Weekly DVD Alert Four: December 14-21, 2009

Check your local listings; also a lot of these films are shown throughout the month, so you may want to look at previous DVD alerts for December.


Monday, December 14

9AM-1015AM, HBO: JOE LOUIS: AMERICA’S HERO … BETRAYED, 75m.
Rock-solid documentary about the Brown Bomber's rise and fall.

10AM-11:45AM, Sun: A PERFECT CANDIDATE, 105m.
Documentary on the 1994 Virginian Senatorial race between incumbent Charles Robb and his Republican challenger, doesn't-feel-a-shred-of-disgrace Oliver North. Curiously enough, I remember the fly-on-a-wall view of North's campaign machinery being no more revolting than any G.O.P. campaign I've ever closely followed.

11:45AM-1:30PM, Sun: JOIN US, 100m.
Ondi Timoner [DIG!] examines cults in America, how otherwise not-batshit people join them and how hard it is to leave them.

Noon-2PM, TCM: ALFIE, 114m.
The Michael Caine original. We all understand that young Eleanor Bron was sauce, right?

5:40PM-7PM, IFC: HARLAN COUNTY, USA, 103m.
Arguably Barbara Kopple's best documentary, this recounting of a 13-month Kentucky coal-miner strike presents a tantalizing what-could-have-been: New Journalism in film. Kopple makes no bones about whose side she's on -- and, really, it's hard not to root for the workers.

7:15PM-8:50PM, Sun: CONFESSIONS OF A SUPERHERO, 93m.
I assume I'm the last nerd in North America to have seen this. I would love to see the vaguely George Clooney-looking Batman panhandler recount his entire life story in one continuous take; it would be perfect material for training in any profession that requires a person being able to tell when someone's lying.

9PM-10PM, Sun: WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY?, 60m.
Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping are gonna save your wallet's soul! Hallelujah!


Tuesday, December 15

Midnight-1:45AM, TCM: DIRIGIBLE, 100m.
Part of Turner's month-long celebration of Frank Capra's films: The movie that did for Zeppelins what William A. Wellman's WINGS did for airplanes a few years before, only less so. I like a lot of Capra's early service adventure movies; he's not nearly as slick at hiding his deep cynicism in these early efforts. Jack Holt, Ralph Graves and Fay Wray star.

1:45AM-3:45AM, TCM: FLIGHT, 112m.
An earlier film but again teams Capra, Graves and Holt in a story set at a Marine flight school. I've not seen it, but I presume it will be less metaphorically homoerotic than TOP GUN.

8:15AM-10AM, TCM: JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, 104m.
Is this the funnest adventure movie ever? Um, maybe. Usually any movie labeled "fun for the whole family" is one or the other at best -- usually neither -- but this is the exception to the rule.

10AM-11AM, TCM: CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, 59m.
I can forgive Roger Corman almost anything because of his courage and grit as a filmmaker, his unpatronizing mentoring and support for so many then-young auteurs and how he put his money where his mouth was regarding the value of world cinema at a time when most of his producer peers were happy to pocket the profits from their B-movies. Then all said, I've not seen this movie, which sounds really stupid -- serial killer frames a legendary sea monster for his murders; then the real monster shows up -- but at less-than-an-hour running time, how bad could it be?

7:15PM-9PM, IFC: CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, 104m.
I haven't seen this since it came out on VHS; I'm very curious to see how Woody Allen & Alan Alda's four-handed [well, maybe two and a half] middle finger to Larry Gelbart plays out now that he's dead. I didn't know that Alda was imitating him when I saw it, but I remember wondering why Allen seemed to want us to dislike Alda's character when he didn't seem so bad, just a little too glib -- I chalked it up to yet another actor not wanting to be disliked. I'm really hoping that I'm old enough to appreciate the Martin Landau-Anjelica Huston-Jerry Orbach half of the film. It can't be as leaden as I thought, it was me not getting it, right?


Wednesday, December 16

1AM-2AM, ESPNC: CLASSIC BOXING: Diego Corrales vs. Joel Casamayor II, 2004.
My interest in boxing petered out some time in the mid-90s, but catching the first two of the trilogy of fights between these super featherweights reignited my passion for the sport. The late "Chico" Corrales was a beast and "El Cepillo" was born cagey; they may have had better fights with other fighters, but no boxer has had a more perfect foil for his style than each man found in the other. This one ends with the squeakiest of split decisions, which makes the likelihood that the channel will have cut a few rounds to squeeze a 12-round fight plus the usual ESPN-repackaging blather and all the commercials into an hour's running time all the more unfortunate.

6AM-8AM, FMC: DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, 104m.
John Ford's first color film, and his most gorgeous. Henry Fonda! Claudette Colbert! The Revolutionary War!

7AM-8:15AM, TCM: THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X, 63m.
Humphrey Bogart's one and only turn in a monster[-ish] role. I imagine it will be clear why that is pretty quick. Yay!

8AM-10:01AM, FMC: THE BIG TRAIL, 120m.
John Wayne's first starring role, very much like the old OREGON TRAIL video game [see also: UNTAMED; Fox really had a thing for this story]. Raoul Walsh was no John Ford, but neither was John Ford most of the time. Lots of magnificent scenery in this one, appropriately enough.

11:15AM-1:05PM, IFC: LOOKING FOR RICHARD, 109m.
My favorite Shakespeare movie, I think -- actor-director Al Pacino made this documentary as part of his semi-ongoing quest to make the Bard more accessible to American actors and audiences. Kevin Spacey, Winona Ryder, and surprisingly good Alec Baldwin co-star in the play fragments. I think, more than anything, what I value the most about this movie is the lesson that there's no such thing as a pretentious reading of Shakespeare, only dispassionate ones.

2:30PM-4:15PM, TCM: ACROSS THE PACIFIC, 97m.
Hey, the MALTESE FALCON gang's back! John Huston, Bogie, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet return for a yarn about an American agent fighting Axis spies who want to blow up the Panama Canal …. wait, what?

4:15PM-6:15PM, TCM: ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT, 107m.
Hey, youse mugs! These Ratzi spies are trying to destroys our country! And they ain't gonna let us wet our beaks a little? Well, fuck dat -- let's give 'em what's for!!! Bogart, Conrad Veidt, Jane Darwell star -- how bad could it be?

6PM-8PM, FMC: MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED, 95m.
I'd love to know more about Peter Yates; slightly more than nothing, at the moment. I like BULLITT, love THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE and I'm finally ready to watch this movie despite Bill Cosby [brilliant stand-up comedian, terrible actor]. Hoping it's presented in letterbox; didn't Fox Movie Channel make a big deal about pan & scan only giving you, the viewer, two-thirds of the image?

8PM-10PM, TCM: THE MALTESE FALCON, 101m.
Is there a scene anywhere in American genre movies as hair-raising as the moment where Bogie's Sam Spade starts talking about who should take the fall for the murders of his partner Archer and the hoods Jacoby and Thursby.


Thursday, December 17

7:30AM-9:30AM, FMC: THE MARK OF ZORRO, 94m.
Tyrone Power! Basil Rathbone! Rouben Mamoulian!

9:46PM-9:56PM, TCM: PETE SMITH SPECIALTY: "Let's Talk Turkey," 10m.
It's a shame that this amusing series of twisted how-to shorts are so obscure that anyone unfamiliar with them would think that they're just a rip-off of the "Goofy" how-to cartoons, when it's the other way around.

10PM-11:30PM, TCM: HOLIDAY AFFAIR, 87m.
Robert Mitchum! Janet Leigh! Whatshisface [Wendell Corey]! Season's Cuckoldings!

11:30PM-1:05AM, TCM: NEVER SAY GOODBYE, 94m.
I didn't know this movie existed, and I've always wanted to see Errol Flynn star in a contemporary, non-adventure movie. This is a romantic comedy, and its obscurity makes me fear for the less-than-best, but I'm looking forward to seeing Flynn be funny.


Friday, December 18

1:08 AM-1:30AM, TCM: STAR IN THE NIGHT, 22m.
Don Siegel's first film as a director, this 1945 short is a modernized mismash of the Nativity Story and A CHRISTMAS CAROL. It's still a long way to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and THE KILLERS.

8:45AM-10:30AM, IFC: BEFORE SUNRISE, 101m.
Richard Linklater plays BRIEF ENCOUNTER [see last week's DVD Alert for it and QUIET CITY] and almost makes you like Ethan Hawke. Julie Delpy co-stars.

3:30PM-5:30PM, FMC: TWO FOR THE ROAD, 111m.
Stanley Donen! Audrey Hepburn! Albert Finney! William Daniels! Eleanor Bron! Jacqueline Bisset, somewhere! Best marriage movie, ever!

10PM-Midnight, TCM: FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, 118m.
Director Mike Newell almost makes you like Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell and Kristin Scott Thomas!

11PM-1AM, SHO: SHOBOX: THE NEW GENERATION
I thought I'd give this series another shot, considering most of what I hate about boxing [tomato-can resume-padders, outright thefts on score cards, executions rather than competitions] doesn't happen as much on it. They really do their best to bring on new talent and match them for tough fights.


Saturday, December 19

[As of this writing, the guide for ESPN Classic has gone generic starting this day; I'll go back and update when they post the schedule in a few days, if I remember or someone reminds me.]

3:30AM-5:30AM, Sun: THE EVENT, 112m.
I'm intrigued by the main armature for this film; Parker Posey plays an ambitious assistant district attorney who's investigating several suspicious deaths of AIDS patients, which sort of reminds me of how Orson Welles wanted Agnes Moorehead to play the investigator in THE STRANGER. It's a dynamic you still don't see that often in movies. Don McKellar, Olympia Dukakis and Sarah Polley co-star, Thom Fitzgerald writes and directs, Salon.com promises that this drama about love and the legal & ethical issues surrounding assisted suicide is "a very serious picture [but] never a downer." They better be right or I'm totally not going to look at the pop-up ad you have to watch before they let you read Glenn Greenwald's blog or whatever.

6AM-8AM, TCM: OUT OF THE PAST, 97m.
It's not the greatest Film Noir ever made -- top ten, certainly -- but this Jacques Tourneur-directed potboiler has some should-be-studied-in-film-school scenes with Mitchum, Jane Greer and/or Kirk Douglas.

8AM-10:35AM, IFC: KILL!, 154m.
This week's IFC Samurai Saturday: Kihachi Okamoto's blackish comedyish story about two ronin caught up in a war between two factions tearing their small town apart. It's kind of like Abbott & Costello star in YOJIMBO, only more so.

7:30 AM-9AM, FMC: DANCING MASTERS, 63m.
9AM-10:30AM, FMC: THE BIG NOISE, 74m.
10:30AM-Noon, FMC: THE BULLFIGHTERS, 69m.
I've written about this mini-marathon of WWII-era Laurel & Hardy movies that FMC airs semi-regularly; it could just as easily been titled LAUREL & HARDY's CONTRACTUAL OBLIGATION Volumes One, Two and Three, but any L&H is better than no L&H. Right?

Noon-2PM, FMC: PRINCE VALIANT, 100m.
This is one weird concept: Hal Foster's classic illustratorly comic strip comes to the very big screen [it's one of if not the first film shot in CinemaScope, 2.55:1] via director Henry Hathaway and the woefully underrated screenwriter Dudley Nichols [STAGECOACH, BRINGING UP BABY, SCARLET STREET, GUNGA DIN, THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S, THE INFORMER, etc.], who hit on the fairly ingenious method of adapting the absurdly complex and long continuities of the strip by using panels from the strip as storyboards for the movie. This should be a milk run for making a solid adventure movie, right? They cast Robert Wagner for the lead, Janet Leigh as his love Princess Aleta, James Mason as the heavy, The Black Knight (Mason) and Sterling Hayden as Valiant's comic relief/mentor Sir Gawain. All well and good, but somehow the ingredients don't congeal -- at least, they didn't for me when I saw this movie. I have to admit, I was immature enough to let Wagner's terrible bob wig throw me. The movie's beautiful -- although it is curious how fast the film's editing rhythm is; I wonder if it was done with some technical reason due to the new film ratio, or if they just had too much plot to squeeze into even a roadshow-length film, or what -- and the shots are as amazingly composed as you would expect from a movie that Hal Foster "storyboarded."

8PM-10PM, TCM: THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, 113m.
My favorite Xmas movie of the last few years, largely for Monty Woolley's scenery gorging. Unlikely a lot of Christmas films, this one actually feels like the holidays -- particularly that irritating, unresolvable sense of being put-upon by non-strangers in your home.

10PM-Midnight, TCM: GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE, 91m.
Writers Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman, director William Keighley and actress Ann Sheridan return with this amusing Jack Benny vehicle, made the same year as THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER.


Sunday, December 20

1:45-3:05AM, TCM: NO TIME FOR COMEDY, 93m.
TCM's mini-marathon of William Keighley films continues with an entertaining-sounding one about a playwright, his actress wife and the playboy who tries to cockblock the wife's career. It took a few tries, but think I spelled out the relationship dynamic correctly this time. James Stewart, Rosalind Russell and Charlie Ruggles starred and, as with THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, Julius J. Epstein [CASABLANCA, CROSS OF IRON, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, WHY WE FIGHT] wrote the screenplay for this one.

[FYI: This Keighley marathon continues beyond this film, burying what sound like two comparatively dire early efforts in the 3:00-6:00AM slots. Me, I say life's too short to watch Ronald Reagan movies.]

5:45AM-6:45AM, IFC: THE SPAGHETTI WEST, 56m.
Sounds like a good, albeit probably clip-showy, documentary about the 1960s boom in Westerns made in Italy. Features interviews with Clint Eastwood, Ennio Morricone, Alex Cox, etc.

Turner Classic Movies is going balls-out with the widescreen epics today and into tomorrow morning -- it'll [not really] be like the Cinerama is your living room! They're showing RAINTREE COUNTY [Edward Dmytryk can go shit in his hat, the dirty rat], HOW THE WEST WAS WON [seeing it once is enough] and CHILDREN OF PARADISE [which is epically long, but not so epic as the rest] but I'm going to try sitting still long enough to take in all of:

12:30 PM-4PM, TCM: DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, 200m.
I've never seen it, have avoided it for the usual obvious reasons but I've managed to watch and enjoy enough [of] David Lean movies recently that I think I can take in a period romance that's this long without it feeling like I'm taking cinematic medicine.

4PM-8PM, TCM: BEN-HUR, 222m.
In for two & a half hours, in for three & three-quarters hours; I saw and enjoyed the silent version of the story the other day, the few people I know who have made it through both say that the Charlton Heston and William Wyler version is even more awesome [always with the "for a Biblical-type story" caveat].

8PM-9PM, TCM: A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: "The Gigantic World of Epics," 58m.
A TCM-produced documentary, appropriately filmed in widescreen.

9PM-Midnight, TCM: THE KING OF KINGS, 171m.
Only Nick Fucking Ray could get me interested to watch the life of Christ starring Jeffrey Hunter [!!!] as Jesus, the very Oy-rish Siobhan McKenna as his mom Mary, Robert Ryan as John The Baptist and a young Rip Torn as Judas [!!!], with narration written by Ray Bradbury [!] and delivered by Orson Welles. Really, WTF FTW people. Fuckin' Nick Ray.

That's three movies, which clock in at a few minutes shy of ten hours. Epic! We got one more, though:


Monday, December 21

Midnight-2:45AM, TCM: THE KING OF KINGS (1927), 157m.
Cecil B. DeMille's silent epic version of the life of Christ. I'm guessing this version's Jesus didn't have to shave his chest for the crucifixion scene, so as to not enrage the holy-rollers like the remake reportedly did.

1:01AM-3:01AM, H: SNIPER: INSIDE THE CROSSHAIRS
In case we can't hang with with Jeezus and need to cleanse the palate with a little gunplay. I like that first-person shooters have rehabilitated the reputation of the scout/sniper; we've all learned how to stop worrying and love the pink mist. This doc profiles [in]famous sniper shots from military history.

6:15AM-8:15AM, IFC: HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, 119m.
A Hayao Miyazaki movie is still a Hayao Miyazaki movie, even if IFC is actually showing the Disney-dubbed version, with the voices of master thespians like Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall and Billy Crystal.

8:15AM-10:15AM, TCM: JULES AND JIM, 106m.
I don't know anyone who hates this Francois Truffaut movie. Do you? They may not have seen it, they may not like it, but no one hates it. It's like the people who supposedly impulse-buy those decks of Bicycle playing cards that are in every check-out station in every supermarket everywhere; JULES ET JIM-haters don't exist. Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner and Henri Serre star.

10:15AM-12:15 PM, TCM: YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW, 114m.
Some days, I swear the programming department at Turner lays the schedule out just to mess with our heads. This fine late-model Vittorio De Sica comedy stars Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren, who was never sexier. Of the three stories, I think I like the first the best -- Loren's character is facing jail time but takes advantage of a law that prevents pregnant women from going to prison. You can probably do the math along with a few inappropriate hand gestures.

1:25PM-2:15PM, Sun: A SKIN TOO FEW: THE DAYS OF NICK DRAKE, 48m.
It's been a long time since I saw it, but I remember Jeroen Berkvens's documentary about the late singer-songwriter being appropriately wispy but faintly solid at the same time, just like a good Nick Drake song.

6:15PM-7:55PM, Sun: JESUS IN INDIA, 97m.
So, what was Jesus doing in his "hidden years" -- his teens to early thirties? What every young dude does until he hits 30; traveling the Silk Road and hanging out with Hindus and Buddhists and picking up all their, like, vibe, man. Actually, that makes a lot of sense, considering how similar his teachings are to both religions' key texts. I'm very interested to hear more about this ancient manuscript about Jesus that's reportedly housed in a remote monastery in Ladakh, near the India/Kashmir border.

8PM-10:15 PM, TCM: STATE OF THE UNION, 123m.
Another Frank Capra film, this one curiously doesn't pop up much in talk about Capra's oeuvre nor Katherine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy's collaborations. I'm looking forward to finding out why that is. Spence is running for President but having trouble fighting that fight and keeping his wife Katherine happy at the same time.

And, there's another week.

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