Weekly DVD Alert Ten: February 8-15, 2010

Check your local listings; also a lot of these films are shown throughout the month -- some are in a semi-permanent rotation -- so you may want to look at previous DVD alerts for December and January.

[I have a question: Does anyone mind if I start including movies I've written up in past Alerts in the current Alert? At first, I didn't want to swamp these posts with a lot of blurbs for movies that literally air every week, but now it seems as unwieldy and counterintuitive to tell people to look at my past posts and check out the channel listings to find cool stuff themselves … in a post that's supposed to be a little guide so that people don't need to dig through those channel listings for cool stuff to watch. I think I'm going to start doing this anyway -- my stats say that the DVD Alerts are attracting an audience that definitely weren't around two months ago -- but I thought I'd ask for feedback on it anyway.]

Monday, February 8

3:15AM-5:30AM, TCM: ON THE BEACH, 134m.
A cheerful post-nuclear apocalypse from that barrel-of-monkeys Stanley Kramer [JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG, INHERIT THE WIND]. U.S. sailors stationed in Australia miss out on the armageddon, struggle to figure out what to do next. Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire star.

[To be a Monday-morning armchair executive producer 50 years later: I would have cast teeny-bopper actors -- were Frankie & Annette making movies by 1959? -- and set it all to look like a beach movie interrupted by the end of Western civilization via atomic holocaust at the end of the second reel, then marketed the movie without ever mentioning the world dies screaming about 20 minutes in.]

[Also, It must have been a real pain in the ass keeping track of which director named Stanley was which in the late '50s-'60s, although it is fun to imagine Stanley Kubrick's IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD or Stanley Donen's DR. STRANGELOVE or Kramer making the court-martial scenes in PATHS OF GLORY more exciting than the battlefield chaos.]

7:35AM-9AM, IFC: BANANAS, 82m.
I bet Woody Allen is sick to death of hearing people talk about how much funnier his early movies were. Can you imagine him banging out a short comedy where he goes to Pakistan to impress a woman? Well, anyone can imagine that -- I mean imagine it being really funny. [Reairs at 12:25PM and 5:30PM]

8:35AM-10:15AM, Sun: YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME, 91m.
A remarkable and truly moving portrait of Roky Erickson, the singer/guitarist of the 13th Floor Elevators and the Aliens, as he slowly remerges out of a miasma of mental illness, codependent relationships with his family and drug abuse. [Reairs at 1:30PM.]

10:15AM-11:45AM, Sun: AUDIENCE OF ONE, 88m.
A documentary about a Pentecostal minister who claims God told him to form a movie studio and make a huge sci-fi version of the Bible. Presumably Jesus got an Executive Producer credit in return for his dad's initial investment. [Reairs at 3:15PM.]

11:45AM-1:30PM, Sun: A BIGGER SPLASH, 106m.
David Hockney breaks up with his boyfriend and struggles to get back into his painting. I wonder if this was the period when he decided that, as he can't draw freehand as well as the best Renaissance painters, those artists must have used rudimentary tracing tools, like the camera obscura, just as Hockney uses artographs and such. [Reairs at 4:45PM.]

Frank Capra may be the unsung master of the core principle that gives termite-art its power: You really can say nearly anything unpleasant but true about whatever you want in popular art so long as you give the audience a decently made happy ending. If you stop this movie or IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE [the most sarcastic title ever?] at the moment where Jimmy Stewart realizes how fucked he and everyone he cares about are, these are some dark, flinty-hearted movies about small-town life and politics. That people only remember Stewart running around yelling with joy or struggling to keep talking in his filibuster just shows how good Capra was at his sleight of hand. Jean Arthur and Claude Rains co-star.

One epically long anti-Nazi Hollywood movie from Fritz Lang, about the underground resistance in Czechoslovakia. Did Lang spend the entire War making these kinds of pictures? I bet Hitler and the boys loved ribbing Josef Goebbels about him offering Lang the directorship of the German Cinema Institute, which went so smoothly that Lang quietly fled Germany for Paris and then the United States. Smooth move, Ex-Lax! Brian Donlevy, Walter Brennan and Anna Lee star.

I missed this when it aired a few weeks ago. It sounds nuts: Spencer Tracy stars as a civilian who escapes from a German concentration camp with six other men. As each man is caught, it returned the camp and crucified. You can guess who gets the title.
Signe Hasso and Hume Cronyn co-star, Fred Zinnemann directs.

I love John Frankenheimer, but this 1964 movie doesn't sound like it plays to any of his strengths as a filmmaker. Young military man Kirk Douglas uncovers a plot by his superior officers to stage a military coup of the country. I've seen scenes between Douglas and Burt Lancaster in a bumper that TCM often airs where Michael Douglas talks about his dad; the scenes make the movie look like it will be a lot of granite-chinned men standing tall and shooting conflicting platitudes at each other for two hours. I'm hoping I'm wrong.

A highwater mark for American films in my favorite subgenre, the my-eccentric-uncle-figure section of coming-of-age movies. Jason Robards Jr., Barbara Harris Martin Balsam and Barry Gordon star in Fred Coe's adaptation of Herb Gardner's play.

It's a terrible balancing act -- for most media satires to garner a significant amount of attention, they have to be violent. [When even ostensibly indie/womens movies about weddings feature fistfights and car chases, I think we can mostly agree that virtually everything in our movie culture has to be violent to get that attention.] But that violence makes it easy for the cultural powers that the satire attacks to easily deflect criticism by focusing on the carnage. It's why Congressional hacks will go after video games that have some amount of satire and commentary like GRAND THEFT AUTO [where the player has a remarkable amount of free will and leeway to achieve a lot of the game's goals without much violence] over its violence, but not bellow on about a straight-up smashing game like GOD OF WAR. I'd like to think that somewhere in EB Games' remainder bins is a game that's not incredibly violent but features even more cutting cultural commentary than GTA; I assume those are the games that are still in their original shrinkwrap because no one, including me, bought them.

Anyway, AMERICAN PSYCHO: Bret Easton Ellis [and director Mary Harron] almost made it too easy for cultural conservatives of all stripes to attack this movie for its most irrelevant aspects. It undoubtedly put asses in theater seats to watch it, but the excess weakens the movie's impact and a lot of its jokes. The scene about the business cards kills me every time. Christian Bale stars, with Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon, Samantha Mathis, Chloe Sevigny and Guinevere Turner, who co-wrote the adaptation. [Reairs at 1:05AM.]

Tuesday, February 9

6:05AM-7:15AM, Sun: 14 WOMEN, 69m.
Mary Lambert's profile of the …. 14 women, Democrat and Republican, who held seats in the U.S. Senate in 2005. Annette Bening narrates. Lambert should make a sequel titled 17 WOMEN before the number changes again. [Last airing for this month.]

5:41PM-5:52PM, TCM Short: STORY OF A DOG, 10m
A 1945 documentary about the U.S. Army's use of dogs in battle, as literally told from a dog's point of view.

Wednesday, February 10

12:15AM-2:30AM, TCM: NETWORK, 121m.
Paddy Chayefsky's finest two hours. It's unfortunate that the takeaway quote from this film is "I'M AS MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!" and not "If there's anybody out there that can look around this demented slaughterhouse of a world we live in and tell me that man is a noble creature, believe me: That man is full of bullshit." Howard Beale is processed instant God, people; he's even bigger than Mary Tyler Moore. Sidney Lumet directs and William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch star with support from Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty.

6AM-8:15AM, FMC: BLOOD AND SAND, 125m.
A fine double feature of romantic adventures from director Rouben Mamoulian and stars Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, with Rita Hayworth, Basil Rathbone and Gale Sondergaard.

9AM-10AM, ESPNC: CLASSIC BOXING "1990: Mike Tyson vs. James 'Buster' Douglas"
This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the upset victory a determined Buster yanked from a bored, lost Iron Mike in Tokyo with a 10th-round knock out.

10:15AM-Noon, TCM: ON THE TOWN, 98m.
Noon-2PM, TCM: COVER GIRL, 107m.
Another fine double feature -- this seems to be the week for them, or that's just what I'm seeing to pick out this week -- of excellent Gene Kelly musicals.
TOWN features Kelly and Frank Sinatra as sailors on leave, Vera-Ellen is The Girl and Kelly co-directs with the mighty Stanley Donen. COVER is a romance between Kelly and Rita Hayworth, with support from Eve Arden and Phil Silvers and direction from Charles "King" Vidor.

9:43PM-9:55PM, TCM Short: PASSING PARADE: "Annie Was A Wonder" 11m.
A Richard Widmark showcase: He cuts loose as a demented crook in KISS, then sweats up a storm as a pickpocket who steals the wrong Commie spy's purse in SOUTH. In between is a nice sentimental little film about WWI-era immigrant women.

7PM-8PM, ESPNC: CLASSIC BOXING "1974: George Foreman-Muhammad Ali"
I sometimes wonder if ESPNC will lose the rights to air "The Rumble in the Jungle" if they don't show it at least once a week. I suppose it's on at this time to prime the pump for an evening about that other big shocking moment in heavyweight history ….

Barbara Kopple's 1993 documentary about the fallen champ.

10PM-11PM, ESPNC: CLASSIC BOXING "1990: Mike Tyson vs. James 'Buster' Douglas"
Again, it's now been 20 years [actually on the 11th -- why isn't this stuff running tomorrow? They're scheduled to show a draw between boxing icons Dorian Beaupierre and Daniel Eduoard, and then a 2001 Yankees-Arizona baseball game instead. WTF?] since Buster shocked everyone …. who hadn't noticed how sloppy Tyson had become since becoming the undisputed champion/Cus D'Amato died/Jim Jacobs died/Robin Givens punked him out on that Barbara Walters special/fill-in-the-blank-here and knocked him out. I'd like to think that Mike and George Foreman will be hanging out and watching this evening commemorating the worst moments of their professional lives together.

11PM-12:40AM, Sun: CHOP SUEY 98m.
Bruce Weber's 2001 potpourri of film essays about people important to him: "lounge singer and lesbian icon Frances Faye; British adventurer/writer Sir Wilfred Thesiger; fashion editor Diana Vreeland; actor Robert Mitchum; a Brazilian jujitsu champ; and Peter Johnson, a photogenic young wrestler from Wisconsin who serves as Weber's muse." [Reairs at 5:20AM]

Thursday, February 11

Extreme-sports filmmaker Murray Siple bounced back from the car crash that left him a quadriplegic with an extreme-sports film about homeless Pacific Northwest dudes who race supermarket shopping carts. [Last airing for this month.]

I love learning about the bizarre, sometimes stupid ideas scientists and engineers cooked up to more efficiently slaughter other human beings almost as much as I love World War II documentaries. The long, hard shaft of chocolate penetrates the creamy jar of peanut butter tonight, my friends. [Reairs at 3:01am.]

Friday, February 12

Midnight-2AM, TCM: SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, 103m.
Another double feature of century-class Technicolor musicals: Everyone knows Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen's SINGIN', but WAGON isn't nearly as heralded: Vincente Minnelli helms a Broadway jaunt starring Fred Astaire, Jack Buchanan and an absolutely gorgeous Cyd Charisse.

Possibly the craziest story ever told on the History Channel, rendered even crazier by being told in the channel's carefully measured house style: A bunch of Chicago mobsters decide to steal the President's corpse in 1876 and hold it for ransom. [Reairs at 2PM.]

8:45AM-10:30AM, TCM: A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS, 91m.
I don't know what these programmers are thinking -- Turner Classic Movies suspends most of their regular programming features for their yearly "31 Days of Oscar" extravaganza, but why show a silent movie on Friday morning and not in the Monday at Midnight "Silent Sundays" slot? Anyway, it probably doesn't bode well that a drama starring Greta Garbo, John Gilbert and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. isn't widely hailed [it's not even out on DVD in Region One yet] as other Garbo-Gilbert films like QUEEN CHRISTINA and FLESH AND THE DEVIL, but B+ Garbo-Gilbert beats no Garbo-Gilbert.

A longish profile of "Old Hickory": Again, why they're showing this today -- after airing STEALING LINCOLN, no less -- I have no idea. It's like following a short doc about the JFK autopsy photos with a long program about FDR, except that there a lot more of a connection between Kennedy-Roosevelt than Lincoln-Jackson. Maybe this is a documentary about Andrew Johnson? [Reairs at 4PM.]

Two hits of prime Anne Bancroft wonderfulness. PUMPKIN is a fine romantic drama from Jack Clayton and Harold Pinter co-starring Peter Finch and James Mason. GRADUATE I only watch for Mrs. Robinson's scenes.

I'm not thrilled about any of the fights scheduled -- when a match between lightweights Ji Hoon Kim [19-5] and Tyrone Harris [24-5] is your headliner, you should thank the sports gods that the card airs the same week as the twentieth anniversary of James Douglas beating Mike Tyson and your program has dibs on interviewing Douglas about the fight's anniversary.

10:20PM-11PM, Sun Short: THE GRANDMOTHER, 34m.
From 1970 comes David Lynch's first "long" short film; I bet it's on YouTube at least twice, but it's worth seeing a nice, sharp-as-possible print of it. [Reairs Saturday at 11:20PM.]

Saturday, February 13

Midnight-2AM, Sun: A BITTERSWEET LIFE, 119m.
Sometimes, a stylish Korean gangster punch-'em-up scratches an itch perfectly. Director Ji-woon Kim spins a yarn about a mob enforcer gets all soft-hearted when he decides not to follow orders to kill his boss' unfaithful girlfriend.

Roger Ebert can never explain himself enough for writing the screenplay for this neutered Russ Meyer schlockfest. [Reairs at 4AM]

Sunday, February 14

2AM-4AM, TCM: BLOW-UP, 111m.
This week's "TCM Underground" film is Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 classic anti-thriller about an emotionally disconnected arts photographer discovering a murder in the background of his outdoor shots. David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave and Sarah Miles star, with a cameo from the Jeff Beck-and-Jimmy-Page-era Yardbirds.

A Barbara Stanwyck double: EVE being the classic Preston Sturges screwball romance between Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, and FIRE a somewhat dated but machine-gun-fast comedy from Howard Hawks and the writing team of Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett about some stuffy academics tapping a mob moll for the low-down on the last lingo, starring Gary Cooper, Stanwyck and Dana Andrews.

10PM-Midnight, TCM: THE AFRICAN QUEEN, 103m.
Depending on your point of view, this is either a Humphrey Bogart double feature or CASABLANCA and the first part of a Katharine Hepburn double-header. I suppose nothing need be said about the former film, except that I don't think Jack Benny is in it as an extra. [Co-starring Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains, written by the Brothers Epstein & Howard Koch and directed by Michael Curtiz.] As for QUEEN, all that need be said is "This movie still hasn't been released on R1 DVD??? WTF FTW!!!1!!!!" [Directed by John Huston, who co-wrote it with James Agee and Peter Viertel.]

Monday, February 15

Midnight-2AM, TCM: SUMMERTIME, 100m.
As I remember it, this movie does for romances what BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK did for Westerns around the same time; both are about how WWII changed our world without really ever being about WWII at all. This Katharine Hepburn vehicle was director/co-writer David Lean's last "small" movie prior to BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, but it's just as visually stunning as those "big" movies. Rossano Brazzi, Isa Miranda and Darren McGavin co-star.

7:30AM-9:05AM, Sun: ARRANGED, 92m.
Stefan Schaefer and Diane Crespo directed this indie ensemble comedy about an Orthodox Jew and a devout Muslim public-school teachers and their more secular co-workers. We all love a good one-world, be-respectful-of-other's-beliefs movies when they're smart, perceptive and honest, right?

For my money, this is the least insufferable of the self-congratulatory Baby Boomer festival rockumentaries, largely because it's the most honest about how half-assed the whole thing was: rock promoter decides to hire a train to take Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, the Band, Buddy Guy, the Flying Burrito Brothers and other across Canada to rock out in various cities. What's the worst that could happen, right? [Reairs at 2:05PM.]

9:15AM-11:45AM, TCM: SMART MONEY, 81m.
11:45AM-1:15PM, THE SEA WOLF, 87m.
Two of Edward G. Robinson's more interesting roles: First as a cheerful barber who winds up a badass gambler [a hens-tooth rare instance of Robinson sharing the screen with a young James Cagney] and then as Jack London's crazed, violent sea captain in a clever adaptation/pre-War meta-commentary on Nazism.

10:45AM-12:15PM, FMC: AS YOUNG AS YOU FEEL, 77m.
Small-budget comedy about an old man fighting back against his company forcing him to retire. Monty Woolley is the [old] man, with support from Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter, David Wayne and a young Marilyn Monroe and direction from Harmon Jones from old Lamar Trotti's adaptation of young Paddy Chayefsky's story.

12:15PM-1:30PM, FMC: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?, 74m.
An oddly obscure rah-rah WWII patriotic musical fantasy: You would think, even if it's terrible, that a movie with a Morrie Ryskind screenplay, songs by Kurt Weill and Irving Berlin and a lead performance from Fred MacMurray near his peak as a movie idol would get at least some play. A young Anthony Quinn and Joan Leslie co-star, with direction from Gregory Ratoff.

10PM-Midnight, TCM: THE HEIRESS, 115m.
Olivia de Havilland really excelled at playing these damaged, fragile roles after the Errol Flynn years. In PIT she's supposed to be crazy; in HEIRESS she's supposed to be homely.

I love and hate this movie for the opposite reason I hate and love THE LAST WALTZ: In WALTZ, the musical performances shine while the documentary/interviews never fail to enrage me with Martin Scorcese's shittiness, especially now that half of The Band's original members are dead. In STANDING, however, Paul Justman handles and presents the Funk Brothers in a positive but honest light; it's just that the musical performances push the Brothers back into the shadows, only instead of backing a genuine legend like Marvin Gaye or The Supremes, they're backing …. um, Montell Jordan and Joan Osborne. The performances also disserve the Funks by framing their contribution as being live performers and not as the studio creators they were. Now that the genius of their collective creativity has been preserved on magnetic tape and transcriptions, any competent group of sight-reading musicians can play those songs live -- and that's exactly what the Funk Brothers were in 2001. One thing that WALTZ does right that STANDING doesn't is place each band's performances in a specific historical context; there's a damn good reason why The Band is playing as a backing band to almost every guest who they shared their final stage with; even Neil Diamond serves as a living link to the Tin Pan Alley-kind of songwriting they tried to emulate at times. The singers in STANDING, with one exception, all seem to simply be the biggest names the producers could sign to perform, and the results rarely rise above the kind of cover songs usually recorded to fill out the track listings of Greatest Hits collections. The exception to this being bassist/singer/songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello, who provides not only the most moving of moments in the backstage behind-the-scenes but also the most "alive" performance with "Cloud Nine." Ndegeocello comes off as focused without being tense, deeply engaged without being overzealous; just like a really good James Jamerson bassline. [Reairs Tuesday at 3AM and 12:15PM.]

And there's another week.

1 comment:

The Estate of Tim O'Neil said...

Have you read the book? I mean, of American Psycho. It's funny, after reading the book the violence in the movie doesn't even phase me in the least - it seems really tame and watered-down. In the book he puts a starving sewer rat up a woman's vagina and makes it eat its way out of her torso. The movie is like mother's milk.