that category for the 2nd Annual Flickcharters’ Choice Awards (we had to have seen at least five per category to nominate in it). Neither Jonathan nor I are big documentary fans, so we had a lot to catch up on. As I expected, they all ended up falling into my “yeah, it was good but not really my thing” category. Ah, well. Did manage to see a few films I genuinely loved, so it was still a good month. We only made it out to theatres twice (January releases – you know), but enjoyed both critically-panned movies we saw quite a bit for what they were. Running late as per usual, I decided to throw February in as well, especially because I only managed to watch ONE new-to-me movie in all of February. Feeling very pregnant apparently necessitated a lot of comfort-food rewatches.

And now, of course, most of March is gone, taken up by a newborn. :)

What I Loved

Blancanieves

I won’t actually write very much about this one, since I saw it at a press screening and I’ll be posting a full review on Row Three soon, time willing. For now I’ll just say that The Artist (a film I quite enjoyed) wishes it were as excellent an homage to silent cinema as this version of Snow White (set in 1920s Spain with Snow White as a bullfighter) is. I loved every second of its completely unironic take on European cinema of the ’20s.

2012 Spain. Director: Pablo Berger. Starring: Maribel Verdú, Ángela Molina, Macarena García, Inma Cuesta, Pere Ponce.
Seen January 8 at a press screening.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey

Yes, this is a 15-hour documentary originally shown in British TV, but I’m treating it as a single long film, because that’s frankly how it plays if you’re able to marathon it (like you can now on Netflix Instant, so….go do that), and that’s how Mark Cousins prefers to think of it. But whatever format you think it falls into, it’s an incredible accomplishment. Cousins illuminates the history of film from a much more global perspective than we’re used to seeing in the United States anyway – he doesn’t shortchange Hollywood, but he’s quick to point out innovation in other countries all along the way, and show how new techniques spread and echoed around the world. Some have complained about Cousins’ idiosyncratic narration style; his Scottish accent and diction tends to make most of his statements sound like questions and it definitely takes some getting used to, but I think it works, because it also emphasizes how personal an approach to film history this is – it’s comprehensive and informative, but it’s always filtered through Cousins’ own critical perspective, which is a good thing, I think. It keeps 15 hours of film history from ever getting dry or caught up in attempts at objectivity. He also does a great job of connecting films across the globe and across time; even though he goes largely in chronological order, he often takes detours to show how certain elements, whether technical or thematic, developed over time. Part history, part criticism, and all fascinating.

2011 UK. Director: Mark Cousins. Starring: Mark Cousins.
Seen December 26-January 14 on Netflix Instant.

The Muppet Movie

I’ve come at the Muppets almost solely as an adult – I watched Sesame Street some as a kid, but not a lot, and I never saw the original Muppets show. I didn’t see any of the Muppet movies until I was in my twenties, with A Muppet Christmas Carol (which is now one of my favorite Christmas movies of all time). But that hasn’t lessened any of my enjoyment as I start introducing myself to more Muppet stuff – I’m pretty convinced it works just as well for adults as for kids, if not better. The first Muppet Movie is silly as all get-out, but in a very absurdist, wonderful way that’s like the G-rated version of Monty Python. In other words, exactly up my alley. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this, from the “holy crap” cameos to Miss Piggy’s outrageous crush on Kermit to the fourth-wall breaking to the somewhat saccharine but irresistible songs. Can’t wait to see the rest of it. Dear Netflix: Please to put the show on Instant.

1979 USA. Director: James Frawley. Starring: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, Charles Durning.
Seen January 17 on Netflix Instant.

Rewatches

Fargo (1996; rewatched February 6) – This is the top film in mine and Jonathan’s mutual Flickchart list (the site can calculate weighted favorites based on multiple users individual rankings), and it was about time we revisited it. Still awesome.
The Court Jester (1956; rewatched February 19) – A friend alerted me to the fact that this is available on Amazon Prime Instant, and I jumped at the chance to rewatch it – one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen, and the rewatch didn’t change that opinion.
Clue (1985; rewatched February 19) – This was total comfort food; sometimes you just need a little Clue.
The Untouchables (1987; rewatched January 12) – Watching Gangster Squad put me in mind of The Untouchables, and Jon had never seen it, so we pulled it out. Yeah, Gangster Squad stole whole swaths of stuff from this movie, which remains much much better overall. Still my go-to when people start bagging on Brian DePalma. At least he made this.

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Blindspotting 2013: Wild Strawberries (1957)

There are so many Ingmar Bergman films I haven’t seen (and most all of them are considered essentials by cinephiles) that there will likely be a Bergman film on every one of my Blindspot lists for years to come. Last year it was The Virgin Spring; this year I opted for Wild Strawberries, which generally comes near the top of lists of greatest Bergman films but I’ve been avoiding because, really, “after living a life marked by coldness, an aging professor is forced to confront the emptiness of his existence” doesn’t sound like that interesting or compelling a story (that’s the IMDb description). But, of course, Bergman’s genius is in how he tells his stories and the depth of humanity he instills in them more than the plot details themselves.

The film is much more subtle than the description above suggests, with the professor’s coldness mostly demonstrated by his terse treatment of his long-time housekeeper and somewhat estranged daughter-in-law (and son, by extension). He’s bitter and unsympathetic without being necessarily outright cruel. The night before he’s to head off to accept an honorary degree, he has a surreal dream culminating in a vision of his own death, which sets him on a journey of memory the following day as he detours by places of childhood and youthful significance and interacts with the young people he finds there now.

Seeing one’s own death as an impetus for self-reflection might be a common trope, but Bergman keeps it feeling fresh both by the evocative strangeness of the dream (a precursor, perhaps, to the nightmarish weirdness of Persona) and the rather opaque interactions that follow. It’s clear that the resurrected memories of lost loves and family reunions, as well as his conversations with his daughter-in-law and the trio of young people affect the professor greatly, but it’s far from the pat lesson-learning that you’d likely find in an American film.

The professor is played by Swedish director Victor Sjostrom, best known for silent films like The Wind and The Phantom Carriage, and he’s pretty great, surrounded by Bergman stock figures like Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, and Ingrid Thulin. Some of them are in pretty small parts (like von Sydow), but they leave their mark on the film nonetheless. That plus the surprisingly surreal bits elevated the film far beyond what I expected. It didn’t quite reach the top of my Bergman list, which is still occupied by Persona and The Virgin Spring, but I’m definitely pleased to cross it off my Blind Spot list.

Film on TV: April 19-25

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The Red Shoes, playing on TCM on Thursday

Can’t complain about this week one little bit. We’ve got newly featured stuff from the final Flynn-de Havilland pairing in They Died With Their Boots On to a rare non-suspense film from Hitchcock, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, both on Monday. We’ve also got classics from Peckinpah and McQueen (Junior Bonner on Wednesday) and Powell and Pressburger (The Red Shoes on Thursday), plus the quintessential coming-of-age film The Graduate on Saturday. And that’s just the stuff we haven’t featured before – lots of excellent repeats throughout the week as well.

Monday, April 19

10:00am – TCM – They Died With Their Boots On
Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland’s last of ten films together is this highly fictionalized account of General Custer, from his days at West Point through his legendary last stand against the Sioux Indians. History’s out the window here, but rousing Hollywood western action takes its place, and Flynn & de Havilland are always worth watching, especially together.
1941 USA. Director: Raoul Walsh. Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Arthur Kennedy, Charley Grapewin, Gene Lockhart, Anthony Quinn.
Newly Featured!

4:15am (20th) – TCM – Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
No relation to the 2005 Pitt-Jolie vehicle, this Mr. and Mrs. Smith is one of Hitchcock’s only straight comedies, no suspense or mystery plot in sight. It’s a serviceable screwball comedy, with Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard as the title couple who discover their marriage may not be legally binding. It’s worth watching once, but overall it’s a relatively minor entry in both Hitchcock’s career and the annals of screwball comedy.
1941 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Robert Montgomery, Carole Lombard, Gene Raymond, Jack Carson.
Newly Featured!

Tuesday, April 20

6:35am – IFC – Strictly Ballroom
The first of Baz Lurhmann’s “Red Curtain” trilogy, about a Latin ballroom dancer who shakes up the Australian ballroom competition circuit with his unorthodox choreography. Among other things. A little shrill at times, but mostly funny and endearing, and less borderline schizophrenic than the rest of the trilogy (which I love, don’t get me wrong).
1992 Australia. Director: Baz Luhrmann. Starring: Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Bill Hunter, Pat Thomson, Gia Carides.
(repeats at 12:05pm)

6:45pm – IFC – Se7en
A taut and dark film, as you might expect from David Fincher, of a pair of homicide detectives hunting a serial killer who uses the Seven Deadly Sins as a template for his murders, seeing himself as a righteous justice-dealer against those who indulge in these particular sins. Good performances all around as well as the intricate script and solid direction take Se7en a notch above the average serial killer thriller.
1995 USA. Director: David Fincher. Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey.

Wednesday, April 21

2:00pm – TCM – Broadway Melody of 1936
MGM made four films under the Broadway Melody title (in 1929, 1935, 1936 and 1940), and this is easily the best – a polished, sparkling show biz tale with the production detail you expect from 1930s MGM. Eleanor Powell can dance up a storm no matter what film she’s in, and this is one of the few she did, honestly, that has any interest outside of her tap numbers.
1935 USA. Director: Roy Del Ruth. Starring: Jack Benny, Eleanor Powell, Robert Taylor, Una Merkel.
Newly Featured!

3:45pm – Sundance – Bob le flambeur
Jean-Pierre Melville’s noirish crime film about an aging gambler/thief who takes on one last job – knocking over a casino. Melville was the master of French crime films, and an important figure leading up to the New Wave – Godard name-checks this film in Breathless, mentioning Bob le flambeur (Bob the Gambler) as an associate of Michel’s.
1956 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Roger Duchesne, Isabelle Corey, Gérard Buhr, Daniel Gauchy.

8:00pm – Sundance – Pan’s Labyrinth
One of my absolute favorite films of the past decade (or ever, really), an absolutely beautiful and terrifying fantasy that juxtaposes the gruesome horrors of the Spanish Civil War with an equally horrifying fantasy world that provides, if not escape, at least some measure of importance and control to the film’s young heroine. Guillermo Del Toro solidified my view of him as a visionary filmmaker with this film, and it still stands to me as a testament to what fantasy can and should do.
2006 Spain/Mexico. Director: Guillermo Del Toro. Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Meribel Verdú, Doug Jones.
Must See
(repeats at 4:00am on the 22nd)

10:00pm – Sundance – Black Book
Paul Verhoeven invests Black Book with just enough of his signature over-the-top brashness to give the WWII story of a Dutch Jewish woman infiltrating the Gestapo for the Resistance a healthy dose of panache. Every time you think it won’t go the next step, it does, and it’s pretty damned entertaining the whole time.
2006 Netherlands. Director: Paul Verhoeven. Starring: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman.

3:00am (22nd) – TCM – Junior Bonner
Steve McQueen is Junior Bonner, an aging cowboy continuing to compete in rodeos and longing to hold onto the old ways as the world moves on around him. His brother, a lousy cowboy but a savvy businessman, leads the change from the Old West as reality to the Old West as tourist attraction, and the contrast and conflict mingled with family ties carries through the film – Sam Peckinpah’s bittersweet and nostalgic but also rousingly entertaining reverie on the passing of an age.
1972 USA. Director: Sam Peckinpah. Starring: Steve McQueen, Robert Preston, Ida Lupino, Ben Johnson, Joe Don Baker, Barbara Leigh.
Newly Featured!

Thursday, April 22

8:10am – 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.

8:00pm – TCM – The Red Shoes
Almost all of the films Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger made together are incredibly good, but The Red Shoes might just be the best. In the film, a mix of the tale of Svengali and of Hans Christian Anderson’s story about a ballerina who couldn’t remove the red shoes and was doomed to dance to her death, actual ballerina Moira Shearer is the dancer made successful by a jealous ballet impresario, though she loves a poor composer. The centerpiece of the film is a Technicolor extravaganza performance of the titular ballet, still one of the greatest ballet sequences on film.
1948 UK. Directors: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger. Starring: Moira Shearer, Marius Goring, Anton Walbrook.
Must See
Newly Featured!

10:30pm – TCM – Once Upon a Time in the West
A disparate group of characters interact and intertwine on America’s western frontier – a young widow seeking those who killed her family, the outlaw suspected (but innocent) of the murders, the ruthless leader of a gang in the employ of a railroad tycoon, and a harmonica-playing stranger. With that as a starting point, Sergio Leone creates what is possibly the ultimate epic western to end all westerns.
1969 Italy/USA. Director: Sergio Leone. Starring: Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson.
Must See

Friday, April 23

8:00pm – TCM – 2001: A Space Odyssey
The benchmark for intellectual science fiction, Kubrick’s probable masterpiece is a mindbending ride through a mysteriously alien-driven evolution, with plenty of time for man vs. machine conflict, beautiful space ballet, and gorgeous cinematography.
1968 USA. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Starring: Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester.
Must See

11:00pm – TCM – Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Musical tones and volcano images haunt Richard Dreyfuss, eventually leading to an encounter with some of the most strangely beuatiful and mysterious, yet apparently friendly, aliens ever put on film.
1977 USA. Director: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Francois Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban.

Saturday, April 24

4:00pm – TCM – Fahrenheit 451
François Truffaut’s first foray in English-language film was this adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel, following fireman (that is, book-burner) Montag as he comes into contact with a group of fugitives intent on preserving the knowledge in books even as the government tries to destroy them, and he begins to wonder if perhaps they are right. It’s a great book, and a pretty good film, with Julie Christie in an interestingly-cast double role.
1966 UK. Director: François Truffaut. Starring: Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack.

6:00pm – 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

8:00pm – TCM – The Graduate
One of the classic coming-of-age stories, with Dustin Hoffman in one of his first roles as the recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock. Unsure of what to do with his life after college, he takes advantage of his family’s upper middle-class wealth and does nothing – oh, except for fall into an affair with Mrs. Robinson, his father’s partner’s wife. When Elaine Robinson returns home from Berkeley, Benjamin’s attentions waver from mother and daughter. There’s no question that the film has become a cultural milestone.
1967 USA. Director: Mike Nichols. Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross.
Must See
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – TCM – The Magnificent Ambersons
Welles followed up Citizen Kane with this film about a wealthy but decaying American family, but wasn’t given nearly as much creative freedom. But even with studio interference, it’s well worth seeing.
1942 USA. Director: Orson Welles. Starring: Joseph Cotten, Tim Holt, Anne Baxter, Agnes Moorehead.

3:30am (25th) – TCM – Rebel Without a Cause
Nicholas Ray’s best-known movie (though not, I’d argue, his best), likely because it’s one of James Dean’s three films. Dean is a rebellious teen, hanging out with the wrong crowd, whose parents don’t understand him. It all seems a little overwrought these days, but there’s an intensity to Dean and the film that manages to make it still relatable.
1955 USA. Director: Nicholas Ray. Starring: James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo.

Sunday, April 25

7:55am – 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

8:25am – 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 5:00am on the 26th)

5:00pm – TCM – The Best Years of Our Lives
One of the first films to deal with the aftermath of WWII, as servicemen return home to find both themselves and their homes changed by the long years of war. Director William Wyler and a solid ensemble cast do a great job of balancing drama and realism without delving too much into sentimentality.
1946 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Herbert Russell, Cathy O’Donnell.

8:00pm – TCM – Singin’ in the Rain
Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly team up for what is now usually considered one of the greatest musicals of all time. Inspired by songs written by MGM producer Arthur Freed at the beginning the sound era, Singin’ in the Rain takes that seismic shift in film history for its setting, focusing on heartthrob screen couple Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (the hilarious Jean Hagen) as the transition into sound – problem being that Lamont’s voice, like many actual silent screen stars, doesn’t fit her onscreen persona. Hollywood’s often best when it turns on its own foibles, and this is no exception.
1952 USA. Directors: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly. Starring: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen.
Must See

8:05pm – IFC – The Crying Game
British soldier Forest Whitaker is captured by an IRA cell, and one of the IRA members (Stephen Rea), against his better judgement, befriends him. Later, Rea leaves the cell and makes his way to London to find Whitaker’s lover and ends up getting involved with her under an assumed identity. There’s an additional twist that you likely know if you play any film trivia at all, but the rest of the film is a solid exploration of terrorist guilt with director Neil Jordan’s characteristic angst.
1992 UK. Director: Neil Jordan. Starring: Stephen Rea, Forest Whitaker, Miranda Richardson, Jaye Davidson.
(repeats at 12:45am on the 26th)

10:00pm – TCM – Sunset Boulevard
Billy Wilder’s classic noir explores the dark side of the rich and formerly famous, as a struggling screenwriter (William Holden) gets involved with a silent screen star seeking to make a comeback in the sound era. In one of the most brilliant cast films ever, actual silent screen star Gloria Swanson returned to the movies to play the delusional Norma Desmond and actual silent star/director Erich von Stroheim (who worked with Swanson on the never-finished Queen Kelly, portions of which appear in Sunset Boulevard) plays her former director/current butler. The film is a bit on the campy side now, but that doesn’t diminish its enjoyability one bit.
1950 USA. Director: Billy Wilder. Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Nancy Olsen, Erich Von Stroheim, Buster Keaton.
Must See

1:15am (26th) – Sundance – The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
One of the major films in Romania’s current cinematic resurgence – emphasis on realism, slow pacing, and in this case, the failures of the Romanian health care system, which shunts poor Mr. Lazarescu around from hospital to hospital as he gets sicker and sicker. I wasn’t as captivated by this as I was by 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days by a longshot, but if you’re interested in Romanian film, you oughta see it. If you didn’t like 4 Months, though, you almost certainly won’t like this. ;)
2005 Romania. Director: Cristi Puiu. Starring: Ion Fiscuteanu, Doru Ana, Monica Barladeanu, Doru Boguta.

Film on TV: January 11-17

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Henry V, playing on TCM Saturday at 6:00am.

There haven’t been so many newly featured films to highlight for quite a while as there are this week. Nice to have some new stuff to write up for a change! We have a couple of 1940s British classics in Henry V and Kind Hearts and Coronets on Saturday and Sunday respectively, plus some adaptations of great 19th and 20th century literature – A Streetcar Named Desire on Monday, and The Heiress and Cyrano de Bergerac on Sunday. This is the 1950 version of Cyrano, which I don’t think is quite as good as Gerard Depardieu’s 1990 version, but hey. It’s on right after Steve Martin’s Cyrano-inspired Roxanne, so there’s the fun of comparing and contrasting them. For musical fans, a couple of not-quite-classic but still enjoyable MGM productions: Ziegfeld Follies on Tuesday and Broadway Melody of 1936 on Sunday. And a few more recent offerings are also new to us this week, like Brian DePalma’s Blow Out on Sunday and the more-fun-than-I-expected Go on Monday.

Monday, January 11

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 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.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 3:00am)

10:15pm – TCM – A Streetcar Named Desire
Elia Kazan’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ southern gothic play unleashed Marlon Brando upon the world and served as a strong comeback for Vivien Leigh – all in all, not a bad day’s work.
1951 USA. Director: Elia Kazan. Starring: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Kim Stanley.

Tuesday, January 12

3:00pm – TCM – Ziegfeld Follies
A plotless film, intended to recreate the revue-style musical show that Ziegfeld was so well known for in the early days of Broadway. Not every segment is worthwhile, but Fred Astaire’s three numbers (one of them with Gene Kelly, the only time they worked together until That’s Entertainment!) are great, and Judy Garland has a fun spot doing a Greer Garson parody.
1946 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Lucille Ball, Fanny Brice, Lucille Bremer, William Powell.
Newly Featured!

Wednesday, January 13

6:00am – 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)

10:00pm – TCM – Ninotchka
“Garbo Laughs!” proclaimed the advertisements, playing up the comedic factor of the usually implacable Greta Garbo’s 1939 film. True enough, though it takes a while for the charms of Paris and Melvyn Douglas to warm the Communist Ninotchka to the point of laughter. Pairing up director Ernst Lubitsch and writers Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (who had yet to become a director himself) turns out to be a brilliant move, as Ninotchka has just the right combination of wit and sophistication.
1939 USA. Director: Ernst Lubitsch. Starring: Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas.

Thursday, January 14

8:15am – Sundance – Bob le Flambeur
Jean-Pierre Melville’s noirish crime film about an aging gambler/thief who takes on one last job – knocking over a casino. Melville was the master of French crime films, and an important figure leading up to the New Wave – Godard name-checks this film in Breathless, mentioning Bob le flambeur (Bob the Gambler) as an associate of Michel’s.
1956 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Roger Duchesne, Isabelle Corey, Gérard Buhr, Daniel Gauchy.
(repeats at 2:00pm)

3:30pm – 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

6:15pm – TCM – While the City Sleeps
The head of a New York newspaper dies, leaving it in his son Vincent Price’s hands to choose someone to promote: managing editor Thomas Mitchell, lead reporter Dana Andrews, or a couple of other people. The way to get the job? Get the scoop on the serial killer taking out women around the city. It gets a little plot-heavy at times, but it’s so full of classic character actors and the noirish feel that director Fritz Lang does so well that it’s still very worthwhile.
1956 United States. Director: Fritz Lang. Starring: Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, Ida Lupino, George Sanders

8:00pm – TCM – The Bridge on the River Kwai
British prisoners of war are commanded to build a bridge over the River Kwai for their Japanese captors – a task which becomes a source of pride for old-school British commander Alec Guinness. But American William Holden is having none of that and makes it his mission to blow the bridge up. One of the great war films.
1957 USA/UK. Director: David Lean. Starring: Alec Guinness, William Holden, Sessue Hayakawa.

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

10:00pm – 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.

10:00pm – Sundance – The Squid and the Whale
Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney are married writers/academics who finally drive each other too crazy to keep living together, bringing their two adolescent sons into their turmoil when they separate. Everything about the film works together to create one of the best films of the past few years. Writer/director Noah Baumbach has crafted a highly intelligent script which is achingly witty and bitterly funny; the acting is superb all around; the music fits beautifully, and even the setting (1980s Brooklyn) is something of a character.
2005 USA. Director: Noah Baumbach. Starring: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline.
Must See
(repeats at 3:00am on the 15th)

3:00am (15th) – IFC – Hero
Jet Li is the titular hero in this Zhang Yimou film, arguably the best of Yimou’s period action-on-wires films (though I’m partial to House of Flying Daggers myself). The story unfolds in flashback as Li explains to a warlord how he eliminated three would-be assassins (who happen to be three of Hong Kong cinema’s biggest stars, incidentally) – but all may not be precisely how it seems.
2002 China. Director: Zhang Yimou. Starring: Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung.

Friday, January 15

9:15pm – IFC – The Cooler
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.

Saturday, January 16

6:00am – TCM – Henry V (1944)
Laurence Olivier’s version of Shakespeare’s historical epic was made during WWII and reflects England’s need of a national hero to look up to – his Henry is the epitome of English goodness and strength, making it interesting to compare this version with Kenneth Branagh’s much more conflicted Henry. Also notable for its art direction, borrowed from medieval illustrations.
1944 UK. Director: Laurence Olivier. Starring: Laurence Olivier, Renee Asherson, Leslie Banks.
Must See
Newly Featured!

Sunday, January 17

6:00am – TCM – Broadway Melody of 1936
MGM made four films under the Broadway Melody title (in 1929, 1935, 1936 and 1940), and this is easily the best – a polished, sparkling show biz tale with the production detail you expect from 1930s MGM. Eleanor Powell can dance up a storm no matter what film she’s in, and this is one of the few she did, honestly, that has any interest outside of her tap numbers.
1935 USA. Director: Roy Del Ruth. Starring: Robert Taylor, Eleanor Powell, Jack Benny, Una Merkel, Sid Silvers, Buddy Ebsen.

10:00am – TCM – Kind Hearts and Coronets
In one of the zaniest of the zany comedies that Alec Guinness was best known for in his early career, he plays eight, count ’em, eight characters – all relatives in line to receive a duke’s massive fortune upon his death. The last in line plots to murder all the others to make himself the sole heir.
1949 UK. Director: Robert Hamer. Starring: Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Valerie Hobson, Dennis Price.
Newly Featured!

4:00pm – TCM – The Heiress
Olivia de Havilland won her Oscar for her role as the title character in this adaptation of Henry James’ Washington Square, a woman forbidden from love with a young suitor because her controlling father fears the suitor is only a fortune hunter.
1949 USA. Director: William Wyler. Starring: Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson, Miriam Hopkins.
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – IFC – Blow Out
Sound man John Travolta is recording sound samples one night, and may have accidentally recorded a murder occurring. As he tries to investigate, he’s drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. Inspired to some degree by Antonioni’s photography-based Blow-Up, but this is definitely DePalma’s film all the way.
1981 USA. Director: Brian DePalma. Starring: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz.
Newly Featured!
(repeats 12:45am on the 18th)

8:00pm – TCM – Roxanne
Steve Martin takes on the classic story of Cyrano de Bergerac and his doomed love for the oblivious Roxanne, transposing it into modern times and making it much more consciously comedic.
1987 USA. Director: Fred Schepisi. Starring: Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah, Rick Rossovich.
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – TCM – Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)
And here’s a straight version of Cyrano. This time Jose Ferrer (who won an Oscar for the role) plays the title character, a poet marred by the extreme size of his nose, whose love for Roxanne is such that he helps handsome but dull Christian woo her since he thinks she’ll never notice him.
1950 USA. Director: Michael Gordon. Starring: Jose Ferrer, Mala Powers, William Prince.
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – 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.

2:15am (18th) – TCM – 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.

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