"Happy New Year"

You know, we exist in a boundless, immeasurable time continuum, which makes New Year's Eve/Day an entirely arbitrary piece of sociopolitical bullshit. Speaking of bullshit, I call it on this so-called blue moon we supposedly have tonight. There's an ultraviolet moon in the sky, liarpants! So, I took a picture of the snowman head I have impaled on a pole outfront to scare off any snowmen hobos/gypsies who travel on the nearby trainline.

Last dinner/salad of 2009

Going all out, mostly because I'm afraid that most of it will spoil soon.

Last quote for 2009

"I really prefer you as an enemy, Bob" - Chuck Jones to Bob Clampett

The 2019th step on the last road home.

Happy New Year Comics Wednesday

From an early issue of EERIE magazine, Steve Ditko busts out his peerless B&W graywash skills to illustrate a story about the changes that affect a middle-aged virgin when he finally reaches puberty man cursed by a werewolf, or something. At this point in my gray Ditko reading, I had been so beaten down by the stupidity of the stories that I treated text like footnotes in a general-interest article and just enjoyed the pretty pictures.

Click for larger

Yeah, ha ha ha, but it's stunning how good he could be at this style.

Click for larger

Click for the full panel, and possibly shit your pants.

The 2018th step on the last road home.

The 2016th step on the last road home.

Weekly DVD Alert Six: December 28, 2009-January 4, 2010

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 28

Midnight-1:32AM, TCM: SHERLOCK HOLMES, 86m.
TCM's Silent Sunday movie this week is the 1922 feature starring John Barrymore as Holmes, Roland Young as Dr. Watson and Gustav von Seyffertitz as Moriarty. Was this film fully restored? I always heard that this movie is missing its entire last reel. Well, I guess we'll find out.

Vittorio De Sica's classic; I thought we had all agreed to call it the more accurate THE BICYCLE THIEVES?

3:45AM-5:30AM, TCM: THE LAST DETAIL, 104m.
Hal Ashby's rambling shaggy dog of a gritty Navy MP story. Jack Nicholson, Otis Young, Randy Quaid star.

11:45AM-1:15PM, Sun: ALICE NEEL, 83m.
Andrew Neel assembled a fascinating, appropriately frustrating portrait of his grandmother, the late great portrait painter Alice Neel. [Replays at 5:05PM.]

I loathe Ginger Rogers, that red-baiting overrated meathead, but the combination of Cary Grant, Walter Slezak, the still-unsung director Leo McCarey and the sublimely goofy plot [A radio correspondent tries to rescue a burlesque queen from her marriage to a Nazi official] is enough for me to pretend that Rogers is someone else and enjoy the movie.

8PM-9PM, ESPNC: CLASSIC BOXING "Jose Luis Castillo vs. Diego Corrales"
ESPN's working concept of "classic" can be questionable at times, but this 2005 ten-round war between lightweight titlists "El Temible" [WBC champ] and "Chico" [WBO champ] serves as the modern ideal for a classic boxing match. People ask me why I put up with all the many annoyances that come with being a boxing fan; it's because of fights like this. Sometimes the stars align so that we see two men really and truly give the fight everything they have and nearly everything else falls away to this one elemental drama. I say "nearly everything" because referee Tony Weeks could have given Castillo an extra second or two before calling the fight off.

9PM-10:20PM, Sun: BROKEN NOSES, 78m.
One of photographer Bruce Weber's lesser-known documentaries/portraits, this one trails former Golden Gloves champion Andy Minsker as he mentors Portland, OR teens at a boxing club. Weber photographs Minsker's face with almost as much love as Minnelli filmed Garland.

Tuesday, December 29

6:43-ishAM-7AM, TCM Short: MOVIES ON SUNDAYS, 8m.
In 1935 Pennsylvania, movies were not shown on Sundays. This film was made to help make a case to the state's citizens to treat the flickers like any other enjoyable time-waster.

7AM-8:30AM, TCM: HIGH NOON, 85m.
Everyone knows why this movie is a classic, right? A textbook case of synergy, with a journeyman director Fred Zinnemann, screenwriter Carl Foreman and a
cast of Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr. and Harry Morgan somehow making a Western so transcendently relevant that even demagogues and wingnuts who find its message loathsome still have to embrace the movie.

8:30AM-8:45AM, TCM Short: MANHATTA, 12m.
A 1921 silent documentary about "the beauty and majesty of the New York harbor."

Another Jan Kounen documentary about spirituality and approaches to living, this one follows humanitarian Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi ["Amma, the Hugging Saint] who has helped heal the world and roughly 23 million people on it by hugging them. That's a lot of hugs; perhaps some of them got seconds. [Reairs at 3:45PM]

10:30AM-11:47AM, TCM: THE CAMERAMAN, 76m.
It's difficult to lose yourself completely in any of Buster Keaton's films -- except for maybe THE GENERAL, which is too visually stunning to plagiarize -- because of how widely and shamelessly generation after generation of lesser comedians and filmmakers have borrowed and outright stole from them. This proto-meta movie is a little jaunt about a newsreel photographer's struggles to woo a big-time movie starlet; even for a movie about movies, this one has been copied so often I bet you could stitch together a nearly complete "cover" version of it from all of the homages and copies of its set pieces. Marceline Day and Harry Gribbon co-star.

11:47AM-Noon, TCM Short: THE CAMERA SPEAKS, 11m.
We'll have room on the disk; A short 1934 film about an elderly cameraman and his camera reminiscing about silent movies and newsreels.

Of Preston Sturges' WWII homefront comedies, I think this one is the most successful; for a change, he didn't hinge the entire movie on the audience never taking a moment to ask itself any questions about the plot they're following. Eddie Bracken, Betty Hutton and William Demarest star.

1:39PM-2PM, TCM Short: GIVE US THE EARTH, 21m.
Apparently, this is 20 minutes of a white man teaching some Mexicans how to farm the Earth and be nice to their neighbors. Holy fucking shit, dude.

Just to keep us all a little confused and paying attention, TCM's programmers will be chasing the previous offensive short with this beautiful feature, about the struggle in a small Mexican-American community to unionize the local mines. Made by Hollywood Ten writer-director Herbert J. Biberman and fellow blacklisted writer Michael Wilson and writer-producer Paul Jarrico [who literally risked their lives to make it], the movie has the distinction of being the only movie to be blacklisted during the McCarthy Communist witch-hunts of the mid-'50s. It's one of the most fundamentally American movies I've ever seen; that so many people even now would consider it anti-American illustrates how thoroughly the American school system has failed us. The United States is a very big country and a lot of different kinds of people comprise its citizenry, but so many of those people refuse to see that America extends beyond their lives and front yards.

The original movie, not the remake -- although I am interested to see the 2005 version, mostly to see Giovanni Ribisi and Hugh Laurie as well as see how big a shit the writer/director/producers take on Robert Aldrich & Lukas Heller's original song to group effort and rationality in the face of all-consuming hostility. I'm guessing the remakers missed that point and focussed more on shit blowing up but good. James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy and Hardy Krueger star.

3:45PM-5:30PM, TCM: HAROLD AND MAUDE, 91m.
I was only briefly in the H&M cult and always knew Hal Ashby was a credit-hog, but it's still such a great movie. A romantic comedy starring Philo Beddoe's mom, Boone from M*A*S*H, the Fire Captain from Truffout's FAHRENHEIT 451 and an actress whose name really was "Vivian Pickles."

5:30PM-5:41PM, TCM Short: JAMMIN' THE BLUES, 10m.
Tenor-sax master Lester Young leads an all-star group [George "Red" Callender and John Simmons on bass, Harry Edison on trumpet, Marlowe Morris on piano, Sidney Catlett and Jo Jones on drums, Marie Bryant on vocals, Illinois Jacquet on tenor saxophone and a young Barney Kessel on guitar] through the sort of visually composed and stylish jam session one would expect from the one and only motion picture ever made by LIFE magazine photographer Gjon Mili. As bracing, fun and liberating as the film is, it's still anchored by some unfortunate racial real-politick: as happened a number of times in his career, producers got gunshy about Barney Kessel being the lone caucasian in a group and literally darkened him to appear black. In this film's case, he's filmed in near-silhouette in full-shot and his hands are stained darker in close-ups for his solos. Still, this is one of those shorts that make me greatly grateful to TCM for citing them in their schedules.

It's understandable, considering John Hughes' early death, that a lot of well-meaning people are going to wrap their assessments of his oeuvre in the kind of generic sentimentality that he really railed against in the prime of his career, and all that off-the-rack praise will retard the natural process of honest reappraisal that most filmmakers receive, especially in comedy, later in their careers. Hughes' death also moved the hands forward at least ten minutes closer to midnight on the Cinematic Doomsday clock, the end point when Hollywood really will pull itself into its own asshole, Ouroboros-style. Even a Kevin Smith fan should shudder at the thought of him remaking, say, THE BREAKFAST CLUB or SHE'S HAVING A BABY, but we all know it's inevitable. Let's all hold hands and pray that they just leave BUELLER alone, at least until Michael Cera is definitely too old to play him. Without doing any research, my gut says that nobody wrote more perfectly realized tertiary characters than Hughes did at his peak. Perhaps it's just having seen his movies a million times, but I can't think of another writer-director whose support characters can be recalled from just a line or two of dialogue: "Well with your bad knee Ed, you shouldn't throw anybody. It's true!" "Uh, what country do you think this is?" "I weep for the future."

10PM-Midnight, ESPNC: CLASSIC BOXING: "Rafael Marquez vs. Israel Vazquez Trilogy"
All three of their classic super-bantamweight fights from 2005 and 2007. They're scheduled to meet for a fourth fight in May; as thrilling as these fights were -- again, real classics -- I don't think I need or even want to see them tear into each other again, especially as Marquez only won one of the fights, after Vazquez's breathing was drastically impaired by a broken nose. All a fourth fight does is put more money in everyone's pockets and bigger medical bills in the fighters' mailboxes.

Wednesday, December 30

12:15AM-1:45AM, Sun: GARAGE, 82m.
This recent West Ireland comedy sounds promising; lots of pretty scenery and a few jokes in a movie about a slowly dying community. [Sounds awfully familiar; I hope it doesn't play like a home movie if I made any.] Leonard Abrahamson directs, Pat Shortt and Conor Ryan star with Anne-Marie Duff.

Behind-the-scenes short featurette about the John M. Stevens, the undersung second unit & stunt photographer behind the more amazing shots in GRAND PRIX and ….

I can see why this was Howard Hughes' favorite movie, even beating out his own movies. Still, sometimes you just have to stare slack-jawed and think "Patrick McGoohan dropped THE PRISONER for a few months to go make this??? And MGM pulled 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY from theaters early to make room for its release????" John Sturges directs Douglas Heyes' script [based on Harry Julian Fink's story adapted from Alistair MacLean's novel, all with an uncredited punch-up from W.R. Burnett], co-starring Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine and Jim Brown.

Nicholas Ray! Humphrey Bogart! Gloria Grahame! Romance! Hollywood Murder!

I guess Hayden Christensen has officially been typecast as the go-to guy for whiney, ineffectual protagonists now. I'm a soft touch for journalist movies, and it's sort of fun to watch Anakin Skywalker struggle to not be outacted by the far-stronger ensemble of actors around him, especially understatement-maker supreme Peter Sarsgaard and Steve Zahn's irrepressible scene bandit.

4:30PM-6:30PM, THE HARDER THEY FALL, 109m.
Mark Robson does a beautiful job directing -- in the visuals, Robson and cinematographer Burnett Guffey were more faithful to Budd Schulberg's savagely honest novel about the shit-crusted underbelly of boxing than screenwriter Philip Yordan was in his script adaptation -- with a cast starring Bogart [his final movie], Rod Steiger, Jan Sterling and a number of notable boxers [Jersey Joe Walcott, Max Baer, etc.]

11:30PM-1:01AM, TCM: BEAT THE DEVIL, 90m.
This John Huston movie has always sounded a little too wacky -- "A group of con artists stake their claim on a bogus uranium mine. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones." -- but I'm giving it a shot as part of my watch-every-Huston reeducation.

Thursday, December 31

1:04AM-1:30AM, TCM Short: A GUN IN HIS HAND, 19m.
A two-reeler, directed by Joseph Losey, presenting a semi-documentary "Crime Does Not Pay"-style demonstration of detective work.

Wartime propaganda from Alfred Hitchcock, whose heart was clearly not into it. Still interesting from a novelty/comparison view, of course.

6:34AM-6:53AM, TCM Short: CALGARY STAMPEDE, 18m.
I think I saw this on an Errol Flynn DVD's supplements -- very pretty Technicolor documentary about, um, Calgary. Very pretty, though.

9AM-10:35AM, IFC: ANNIE HALL, 93m.
You often hear this Woody Allen movie hailed as the most truthful romantic comedy every made; I don't think that's true, it just has a set of lies far different and much more interesting than the usual Hollywood romcom fare. Allen starred and directed a script by himself and Marshall Brickman, co-starring Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts and Carol Kane.

10:35AM-12:45PM, IFC: THE NAMESAKE, 122m.
I like Kal Penn and I love immigrant stories, but Mira Nair being this film's director might be a dealbreaker; the strongest dramatic pull in most of her films comes from knowing that, some time in the second half of the movie, the thrust of the plot is going to splinter off into a bunch of stuff happening and then something else happens and uh, who gives a shit -- hey, the end credits.

11:30AM-1:30PM, TCM: SHADOW OF A DOUBT, 108m.
My favorite B&W Hitchcock -- so much texture and great moments, you can steal from it endlessly and still find new bits the next time you have writer's block. Thornton Wilder and Sally Benson wrote the screenplay, Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright starred.

12:45PM-2:30PM, IFC: MANHATTAN, 96m.
I know it's not Woody Allen's fault that two generations of filmmakers think that if they set their movie in New York City, it has to be both one of the main characters in the story and a source for musical montages that do nothing but remind the audience HEY WE'RE IN NYC ISN'T IT GREAT THIS MUSIC WAS PROBABLY RECORDED HERE TOO. Anyway, I can believe Allen's claim that he pleaded with United Artists to not release this film, even offering to make a movie for free if they would shelve MANHATTAN; I'm going to watch it again to see if it's as much of a misfire as I remember. Allen again directs, co-stars and co-writes with Brickman; Keaton, Michael Murphy, Mariel Hemingway and Meryl Streep costarred.

3:30PM-5:40PM, TCM: VERTIGO, 130m.
One of my favorite color Hitchcocks. So often in his movies, he seemed so into the technology of moviemaking rather its effect -- a good example is how Hitch often crowed about the feat of making a movie-set's skyline gradually change from day to sunset to night throughout ROPE, but never acknowledged that it still looked like a movie-set skyline, fiberglass clouds and all. Anyway, the bulk of the money shots in VERTIGO threaten to disappear right up Hitchcock's asshole at any moment, but that we feel about as blasted and spiritually exhausted as Jimmy Stewart's character is by the end credits is still testament to how great Hitch could be when he cast himself well. [Some, including Hitchcock himself, blame VERTIGO's commercial failure on Stewart being 49 at the time it was made; that would be accurate if it was a conventional romance, but VERTIGO is as much an extended metaphor about being a film director as the other major Stewart-Hitchcock collaboration REAR WINDOW is. Perhaps Hitch and screenwriter Samuel A. Taylor woulda-coulda-shoulda focused on that a bit more.] Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes co-starred.

You'll have room for it on your DVDR.

8PM-9:45PM, TCM: THE THIN MAN, 91m.
9:45PM-11:45, TCM: AFTER THE THIN MAN, 112m.
11:45PM-1:31AM, TCM: ANOTHER THIN MAN, 103m.
1:45 AM-3:30AM, SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN, 97m.
TCM closes out 2009 with a mini-marathon of movie adaptations of Dashiell Hammett's crime-solving couple, Nick and Nora Charles. W.S. Van Dyke II directed and William Powell & Myrna Loy starred in the series, which starts out brilliantly but slowly dies a dog's death as the producers all seemed to forget why people loved the first movie, as the couple [especially Nick Charles], is altered from an pair of insouciant inebriates to your trying-hardest-to-be-hip aunt & uncle. Thankfully, TCM is sparing us the pain of seeing the final film in the series, 1947's THE THIN MAN MOVES BACK INTO HIS PARENTS' BASEMENT THE SONG OF THE THIN MAN, where even some of the support characters are openly insulting the unhip couple. But these first two sequels do a solid job of follows the original; the pain starts with the next films, which suffer from the departure of the series' husband & wife screenwriting team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett after the third film and the death of director Van Dyke after the fourth. A young James Stewart co-stars in the second film and a young Donna Reed in the fourth, by the way.

Friday, January 1

1:32AM-1:42AM, TCM Short: HOW TO BE A DETECTIVE, 9m.
Robert Benchley teach us how to be a detective, then two more THIN MAN movies. Happy New Year.

Don't mess with Jimmy Stewart in a Western, man. He will fuck your shit up all to be damned. Arthur Kennedy co-starred, Anthony Mann directed a script by Philip Yordan & Frank Burt.

Like I said, don't mess with Stewart -- I know he wrote bad poetry and sounded like a wimp, but this is a man who DROPPED REAL FIRE ON REAL NAZIS [… and several thousand German civilians] in WWII. The guy kept flying bombing missions even after Black Thursday, which is like Dieppe for Canadians, which is like Market Garden for paratroopers, which is like, um, look it was really fucking bad and Stewart could've asked to be transferred anywhere else but he didn't, which is why the dude had real guts. Anyway, John Wayne and Lee Marvin co-star, John Ford directs.

Saturday, January 2

4:15AM-6:30AM, TCM: DIE! DIE! MY DARLING!, 96m.
I think this was the first Hammer movie I saw; you can imagine my disappointment when none of the rest were also batshit-crazy women's pictures. Silvio Narizzano directed Richard Matheson's script, adapted from Anne Blaisdell's novel: the clearly-soon-to-be-late Tallulah Bankhead plays a religious fanatic who kidnaps her dead son's fiance, played by Stefanie Powers. A young Donald Sutherland plays a retard. It's that kind of a movie. It gets compared to another British birdnapping movie that was released the same year, William Wyler's THE COLLECTOR. Wyler's movie is far better made -- he had a budget, for one thing -- but DARLING is ultimately more affecting, having the pulpy creepiness that only clumsiness can provide.

This is the shorter edit of the feature-film version of Rod Serling's teleplay; I hope that Criterion/Eclipse eventually packages a collection of Serling's work, with proper restorations of his key works. I've seen at least three versions of the film REQUIEM and each of them had scenes the others didn't, which is just silly. I think I prefer Jack Palance & Keenan Wynn as Mountain McClintock and his manager Maish Rennick to the film's Anthony Quinn & Jackie Gleason, although Mickey Rooney was a better Army [the trainer] than Ed Wynn. I don't remember who was the more appropriate Grace Miller, PLAYHOUSE 90's Kim Hunter or the film's Julie Harris. Still, even in a truncated form, REQUIEM is still a pretty devastating little movie; Rod Serling had a knack for writing characters who were both primal archetypes and recognizable human beings.

12:45PM-2:30PM, FMC: DON'T BOTHER TO KNOCK, 76m.
A snappy, noirish programmer starring a young Richard Widmark, a young Marilyn Monroe and a very young Anne Bancroft in her feature-film debut. Daniel Taradash wrote the screenplay for director Roy Ward Baker. It's not Billy Wilder's, but the dialogue fairly crackles throughout. "I'm not angry; I'm just furious."

I wonder if George Lucas has been dreading the day for decades when recording media becomes so cheap to produce and distribute that every obscure movie he's lifted stuff from will be easily available. Stop me if this sounds familiar: Daredevil archaeologist clashes with graverobbers during a frantic search for a priceless Egyptian artifact. That's right, Lucas totally stole the plot from this movie to make THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

8PM-10:45PM, TCM: LOLITA, 153m.
As far as LOLITA goes, it's not that Peter Sellers was born to play Clare Quilty; it's that Vladimir Nabokov was born to write the character for Sellers to play. Nabokov adapted his novel for the screen with director Stanley Kubrick; James Mason, Shelley Winters and Sue Lyons co-starred.

10:45PM-1:15AM, TCM: HUSBANDS, 138m.
John Cassavetes' best men's picture -- an overlong, shambling mess that randomly lurches between hilarious, cockeyed-profound and outright boring; just like a good night out with your boys. Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk and Cassavetes co-star.

10PM-Midnight, Sun: STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING, 111m.
This May-December romance edges close to the MANHATTAN syndrome I described earlier, but its heart is too melancholy and its characters too vividly aware of how much they've compromised and lost for any Gershwin or jaunty pop music to play over montages of NYC streets. Frank Langella, Lauren Ambrose and Lili Taylor star in producer Fred Parnes and director Andrew Wagner's adaptation of Brian Morton's novel.

Sunday, January 3

3:15AM-5:15AM, TCM: TWO FOR THE SEESAW, 119m.
They should show this movie on Thanksgiving -- not just because it's a turkey, but to illustrate how thankful Robert Wise should have been every day of his professional life to ever have been allowed to direct any movie not directly aimed at drive-in cinemas. There's nothing wrong with the original 1958 Broadway play, written by [not the] William Gibson [you're thinking of] and starring the perfectly cast Anne Bancroft and Henry Fonda as a young, poor but carefree Jewish girl from Greenwich Village and an uptight, unhappily married and aging lawyer from Nebraska, respectively. Four years later, Hollywood decided to cast a SEESAW movie with …. Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. Thankfully, both escaped to go make better movies, leaving Wise and/or the producers to then cast … Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine. Good thing Mitchum was always at his best when playing uncool chatterboxes. How could this movie have failed?

Between this and the Mexican combination a few days ago, I'm starting to wonder if TCM has a TIVO making the minor programming decisions for them. This episode in the PASSING PARADE series of documentaries dramatizes Rene Laennec's invention of the stethoscope and Charles Goodyear's development of the vulcanization of rubber.

A rare Errol Flynn comedy, this one about an aspiring mystery novelist stumbling onto a real murder. Brenda Marshall, Ralph Bellamy and Alan Hale co-star.

9:38AM-9:48, TCM Short: PETE SMITH SPECIALTY "Just Suppose"
Another in the long series of SPECIALTY comedies, this one presents a fantasy where Dave O'Brien is the wife in the family, having to shop, clean and have the babies. Madness! Castration Anxiety! Sore Nipples!

9:54AM-10AM, TCM Short: ACTION ON THE BEACH, 6m.
I like TCM's practice of running their short, behind-the-scenes films about a given feature film either just before or immediately after the feature. If they could start doing the same thing for a film's trailer, that would be very nice.

Paddy Chayefsky! James Garner! Julie Andrews! Melvyn Douglas! Arthur Hiller!
Love! Passion! WWII! A Cast of Thousands, In Aggregate! More Cynicism On The Silver Screen Than There Are Asteroids In Space!

I'm still waiting for my personal ESPN channel, which will air nothing but boxing, Australian Rules Football and ladies playing pool 24/7. Maybe marathons of classic spelling bees on the weekends. This is a rebroadcast of the 1998 Women's Tournament of Champions.

I think we all want to lift the rock and see what kinds of people actually try to make a go at living "off the grid" of our civilization. Apparently, many of them are a little crazy.

Noon-2PM, TCM: THE REIVERS,111m.
Steve McQueen's entry in my second- or third-favorite film sub-genre, the my-nonconformist-uncle section of coming-of-age movies. Based on William Faulkner's final novel -- the plot sounds like it was taken from Faulkner fanfic, the writing "lighter" than his usual tone; so curious how often dying artists try to put on a happy face so close to death [see also: Bill Hicks' Cosby sweaters the last few months of his life] -- written by another husband & wife writing team, Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch and directed by Mark Rydell.

2PM-4PM, TCM: THE EGG AND I, 108m.
A little on the late side [1947] to cash in on any wave of the semi-regular fad for chicken-farming -- it's interesting that both Carl Barks and the Marx Brothers tried to be chicken farmers before giving up and going into the easier rackets of movies and comics -- but who's to complain about having the pleasure of Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray's company?

1:30PM-3:30PM, FMC: THE PROUD ONES, 90 or 94m.
This seems to be the week that underlines what comparative candyasses John Wayne's characters were; this film often gets compared to RIO BRAVO [although HIGH NOON might be a better fit], but Marshall Robert Ryan has to deal with a revenge-addled Jeffrey Hunter, a socially powerful Robert Middleton and a downright disrespectful populace and there's no calvary coming to bail his ass out in the last reel, so far as I can recall. In BRAVO, Wayne and Howard Hawks act like being able to hold off one gang until help arrives is just on this side of impossible. I always thought it was funny that the plot of Wayne & Hawks' right-wing, Real American response to HIGH NOON hinged on the Duke coercing a drunk and a codger to collectively fight for the good of the community. If John Garfield and Dalton Trumbo had made that movie, you know they would have been executed as Commie traitors on the sidewalk in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Anyway, THE PROUD ONES isn't nearly as heralded as a classic as either of those films, but it has gorgeous Cinemascope cinematography and a great performance from Ryan.

8PM-9:45PM, Sun: EASY, 99m.
I'm going in expecting a clunky, somewhat lazy independent romantic comedy that's not particularly romantic nor funny -- I asked the eccentric-old-lady character actor from the next-door apartment as well as the Magic 8-Ball that I keep on my desk at my totally hip day job that still couldn't possibly make me enough money to afford the cool apartment I have, and they agree that this will be a movie that gets its empowering kicks from having a female protagonist who can fuck anyone she wants, as written in a screenplay that undoubtedly used the word "kooky" as a character trait more than once -- but a few friends insist that I should see the movie as a Marguerite Moreau showcase, an actress I reportedly need to know. I figure if I made it through BEHEADING JESSICA STEIN without cutting my own head off, I can survive anything.

8PM-9:15PM, TCM: IT'S A GIFT, 68m.
Turner's little marathon of W.C. Fields comedies starts with this sound remake of his silent feature IT'S THE OLD ARMY GAME. As vastly superior as the filmmaking and Fields' own performance are in GIFT, Diana Lewis is no Louise Brooks.

In general, I like the downtrodden-husband Fields to the slick-operator Fields -- it's so curious how often a niece/daughter type features in his movies; that he wrote so many of them in his scripts and shows them so much disarming tenderness as a writer and actor is touching, even though there's nothing in his recorded biography that can explain why it was so important to him. This film is, I think, my favorite of Fields' slickster movies, playing "himself" in one gleefully, willfully weird Hollywood lark.

10:30PM-Midnight, TCM: IF I HAD A MILLION, 84m.
The marathon ends with one of Fields appearances in an early anthology film: Richard Bennett plays a dying tycoon who picks eight names at random out of a phone book to bequeath a million dollars. Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, George Raft, Jack Oakie, Charlie Ruggles, et al. co-starred; Ernst Lubitsch, Norman Z. McLeod, Stephen Roberts, William A. Seiter, Norman Taurog, et al. directed; reportedly, there is a longer edit that includes segments that were cut from the movie after audience previews.

William Shatner fights thousands of hungry spiders. I've seen the movie twice, and I still can't tell you who won. I assume IFC and indie douchebags finally embraced drive-in movies as part of the independent-film scene/history after that Tarantino and Rodriguez's pretentious faux-grindhouse double feature movie came out a few years back?

Monday, January 4

Midnight-1:30AM, TCM: THE FRESHMAN, 76m.
TCM's Silent Sunday film this week is a fine go-getter Harold Lloyd football movie, co-starring Jobyna Ralston and Brooks Benedict.

12:30AM-2:45AM, Sun: CHE "Part 1: The Argentine," 134m.
The first half of director Steven Soderbergh and writer Peter Buchman's epic about revolutionary/fashion icon Ernesto "Che" Guevara, focusing on the Cuban Revolution. It was a great idea to cut the Che legend down into a serious of low-key human-sized vignettes and chronologically shuffling them just enough to tell the stories of the Revolutions in Cuba and Bolivia that's both epic and accessible.

1:30AM-2:45AM, TCM: COLLEGE, 65m.
It's Buster Keaton's turn to be the nerd gone football hero. Anne Cornwall and Harold Goodwin co-star.

2:45AM-5AM, Sun: CHE "Part 2: Guerilla," 135m.
The concluding half of the story is not nearly as easy to take in as the Cuban film -- I joked that the first two & a half hours rip by in half that time and the last two hours make up for it -- but that might been intentional; unlike Cuba, Che's campaign in Bolivia was a frustrating non-starter, [SPOILER] even if he hadn't been executed at the end of it. [END SPOILER]

2:30PM-3:54PM, TCM: TOP BANANA, 84m.
What an oddball movie; producer Albert Zugsmith [and maybe director Alfred E. Green] optioned the rights to Phil Silvers' Broadway musical-comedy with the plan to film it as a stage show but in 3-D to simulate seeing it live, "from the best seat in the house!" But then the 3D boom goes bust and rather than stick to their guns, they push the movie out as a regular 2-D film with rather odd coloring. Rose Marie and Jack Albertson co-starred.

3:55PM-4:04PM, TCM Short: PETE SMITH SPECIALTY "A Wife's Life," 8m.
This sounds like "Just Suppose," but Dave O'Brien's wife plays his wife this time.

Still a gold standard for eccentric-uncle-assisted coming-of-age movies. Jason Robards Jr., Martin Balsam, William Daniels and Barbara Harris star.

If you squint, this movie could look like a lost mid-'70s Mel Brooks film; Gene Wilder wrote the screenplay and stars with Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman and Dom Deluise in this specifically sub-genre specific spoof, complete the inspired Brooksian stunt-casting of Leo McKern as Professor Moriarty. But Wilder also directed the film, and showed that he is no borscht-belt fartypants like his one-time mentor; I remember this being a far more adult piece of silliness than YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN or HIGH ANXIETY.

And there's another week.

Felix Navigawd

Click for larger, if you must

So nice to know that even the Pope has to contend with assholes on Christmas. Or is that how Christmas officially starts, with his holiness being knocked to the floor like he was Glass Joe? [Visualizing the Pope turning and zig-zaggingly wobbling to the ground is officially the first time I've laughed today. I think it's imagining the back of a Pope's robe in 8-Bit animation]

The 2013th step on the last road home.

The 2011th step on the last road home.

A New Comics Wednesday Present [no regifting]

I recently had an ill-considered flirtation with most of small pile of Steve Ditko's greywash comics that weren't his "Mr. A" work. The following panels are from a Marv Wolfman-written story in some gawd-forsaken late issue of one of Marvel's B&W horror magazines. TOMB OF DRACULA #2, I think but don't care.

This story reads like one of those backdoor pilots for a new character that Marvel loved to shove onto stands disguised as Annuals for their flagship characters ["Step Aside, Spidey! INSERTNAMEHERE has Arrived!!!"] only written for the more sophisticated Marvel reader. So, this is a Dracula comic without Dracula but with lots of sexiness [sexiness being to sex what truthiness is to truth] and a 12-year-old's concept of how adults talked during Carter's Administration. I was going to write "Here comes the pain:" and give a capsule synopsis of this rambling incoherent wreck of a comic, but I've already forgotten what little of the plot I understood after trying to read it twice.

When you hear old fanboys babble about how Ditko's level of craft has never been less than impeccable through his entire career, you can't help but admire the devotion they must have to be able to build and retain such massive blind spots. Every line the man drew for Marvel for the first few years of his '70s return couldn't radiate "FUCK YOU ALL" more if he had drawn them with just graphite dust and his middle fingers.

Every picture tells a story, but in this case we'll all be better off pretending that it doesn't:

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Like I said, Dracula does briefly show up in the piece -- my first read-through, I thought it was actually two different stories -- as some sort of prologue that really showcases the golden ear for dialogue and character throughout. Ditko totally did not draw this with the meter running.

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You know, most of us would make a joke about how cute it is when virgins write sex scenes, but I'm going to choose to see this as brilliant, Hemingway-esque minimalism. Sure, that second panel isn't "For sale, baby shoes, never used," or even "Hills Like White Elephants," but in that one line of dialogue -- "Handsome, I'll give you three reasons" lies a hard life lived, even for a floozy with a statue's hairstyle and character speech patterns that even Sam Fuller was embarrassed to use by the time this comic was published.

"Three reasons" implies that she's missing at least one of the four standard "reasons" the average, intact woman has to entice a disinterested, caped man into having sex; she's technically missing two if its the "reason" that arrives installed in pairs direct from the factory. I'd like to think that this woman has no ass to interest Dracula or anyone else, and that's why the crappy dialogue comes out of her mouth. Backdoor pilot, indeed.

Holy fuckin' shit, here it comes!

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Satanic Jawas With Ditko Hands!

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Never mind using Aleister Crowley, you want your Scandinavian Black Metal demo to sound totally evil, you sample in some Jawa babbling and slow it dowwwwwwnnnnnnn.

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This is the antihero of the story, but i can see why he never caught on. Still, a vigilante in a trench coat, fedora and faceless graphicsy mask who narrates in a torrent of purple-prose logorrhea -- nah, there's no way such a character would ever catch on, no matter who wrote him.

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I like that he calls them "sycophants" with "bloated, piggish hands" -- the only thing keeping this panel from being an appropriately shitty political cartoon are tags citing the Satanic Jawas as Congress and proto-Rorschach's sister as, well, just about any issue.

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I'm not even going to dignify this panel with a comment.

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Is the Hell Brand really an X or was Ditko giving the drawing as much time and care as I gave the reading by this point? Maybe he didn't want any part of this ... madness either.

[Next Wednesday, I have some genuinely awesome greywash Ditko panels to share.]

The midnight ramble, almost three hours later

I told Little Man that if he doesn't stay out of the other cats' wet food, his food allergies are going to get so bad that he'll look like he's wearing half-assed Eric Carr "Cat-Man" makeup all the time. Then he sneezed on me and my Treo about a tenth of a second after the second photo was taken. You can see he's just waiting for the sneeze. I just couldn't take the photo and get out of range fast enough.

Good Night Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, wherever you are.

Video Game Linkpark

Clearing out another bookmark folder: Lo, Maps for THE LEGEND OF ZELDA for the NES.

I've lost a few hours over the years to trying to catch that darn cat in Chat Noir.

Classic gaming portal.

The Emulator Zone, first stop for a copy of MAME and ROMNation is a great place for abandonware ROMs.

RogueSynapse puts all the other arcade-booth enthusiasts to shame, making absurdly accurate reproductions of the cabs and the games in TRON and THE LAST STARFIGHTER.

It's really a shame that Geoff Keighley has too full a work plate at the G4 channel to write long-form investigative pieces about the business of video games. He's at his best when he has a real clusterfuck to sink his teeth into, like the jaw-dropping prides that beget the epic falls that destroyed Ion Storm ["John Romero Wants To Make You His Bitch!"] and Trilobyte [THE 7TH GUEST].

I'm sure there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of people hand-crafting their own games, but Jason Rohrer is the only designer I've encountered who's making ones that can be considered real art.

The 2010th step on the last road home.

Weekly DVD Alert Five: December 21-28, 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 21

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.

Tuesday, December 22

Noon-1PM, H: CHRISTMAS TRUCE, approx. 44m.
A History Channel documentary about WWI British and German soldiers declaring an unofficial truce and celebrating Christmas in No Man's Land. One of the things I love the most about WWI is how politely insane it was. [Replays at 6pm.]

Wednesday, December 23

Lili Taylor & Guy Pearce vehicle that sounds like a parody of an indie romantic comedy: a loner girl who still lives with her dad and works a crappy job at an amusement park falls in love with a musician named Drumstrings Casey after hearing him on the radio. To get his attention, she carves his name on her face with broken glass; the media pick up the story and Casey actually does visit her. Really, if that's not the worst meet-cute scenario ever filmed, I'll let you fuck me with Billy Wilder's dick. Really, I just need to see how anything could be salvaged from this without it turning into something else entirely. [Replay at 4:30PM]

An early Nick Ray film about angst-ridden juvenile delinquents who make adults angstier trying to help them. Humphrey Bogart, John Derek and George Macready star.

7:48PM-8PM, TCM Short: "Freddie Rich And His Orchestra In MIRRORS," 11m.
A "soundie" of pre-war pop songs with guests Vera Van and the Eton Boys. You have space on your disks to burn it, so who cares?

10PM-Midnight, TCM: THE BIG SLEEP, 114m.
Bogie is back, this time as private-eye Philip Marlowe in what is truly the most successfully complex movie whodunnit ever made. "Oh yeah? Well, who killed Owen Taylor?" is my Get Out Of Conversations Free card to play whenever I'm trapped talking about just about all things screenwriting-related.

Thursday, December 24

I'm a little annoyed with myself that I never saw this film sooner than a few days ago. It's almost perfectly realized for what it is; don't let the obvious window dressing [or its Bizarro-World "Memorable Quotes For" page on IMDB.com] fool you for decades too. This movie is closer to LITTLE MURDERS than THE CANNONBALL RUN .

Noon-1:30PM, IFC: VICTIM, 90m.
A remarkable achievement for 1962, this English legal drama probably did more for gay rights -- simply presenting a homosexual as more than a caricature was incredibly daring. Is the movie actually good? I don't remember, but it has a solid pedigree: Basil Dearden directs a script by Janet Green and John McCormick, and Dirk Bogarde and John McEnery star.

The first half of a sweet little Preston Sturges double-feature begins with Sturges' last assignment as a writer-only: He was so irritated by the changes the former art director turned journeyman director Mitchell Leisen made to what he wrote that he leveraged Paramount into hiring him to write and direct his next project, THE GREAT MCGINTY and never looked back. Some people make a big deal of the fact that Paramount's records show Sturges only purchasing 16mm prints of two of his written-only projects, both Leisen-directed: This film and the Jean Arthur vehicle EASY LIVING. I don't think Sturges had a lot of feelings for Leisen one way or the other; I prefer to see it as Sturges, that great appreciator of women who was remarkably sensitive to the unique demands of writing real parts for actress, wanted to have recordings of two of the best examples. Arthur and Barbara Stanwyck were never lovelier, even if Sturges' script was hacked up a bit. There's also the symmetry of owning copies of your first and last jobs for an employer. Anyway, this movie teams Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray for the first time: he's an assistant District Attorney who takes shoplifter home for the holidays. A Preston Sturges movie ensues.

One of Sturges' least-seen films as a writer-director, this very short adaptation of one of his unproduced plays had the misfortune of being released between his breakthrough in MCGINTY and his bigger smash THE LADY EVE, but it's still a very fast, pretty funny chunk of Sturges. The movie that gave us the phrase "Who do you think you are, Hitler?" should not be so easily eclipsed. Dick Powell and Ellen Drew star.

I think I like my Luis Buñuel either much younger and silent, or middle-aged and able to cast a lot of gorgeous, slyly funny actresses in his movie. '70s Buñuel, not so much -- but I can see how great this film is. We should all be so able to call bullshit on our friends, family and ourselves. Happy Holidays, by the way.

Friday, December 25

It's interesting to compare the approaches these channels take for Xmas Day: History is showing a marathon of UFO FILES [I assume one of the episodes explains how the Three Wise Men followed one to the manger], Turner Classic Movies has a nice mix of Christmasy movies and short films [it's essentially the greatest hits of this month's DVD Alerts] until a Sherlock Holmes marathon starts at 8PM, Fox Movie Channel is airing HOME ALONE for 24 hours [really, DIE HARD is a far better 20th Century Fox Christmas movie] and the Godless hippie liberals at IFC and Sundance are programming like it's any other day. For Boxing Day, ESPN Classic will be showing less boxing than it usually does on Saturdays.

I'd also like to take a moment and commend TCM for showing a bazillion Frank Capra films in December … but not IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. That takes balls, or a budget too small to outbid the bigger networks for the rights.

12:38AM-1AM, TCM: Short Film: "Star In The Night," 22m.
Don Siegel's first film as a director is a remarkable hash of the Nativity Story and modern times. It's worth seeing at least once, assuming your asshole didn't pucker completely shut at the thought of the DIRTY HARRY guy making a Christmas film.

Yeah yeah yeah, it's a great musical and a remarkably honest family movie -- especially with the jagged edges and unanswered questions about Margaret O'Brien's character and story arc -- but what really gets me with this movie is how lovingly Vincente Minnelli filmed his then-girlfriend Judy Garland. I've always found it strange that so many filmmakers want to make a "women's picture" but don't like women very much, and it shows.

This musical remake of THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER is better than the phrase "musical remake" rightly implies to moviegoers these days. It's educational to compare how Judy Garland is filmed in this movie to the previous film, made just five years earlier; Robert Z. Leonard and his D.P. could have had all the soft-focus lenses, gauze and Vaseline in the world and they still couldn't have filmed the women as well as Minnelli and George Folsey did.

4:05AM-5:30AM, Sun: THE DEAD GIRL, 85m.
This sounds dangerously close to CRASH [not Cronenberg]; an ensemble movie about murder and human isolation … but this one's for the ladies: Toni Collette, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Steenburgen, Mary Beth Hurt, Rose Byrne, Brittany Murphy, Josh Brolin and Piper Laurie star in the five related short stories that comprise the movie. I swear I am not throwing this one on the schedule just to make a SPOILER joke that Murphy is the title character. I'm way too classy for that. END SPOILER. I apparently am in a chick-flick mood this week.

4:44AM-4:46AM, TCM Short: "Silent Night by Judy Garland," 2m.
I'm not sure what this one could possibly be about.

4:51AM-5AM, TCM Short: TRAVELTALK "Beautiful Budapest," 9m.
James A. Fitzpatrick takes us on a fine little tour of the capital of Hungary.

The original. I'm not a fan of late-model Lubitsches, but it airing directly after the Garland remake makes for a great DVD-R double-feature. Margaret Sullavan, Jimmy Stewart and Frank Morgan star.

6:40AM-6:49AM, TCM Short: "The Christmas Party," 9m.
Little Jackie Cooper wants to throw a party for the holidays and invites his pals Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Marion Davies, Reginald Denny, Clark Gable, Ramon Novarro, Anita Page and Norma Shearer, et al. Jimmy Durante shows up as Santa Claus. It's that kind of promotioentertainmental movie, but with much less starpower than THE STOLEN JOOLS and less wit than that short where Jackie races Groucho and Harpo in soapbox racers.

My favorite Xmas movie of the last few years, largely for Monty Woolley's scenery gorging. Unlike 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. Julius and Phillip Epstein adapted Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman's play, William Keighley directed and Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan and Jimmy Durante co-starred.

12:09PM-12:11PM, TCM: Short: "Present With A Future: Bette Davis Christmas War Bonds Trailer," 2m.
Don' be a punk; buy some god-damned bonds inna lobby after yer done watchin' dis pitcher.

Robert Mitchum! Christmas! Janet Leigh! Department stores! Wendell Corey! Cuckolding!

Writer/actor/first-time director Stephen Fry adapts Evelyn Waugh's novel VILE BODIES into a fine, witty ensemble period-piece. Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily Mortimer, Peter O'Toole star, Dan Aykroyd, Simon Callow and Stockard Channing cameo.

Frank Tashlin! Dick Powell! Debbie Reynolds! Debbie Reynolds?

7:42PM-7:57PM, TCM Short: DOGVILLE: "Trader Hound," 15m.
Give your visiting loved ones of this charming little movie, guaranteed to damage the psyches and widen the mental horizons of at least the more dim-witted of the lot.

From here, the TCM Sherlock Holmes marathon begins.
I have a simple, no-brain hierarchy for Sherlock Holmes movies:
1. Basil Rathbone's later Holmes vs. Nazis movies
2. Basil Rathbone's early Holmes vs. Nazis movies
3. Holmes in lurid Hammer Technicolor [one movie, I don't care]
4. Basil Rathbone's Holmes in a Victorian setting
5. Everyone else, unless the silent John Barrymore Holmes is better than I expect
Even the Rathbone programmers are less-than-satisfying; he's a great Holmes, but the series was damaged by filmmakers' decision to make Dr. Watson such a bumbling idiot that only consistent reason for him to be there at all is to be a conduit for Holmes to periodically spew exposition to the audience to make sure everyone's following the plot so far.

Made for Twentieth Century Fox, the first Rathbone Holmes is a more or less straight adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's story.

The second and last of the Fox-made Holmes, also the last of the Victorian-set Rathbones. This one is a bit of a mishmash of several Holmes stories rather than an adaptation. Ida Lupino co-stars.

Saturday, December 26

It's a shame that Hammer Films' attempt to launch a Holmes film series failed after only one movie. Peter Cushing was a fine, tightly wound Holmes [at some points, it would make perfect sense for him to have a big coke rock hanging out of a nostril, Neil Young in THE LAST WALTZ-style] and the movie's Technicolor overload is wonderfully over the top. Christopher Lee and Andre Morell costarred.

Never seen this mid-60s movie, which casts John Neville as the sleuth, but I'll watch any Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper movie once.

The sequential airing of the WWII propaganda-ish Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce series resumes: In this one, Holmes faces off against a dramatised version of Lord Haw-Haw, the Tokyo Rose of the European Theatre of Operations in WWII.

Another Rathbone WII programmer -- Holmes and his archenemy Professor Moriarty tangle over designs for what essentially was the then-cutting edge Norden Bombsight. [In real life, the plans for the sight were stolen by a German spy four years before this film was made.] This is the most Holmesy of the WWII movies.

Speaking of women's directors, this week's Samurai Saturday comes from Kenji Mizoguchi -- at first glimpse, it's an odd movie to have been made by the auteur behind THE LIFE OF OHARU and THE VICTORY OF WOMEN, but it's still thrilling to see a very Kurosawa plot unfold into a Mizoguchi classic.

I've not seen this one, so I don't know if Holmes & Watson meet Mr. Smith while they're visiting D.C.

Another programmer movie that's more Holmesy than World War Twoy; Who's killing shell-shock patients at a V.A. rest home?

Another amalgam of elements from several Doyle stories, this movie could be the first back-door pilot: Gale Sondergaard's Spider Woman returned to have a solo flop titled THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK later the same year.

12:15PM-1:30PM, TCM: THE SCARLET CLAW, 74m.
Holmes & Watson visit Canada to investigate a ghost who's undermining the war effort. Widely considered the best of the Rathbone films.

1:30PM-2:45PM, TCM: THE PEARL OF DEATH, 69m.
A stolen pearl, a series of macabre murders and Rondo Hatton [the ugly son of a bitch who shows up so often in Drew Friedman's early work and every scrap of paper ever to have the word "acromegaly" written on it] -- I wish this one was better than that combination promises, but maybe it's just that any of these Holmes movies would look not so great after CLAW. Hatton's "Creeper" character had a more successful run than the Spider Woman's, by the way. A shame they never teamed up for a MY DINNER WITH ANDRE discussion film about their careers and problems coming to grips with being beaten by the greatest detective ever.

A straight-forward adaptation of the "Five Orange Pips" story. The budget constraints for these films is probably never more obvious than for this one.

Strangely enough, the final WWII-era Holmes and my favorite [I think], THE WOMAN IN GREEN, is not part of this marathon. Anyway, PURSUIT is a good programmer, something of a locked-door mystery set on an ocean liner -- an idea I imagine the producers kicked themselves for not cooking up sooner.

Rathbone's Holmes + a priceless diamond + jewel thieves - any patriotic speeches designed to bolster morale, which was a staple of the series up until now = another agreeable 63 minutes of your life spent.

Basil Rathbone's final film performance as the super-detective.

7:51PM-8PM, TCM Short: "White Peril," 8m.
It's not quite as sexy as the title sounds; this is a short film about Washington state's Cascade-mountain snow patrol, and all the fascinating snowfall and river-current measuring they do for the U.S. Geological Survey every year. Snow!

The first movie I dig out whenever I have one of my periodic John Huston hatefests. Richard Fleischer could have told this story in half the time, Abraham Polonsky could have told it with twice the style and Robert Aldrich could have wrung twice as much character dynamic out of the performances, but only Huston could make a heist movie breathe [or wheeze]. If not for a few Warner Bros.-esque crutches, this movie is inexplicably evergreen.

Much like yesterday's DOGVILLE short, this collection of Chapters 1-12 of R&B singer/piss-enthusiast R. Kelly's adventures in being trapped in a closet will probably damage the weaker psyches out there. This is one movie where you really need to get the DVD if you can handle sitting through all 90 minutes of the movie; in a musical made of non-stop narration, the DVD's commentary track is Kelly's non-stop narration of the non-stop musical narration of the movie. Somewhere, there's an ever-widening black hole torn in the meta-space continuum and eventually this entire universe will be sucked into it, one viewing of this movie's DVD at a time. [Replays that night at 12:45AM]

Peter Weller is New Wave Doc Savage! John Lithgow spilling his acting all over the place! Inexplicable watermelons! Jeff Goldblum, dressed as a cowboy! [Replays that night at 2:15AM]

10PM-Midnight, TCM: ADAM'S RIB, 101m.
Does everyone go through the same evolution with Katharine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy movies?
Stage One: "What's the big deal?"
Stage Two: "Wow, these are awesome!"
Stage Three: "Jeezus, why doesn't he just fucking leave? You don't have to take that shit, Spence!"
Stage Four: "You know, a lot of these movies suck, but the good ones are great."
It's been a long time since I saw it, but I'm reasonably sure this is a great one. I've always found it interesting that, unlike some longtime screen couples, Hepburn & Tracy were almost always cast as antagonists. Groucho insulted Margaret Dumont's matron constantly, but it was rare that either character actively worked against the other. Bogie's and Bacall's characters sometimes double-crossed each other but that was business, not personal. But even in movies where they meet-cute, Hepburn & Tracy often have the dynamic of an old, unhappy-so-long-they-don't-know-they're-unhappy married couple. The formula a number of their movies take is as dissatisfying as it is offensive: Katherine plays the Harlem Globetrotters to Spencer's Washington Generals and outthinks and outdoes him for the entire movie, generally being a total asshole about it to boot, until the last reel when her long-dead natural womanly instincts finally kick on and she throws it all away to be with her man often it a set-piece that totally doesn't look like the studio insisted on it being tacked onto the end and shot months after the rest of the movie. Anyway, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell and Jean Hagen costarred, married couple Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin wrote and George Cukor directed RIB.

Sunday, December 27

[History's listings on Yahoo have gone generic as of today; if I remember, I'll check it again in a few days. Or not.]

Midnight-1:35AM, TCM: PANIC IN YEAR ZERO, 92m.
Is today/yesterday Jean Hagen's birthday, or it just a coincidence that they're showing so many of her films? Ray Milland and Frankie Avalon co-star in one of Milland's few films as an actor/director. Considering it's an early '60s drive-in movie featuring Annette's sweetheart [I guess Bobby Darin was considered too old for the part], this drama about a family that survives a nuclear attack on Los Angeles is much more thoughtful, and perhaps honest, than it has any right to be.

You don't really need to be told why this movie's great, right?

William Wyler! Audrey Hepburn! Hugh Griffith! Peter O'Toole! Charles Boyer! Eli Wallach!

This is another no-brainer Great movie, even if you still don't grasp how awesome Eleanor Bron was.

3:45PM-5:20PM, Sun: OFFSIDE, 93m.
Iranian comedy about those dang women and their foolish, ungodly desire to watch a World Cup playoff soccer game, where they may actually see EXPOSED MALE LEGS. Hard to believe this movie was suppressed in Iran. From some descriptions, I hope that there's a scene with the arrested women and the cops that steals shamelessly from the stateroom scene in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, but in Persian.

5:20PM-5:37PM, Sun: CONTE DE QUARTIER, 16m.
I'm a sucker for mixed-media animated shorts, especially ones with sand and paintings on glass. Florence Miailhe draws a portrait of a Paris neighborhood, linking the disconnected lives together with the somewhat hacky device of a small doll who gets randomly passed from Parisian to Parisian. The TV Rating listing promises us "Brief Nudity, Mild Violence." Ooo la la.

Monday, December 28

Midnight-1:32AM, TCM: SHERLOCK HOLMES, 86m.
TCM's Silent Sunday movie this week is the 1922 feature starring John Barrymore as Holmes, Roland Young as Dr. Watson and Gustav von Seyffertitz as Moriarty. Was this film fully restored? I always heard that this movie is missing its entire last reel. Well, I guess we'll find out.

Vittorio De Sica's classic; I thought we had all agreed to call it the more accurate THE BICYCLE THIEVES?

3:45AM-5:30AM, TCM: THE LAST DETAIL, 104m.
Hal Ashby's rambling shaggy dog of a gritty Navy MP story. Jack Nicholson, Otis Young, Randy Quaid star.

11:45AM-1:15PM, Sun: ALICE NEEL, 83m.
Andrew Neel assembled a fascinating, appropriately frustrating portrait of his grandmother, the late great portrait painter Alice Neel. [Replays at 5:05PM.]

I loathe Ginger Rogers, that red-baiting overrated meathead, but the combination of Cary Grant, Walter Slezak, the still-unsung director Leo McCarey and the sublimely goofy plot [A radio correspondent tries to rescue a burlesque queen from her marriage to a Nazi official] is enough for me to pretend that Rogers is someone else and enjoy the movie.

9PM-10:20PM, Sun: BROKEN NOSES, 78m.
One of photographer Bruce Weber's lesser-known documentaries/portraits, this one trails former Golden Gloves champion Andy Minsker as he mentors Portland, OR teens at a boxing club. Weber photographs Minsker's face with almost as much love as Minnelli filmed Garland.

And there's another week.

The 2009th step on the last road home.

The 2008th step on the last road home.

Putting the "KPM," "meta" and "metal" in "KPMetal."

It's a typical one-project-then-declines-into-a-ghost-ship of a Web site, but I enjoy Spider-Jazz and the one surviving audio track on this promo page [warning: the page autoplays naturally loud audio] amuses the crap out of me. It's so head-bangingly bombastic that I find myself making devil's horn-hands [or is it the sign of the goat? Junior high school was a long time ago -- pointer and pinky out, thumb against the middle and ring fingers] before the second chord is slammed into my eardrums. It's also the same gesture Spider-Man makes when he's shooting a web. Meta!

FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS: "Day Of The Fight (1951)"

Stanley Kubrick's first motion picture: a 16-minute short that documents the day in the life [April 17, 1950] of Irish middleweight boxer Walter Cartier when he fought Bobby James in a fight card at Laurel Garden, Newark, NJ. If Cartier looks familiar it's because after retiring from boxing, he became an actor; he's probably best known for guest spots as Pvt. Claude Dillingham in SERGEANT BILKO. James is apparently still alive, having racked up an overall losing record of 19(KO4)-24(KO11)-3 before retiring in 1955. If the old man still has his marbles, some Kubrickphile should track him down and get his impressions of the fight and Kubrick's film, if he has any.

Unfortunately, this isn't the best print of the documentary that's out there, but it's still Kubrick and fairly watchable. If you'd like to download this file, it's here.

Don't even tell me voice-to-text recognition programs actually work now too.

Twenty years ago, I imagined that in the future we would be able to paint with light. Isn't that essentially what we do with Photoshop/Illustrator?

Ten years ago, I imagined that someday I would be able to jump back & forth between PS & ILL -- and maybe even be indefinitely connected to high-speed Internet at home -- without my computer crashing under the strain of having two or three resource-hogs running at the same time. That day is Friday, December 18, 2009; I didn't even notice they were all on until I went to open a PS file.

Next: Jetpacks, then single-payer healthcare.

Happy Holidays

It's true; the best presents you can give your friends are the things you want for yourself. Just a little something to help take the edge off the season's teeth-grating and help everyone survive the holidays with psyches intact:


[Direct Download for the MP3 here. Put it on your iPods and tune out your relatives for a half-hour.]

[Wednesday 23, 2:35AM UPDATE: Totally forgot about the DRAGNET holiday episode [direct mp3 download]"Twenty-Two Rifle For Christmas," guaranteed to bum out all but the deadest-hearted of Scrooges [I find it hypnotically entertaining]. Having tried it all of the ways, I find playing this show through the stereo at overlong Christmas parties clears out the joint only slightly slower than tear gas and/or calling the cops on yourself. "Enjoy."

Even More OTR

Not even halfway through this folder of spoken-word links; here are the other half of the old-time-radio archives:

An archive.org collection of THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM, featuring one of the worst attempts to piggyback-selfpromote oneself off an archive of far better content I've seen. At least NakedGord didn't edit himself into the MP3s. Eek.

FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE RADIO, featuring a surprisingly solid, faithful 1931 serialized adaptation of Shelly's novel.

A CBC-radio adaptation of John Wyndham's apocalyptic science-fiction THE KRAKEN AWAKES, from 1965.

I seriously doubt this is the first time I've posted about INFORMATION PLEASE, the radio quiz show where anyone could be a contestant -- you would sent the show the questions and see if they would stump a four-man panel of experts: Clifton Fadiman, THE NEW YORKER's book-review editor, hosted the show; usually two chairs would be filled by some combination of newspaper columnists/public intellectuals Franklin P. Adams and John Kieran and/or writer-actor-pianist-snappy-comeback-artist Oscar Levant; and the fourth panelist would usually be a celebrity who wasn't stupid: Orson Welles, Carl Van Doren, Alexander Woolcott, Boris Karloff, Moss Hart, Marc Connolly, Carl Sandburg and a surprising number of Judges, doctors, city Mayors, state Governors and more than a few Senators regularly appeared on the show. If your questions stumped the panel, you won five dollars and a complete edition of the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA. It was generally far looser and more fun than my description makes it sound, although it is that kind of a show as well. Here are archives One, two and three.

And finally: to either cleanse the palate or befoul it, depending on which side of the my apparent audience divide you stand, here is 15 pages of Superman old time radio. Not quite enough brain-damaging pulp to turn you into the Flaming Carrot, but they can be fun in very small doses.

Moving on to non-archive.org sources: A marvelous W.C. Fields and Marx Bros. recorded archive, and well as several other fine radio comedians and a massive collection of the epically long 15-minute series VIC AND SADE.

The Monster Club, a great library of horror/sci-fi/fantasy OTR

And Botar, another key collection -- at least, one that I saw before finding any OTR on Archive.org

The 2006th step on the last road home.

Good Evening, This Is Orson Welles.

Sebastian Krüger's portrait of Orson Welles. Click for larger image.

It's bookmark-cleaning time again -- courtesy of our BFF archive.org's "Old Time Radio" collection, it's Orson Welles OTR Oddity Overdrive!

Young Welles plays Hamlet in two episodes of THE COLUMBIA WORKSHOP. Well, he probably would have done better than young Alec Guinness did, from most reports.

Here are some segments from Welles' 1941 show for Lady Esther cosmetics. Standouts are the surprisingly treacly but effective adaptation of Earl Reed Silver's "If, in Years to Come" and the eerie, almost sublime take on John Galsworthy's play "The Apple Tree" with Geraldine Fitzgerald.

[Some people claim that Welles and Fitzgerald had an affair, and he's really the father of her son, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, director of movies like THE BEATLES: LET IT BE and scads of concert and TV movies. Even Welles' daughter Christopher doesn't know one way or the other. I bring all this up mostly because I think it's interesting and not sordid, and I can't believe that Christopher has been alive all these years. Considering how even celebrity children who don't get arrested every few months still get interviewed for profiles of their famous parent[s] and such, it's amazing that she kept so thoroughly off our radar for so long.]

Orson Welles as a Guest Star -- particularly interesting is his six-week run as Jack Benny's replacement in 1943; Benny was out sick, and Welles was struggling to reinvent himself as a radio comedian by day, liberal activist at night. Listening to those BENNYs, you'll understand why he failed at the former. [He was a great success at the latter, by the way; even in a life that was as defined by baffling failures as culture-defining successes, that Welles walked away from a decade's worth of political work and fucked off to Europe remains one of his biggest abdications of his genius.]

For the full-blown Welles-as-comedian experience, here are parts one and two of the 1944 Orson Welles Radio ALMANAC. It's painful to hear Welles bomb -- not that the audience is allowed to notice -- working from the irreconcilable position that a] He Is The Comedian and B] He is Always The Smartest Man In The Room.

The most effective old-school comedians were [in clown terms] the goofy, theoretically subordinate Auguste playing off their Whiteface straight men; Lewis to Martin, Costello to Abbott, Harpo to whomever he was standing next to, etc. Not all smart Whiteface types were straight men, of course, but it's a different dynamic; Groucho is confident that he's smarter than everyone else, but he's constantly being manipulated by Chico, Harpo and even the story's heavies. Most of the time, Jack Benny is so effectively neutralized from taking action by his supporting cast that it's rare that any episodes of his show have a real plot. [By the way, I heard an Xmas BENNY episode where Mary Livingstone's line-reading is so leaden and contemptuous that virtually every one of her zingers bombed. It was astounding.] As cutting and brilliant a one-liner machine as someone like Oscar Levant or Fred Allen were, you can't build a funny comedy around them being right all the time. Welles tragically couldn't or wouldn't accept this. The closest he comes is fat jokes, but his incipient girth doesn't stops Aggie Moorehead and the swooning bobbysockers in the Orson Wells Fan Club on the show. Yes, really.

Parts one and two of the 1946 MERCURY SUMMER THEATRE series, where the Mercury's running time was cut to a half-hour although the stories picked were a bit more substantial than those of Welles' initial Hollywood CAMPBELL PLAYHOUSE seasons. If I recall correctly, "The Moat Farm Murder" is Welles' tour de force reading of a supposedly real murder confession; "Hell on Ice" is pretty gripping regardless of how quickly it's told; and the final episode in this archive offers a possible glimpse at what a Welles KING LEAR would have at least sounded like.

Two things stand out in this collection of Orson Welles in Wartime Broadcasts: The last time I drove out to Seattle from New York, I listened to a cassette of "Between Americans," a Norman Corwin-written radioplay for the GULF SCREEN THEATRE program, over and over -- Welles' performance is superb, despite the occasional dissonance from the narrator's part not having been written for a "name" actor. I spent most of the first three-quarters of 2001 thinking about Welles and what it really means to be an American. I learned more than enough about Americans and neurotypicals to not want to know more even before September 11th. Also worth checking out in this archive is the "Alameda" episode of the amusing, bemusing propaganda miniseries NAZI EYES ON CANADA.

[Norman Corwin was a true genius, by the way -- I should reupload his wonderful, truly dazzling radio play THE PLOT TO OVERTHROW CHRISTMAS, which I think I've forgotten to do these last few Grinchly years.]

Another wartime Welles show was the oddball CEILING UNLIMITED, sponsored by Lockheed, often written by Arthur Miller and crammed WWII propaganda, aeronautical history and sometimes science fiction/fantasy into 15-minute episodes. It is a pretty funny title for the actor/director who brought ceilings to movie sets. More patriotic ballyhoo in THE CAVALCADE OF AMERICA

Of course, I finish all this and only then do I happen across The Museum of Orson Welles, which presents all of the above and much, much more. One caveat, especially to "right-click-save-as" browsers: some links are to commercial free-storage sites that you have to fill out a CAPCHA first, not direct MP3 downloads.

[ps. props to this guy for uploading all of the surviving MERCURY THEATRE ON THE AIR episodes and rehearsals as well as the LES MISERABLES miniseries that preceded it -- for a long time, this was the only place online that had 'em.]

The 2005th step on the last road home.

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

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

John Ford's first color film, and his most gorgeous. Henry Fonda! Claudette Colbert! The Revolutionary War!

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.

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.

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?

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?

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?

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.

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!

Director Mike Newell almost makes you like Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell and Kristin Scott Thomas!

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.

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.

9AM-10:30AM, FMC: THE BIG NOISE, 74m.
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?

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."

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.

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.]

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.