Film on TV: December 13-19

Fish Tank, playing Wednesday on Sundance.

Mostly repeats this week, but some great ones. TCM closes out the Moguls and Movie Stars series, reaching the end of the classical Hollywood studio system, and has a bunch of 1960s greats on Monday and Wednesday to go along with that, plus Cabaret on Tuesday, Ingrid Bergman’s first American film on Friday, Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe on Saturday, and the always enjoyable Grease on Sunday. But if you only watch one thing this week, and you have the Sundance channel, please catch Andrea Arnold’s amazing Fish Tank on Wednesday night. It’s due out on DVD from Criterion in February, so this is a great chance to see it early if you missed its limited theatrical run earlier this year.

Monday, December 13

3:35pm – Sundance – Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman
As an architectural photographer covering modernist architecture during the mid-twentieth century, Julius Shulman captured some of the most iconic images ever of homes and other buildings, basically creating an entire generation’s perception of Los Angeles and Palm Springs especially. This well-designed documentary is a great primer on his life and work, and through his work, on modernist ideals and architecture itself. Definitely worth a look if you’re interested in photography, architecture, modernism, or Los Angeles.
2008 USA. Director: Eric Brickner. Starring: Julius Shulman, Dustin Hoffman.

7:00pm – Sundance – Eraserhead
David Lynchís first feature is a weird post-apocalyptic dreamscape of a film ñ what, you were expecting something normal? When you can have industrial decay and mutant babies?
1977 USA. Director: David Lynch. Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart.
(repeats at 3:30am on the 14th. and 10:00pm on the 18th)

8:00pm – TCM – Moguls & Movie Stars: Fade Out, Fade In
TCM’s History of Hollywood wraps up this week with the 1960s, the end of the classical studio system period. As the moguls who basically created Hollywood in the 1920s began losing control of the studios, the system itself broke down, mirroring the upheavals in the society around them and allowing an influx of new, young talent that would take us into New Hollywood and beyond. But that’s beyond the scope of this documentary series. This is one of the most exciting decades in film history for me, and TCM has programmed a nice collection of films to go along with it, representing socially conscious prestige pictures, lower budget cult films, and two of the films that truly signaled the beginning of the New: Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider (on Wednesday).

9:00pm – TCM – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Interracial marriage may not be quite the hot topic now that it was in 1967 (although if you check some parts of the American South, you might be surprised), but at the time, Katharine Houghton bringing home Sidney Poitier to meet her parents Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (in his last film) was the height of socially conscious filmmaking.
1967 USA. Director: Stanley Kramer. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton, Cecil Kellaway.

12:00M – TCM – Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Aging stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford play an aging child star and her sister in Robert Aldrichís cult favorite. Hard to think of better casting for a story like this.
1962 USA. Director: Robert Aldrich. Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Wesley Addy, Maidie Norman.

2:30am (14th) – TCM – The Magnificent Seven
Homage comes full circle as American John Sturges remakes Akira Kurosawaís The Seven Samurai as a western – Kurosawaís film itself was a western transposed into a Japanese setting. Sturges ainít no Kurosawa, but the story of a group of outcast cowboys banding together to protect an oppressed village is still a good one, plus thereís a young Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the cast.
1960 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson.

Tuesday, December 14

5:15pm – TCM – BUtterfield 8
Elizabeth Taylorís first Oscar came for this role as a high-priced call girl, but I was honestly far more impressed with the supporting turn from Susan Oliver as the woman who fears sheís losing her boyfriend Eddie Fisher to Taylor (life imitates art, Fisher and Taylor married in real life). Not top-shelf melodrama, but some snappy dialogue here and there helps.
1960 USA. Director: Daniel Mann. Starring: Elizbaeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, Eddie Fisher, Susan Oliver.

7:45pm – IFC – Carrie
There aren’t that many movies that you can say are equally loved by horror fans and feminist academics, but Carrie is one of them – Carrie’s physical coming-of-age sparks telekinetic abilities, allowing her to take bloody revenge on the schoolkids who mistreated her. And who can’t relate to that, really?
1976 USA. Director: Brian DePalma. Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving.
(repeats at 1:30am on the 15th)

9:00pm – TCM – Cabaret
Every time I see Cabaret I think more highly of it – Weimar Germany doesn’t seem like a particularly obvious setting for a musical, but this one weaves together the story of expatriots in Berlin with the background of the beginning of the Nazi party menacingly well, with great music and absolutely fantastic choreography by Bob Fosse. It’s stunning.
1972 USA. Director: Bob Fosse. Starring: Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Joel Grey, Helmut Griem.
Must See
Newly Featured!

3:30am (15th) – Sundance – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Any half-decent film about three drag queens driving a bus through the Australian outback in outlandish costumes (and sometimes lipsynching to opera while sitting in an enormous shoe strapped on top of the bus) pretty much has to be fabulous, and this one is. Hugo Weaving is the one with the secret former marriage and son, Terence Stamp the aging one who tends to be somewhat bitter but can also be the consummate lady, and Guy Pearce is the flamboyant youth. As they move through the Outback toward their next proposed gig as lipsynching dancers, they run into mechanical difficulties, bigotry, and interpersonal conflicts that get into more thoughtful territory than you might expect.
1994 Australia. Director: Stephan Elliott. Starring: Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Terence Stamp, Rebel Penfold-Russell.

Wednesday, December 15

6:00am – TCM – The Bad and the Beautiful
Vincente Minnelli directs Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, and Gloria Grahame in one of the best dark-side-of-Hollywood noirish films this side of Sunset Boulevard.
1952 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Gloria Grahame.

12:00N – TCM – The Bitter Tea of General Yen
In what is certainly not one of Hollywood’s more racially sensitive films (though it has more nuance than you might expect for its time period), Barbara Stanwyck plays a bright-faced missionary to China who ends up captured by Chinese General Yen and finds herself falling in love with him. A strange, strange movie in many ways (not least of all the surrealistic photography); not wholly successful perhaps, but a very unusual entry in Frank Capra’s filmography.
1933 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Nils Asther, Toshia Mori, Walter Connolly.

1:30pm – TCM – The Lady Eve
Barbara Stanwyck and her father Charles Coburn are cardplayers, cheating cruise ship denizens of their wealth. Millionaire (and snake afficianado) Henry Fonda is a good mark, especially since heís a bit dense and spacey. Stanwyckís plot is hugely elaborate, only a little muddled by her falling in love with Fonda as well, and sheís a delight from start to finish. As she usually is.
1941 USA. Director: Preston Sturges. Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, William Demarest, Eugene Pallette.
Must See

8:00pm – TCM – Night of the Living Dead
Zombie movies can be conveniently subcategorized into pre-Romero and post-Romero, so influential has this film been. Eschewing voodoo and zombie masters, Romero posited a zombie created by our own nuclear follies and motivated by nothing more than insatiable hunger. More than that, the layer of social commentary makes Night of the Living Dead far more than the Bo-movie schlocker it seems like on the surface. It changed zombie films, and probably horror films in general to an extent, forever.
1968 USA. Director: George A. Romero. Starring: Duane Jones, Judith OíDea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman.

11:15pm – TCM – Bonnie and Clyde
This is a perfect film. If you have not seen it, see it. If you have seen it, see it again. In either case, rather than write again how much I love it, I will just refer you here.
1967 USA. Director: Arthur Penn. Starring: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons.
Must See

11:40pm – Sundance – Fish Tank
Andrea Arnold’s electrifying sophomore film comes to Sundance, and I for one can’t wait to get a chance to see it again. Newcomer Katie Jarvis is brilliant as a disaffected working class teen in industrial England (as is Michael Fassbender as the stepfather figure), and Arnold never compromises the harshness here, but also manages to introduce a strangely lyrical quality – both together make the film nearly transcendent, and one of the best films of the year. Not to be missed.
2009 UK. Director: Andrea Arnold. Starring Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender.
Newly Featured!

1:15am (16th) – TCM – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis both won acting awards for their parts in Mike Nichols’ version of Edward Albee’s dysfunctional dinner party play. Remains probably the most well-remembered team-up of erstwhile couple Taylor and Richard Burton.
1966 USA. Director: Mike Nichols. Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis, George Segal.

3:30am (16th) – TCM – Easy Rider
The story of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda trying to make this film is almost as interesting as the film itself; if you get a DVD copy of this, make sure to watch the documentary about it. Itís fitting, though, that a film about bikers on the fringe of society, completely outcast in some places, would be made at great personal difficulty outside the studio system. As a whole, the tension works for the film, which is brilliant, iconoclastic, and marks, along with Bonnie and Clyde, the beginning of the New Hollywood that would blossom in the 1970s.
1969 USA. Director: Dennis Hopper. Starring: Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson.
Must See

6:00am (16th) – Sundance – Army of Shadows
One of Jean-Pierre Melville’s most highly regarded films covers the French Resistance during WWII with a great deal of depth and nuance. From all reports anyway, I actually still have not gotten around to seeing it.
1969 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Lion Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Simone Signoret.
(repeats at 3:00pm on the 16th)

Thursday, December 16

Catch-up day!

Friday, December 17

6:25am – Sundance – Bob le flambeur
Jean-Pierre Melville’s noirish crime film about an aging gambler/thief who takes on one last job – knocking over a casino. Melville was the master of French crime films, and an important figure leading up to the New Wave – Godard name-checks this film in Breathless, mentioning Bob le flambeur (Bob the Gambler) as an associate of Michelís.
1956 France. Director: Jean-Pierre Melville. Starring: Roger Duchesne, Isabelle Corey, Gérard Buhr, Daniel Gauchy.
(repeats at 11:20am and 4:15pm)

9:00am – TCM – Intermezzo: A Love Story
Ingrid Bergman’s first Hollywood film is a remake of a film she did in Sweden (just titled Intermezzo), a melodramatic forbidden romance story between a married concert violinist and his daughter’s piano teacher. It’s been a while since I saw it, but I remember liking it well enough, and Bergman is always worth watching.
1939 USA. Director: Gregory Ratoff. Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Leslie howard, Edna Best, John Halliday.
Newly Featured!

12:45pm – TCM – Road to Morocco
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby (along with Dorothy Lamour) made seven or so of these ìRoadî movies, combining the appeal of exotic locales with Bingís crooning and Bobís one-of-a-kind comedy; Road to Morocco is arguably the best. Pretty slight, but quite entertaining if you like the people involved. A young Anthony Quinn plays the villain of the piece.
1942 USA. Director: David Butler. Starring: Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, Anthony Quinn.

9:30pm – TCM – In the Good Old Summertime
A musical remake of Ernst Lubtisch’s The Shop Around the Corner, and understandably not as good, but the story is still solid and it’s a decent enough time waster. Look for a three-year-old Liza Minnelli playing Judy Garland’s daughter (appropriately enough) at the end.
1949 USA. Director: Robert Z. Leonard. Starring: Judy Garland, Van Johnson, S.Z. Sakall, Spring Byington.

Saturday, December 18

10:30am – TCM – High Society
This is not one of the best music-centric films ever made, but it is the musical version of The Philadelphia Story, with both Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra crooning it up with songs by Cole Porter. Oh, and one of Grace Kellyís last roles before she retired to become a princess and stuff. Still, you wish with that pedigree that it were better than it is. Ah, well.
1956 USA. Director: Charles Walters. Starring: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly, Celeste Holm, Louis Calhern.

1:00pm – TCM – The Naked Spur
One of several westerns that teamed director Anthony Mann and James Stewart in the 1950, this one is a fine example of the darker turn that both the western as a genre and Jimmy Stewartís roles took in the hands of Anthony Mann. Stewart is a bitter bounty hunter who takes on two suspect partners to track down a fugitive ñ a wily man indeed who psychologically manipulates the three men into turning on each other.
1953 USA. Director: Anthony Mann. Starring: James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, Millard Mitchell.

2:45pm – TCM – Stagecoach
Major breakthrough for John Wayne, here playing outlaw Cisco Kid – he and the various other people on a stagecoach form a cross-section of old West society that has to learn to get on together to make it to the end of the ride alive. Excellent performances and stunt-filled action sequences make this one of the best westerns ever made.
1939 USA. Director: John Wayne. Starring: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, John Carradine, Andy Devine, Thomas Mitchell.
Must See

4:30pm – TCM – Gandhi
Ben Kingsley plays the titular figure with uncanny verisimilitude, tracing Mohandas Gandhiís life and career throughout his quest for unbiased treatment of native peoples in British-held lands, especially India, where his leadership of a non-violent rebellion helped to gain India its independence from the British Empire.
1982 UK. Director: Richard Attenborough. Starring: Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Martin Sheen.

8:00pm – TCM – Meet John Doe
Not one of Frank Capra’s best takes on social idealism, but it definitely has its moments – and Barbara Stanwyck, what more do you really need? Stanwyck is a reporter who gets Gary Cooper to impersonate a fictional “John Doe” for a sensationalist protest story, but when he takes the role a little too seriously, things get out of hand. It’s a bit too on the nose even for Capra, but still worth watching.
1941 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward Arnold, Walter Brennan.
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – IFC – Shadow of the Vampire
What if actor Max Schreck, who played the vampire in F.W. Murnauís 1922 Nosferatu, actually WAS a vampire and kept eating various members of the cast and crew? Thatís the premise set forth by this slight but entertaining film, with John Malkovich as Murnau and Willem Dafoe as the eccentric Schreck.
2000 USA. Director: E. Elias Merhige. Starring: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Cary Elwes, Catherine McCormack.
(repeats at 3:30am on the 19th)

10:00pm – IFC – Pan’s Labyrinth
One of my absolute favorite films of the past decade (or ever, really), an absolutely beautiful and terrifying fantasy that juxtaposes the gruesome horrors of the Spanish Civil War with an equally horrifying fantasy world that provides, if not escape, at least some measure of importance and control to the film’s young heroine. Guillermo Del Toro solidified my view of him as a visionary filmmaker with this film, and it still stands to me as a testament to what fantasy can and should do.
2006 Spain/Mexico. Director: Guillermo Del Toro. Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Meribel Verdú, Doug Jones.
Must See

10:15pm – TCM – Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
One of Frank Capra’s most whimsical films stars Gary Cooper as an unassuming country boy who suddenly inherits a great amount of money. When he decides to give it all away to whoever comes and asks for some, he garners a media frenzy, everyone thinking he’s crazy. Idealistic, warmly funny, and, yes, Capracorny. But as corn goes, it’s among the best. Also, any chance to see Jean Arthur is worth taking.
1936 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, George Bancroft, Lionel Stander, Douglass Dumbrille.

Sunday, December 19

6:30am – TCM – Top Hat
For me, Top Hat and Swing Time battle it out for the top spot constantly, with the one I’ve seen more recently usually taking the crown. Mistaken identity follows mistaken identity here, as Ginger thinks Fred is her best friend’s husband, causing her a lot of consternation when Fred starts romancing her. That’s far from the end of it all, though. Also has the most definitive collection of Astaire-Rogers supporting actors.
1935 USA. Director: Mark Sandrich. Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore.
Must See

4:30pm – TCM – The Major and the Minor
A rather slight and sometimes shrill comedy that still has its moments, notable for being Billy Wilder’s first Hollywood film as a director (he also wrote it, of course, with Charles Brackett). Ginger Rogers plays a young woman who pretends to be a twelve-year-old child to get half-fare on a train; in so doing, she catches the attention of a soldier who takes her under his wing, thinking she’s actually twelve. Events snowball from there. I have a soft spot for this film, personally, and especially for Diana Lynn as the sarcastic and much-wiser-than-her-years kid who becomes Rogers’ confidant.
1942 USA. Director: Billy Wilder. Starring: Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson, Robert Benchley, Diana Lynn.

8:00pm – TCM – Grease
I guess I’d call Grease a guilty pleasure if I weren’t trying to stop using that term – but even though it’s overblown and frequently ridiculous, I can’t help loving it to pieces. Great, now the soundtrack is stuck in my head.
1978 USA. Director: Randal Kleiser. Starring: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing.
Newly Featured!

3:00am (20th) – TCM – Orpheus
Orpheus, a poet in post-war France, finds himself caught up with Death in the visage of a beautiful woman and her minions. When Death takes his wife Euridyce, Orpheus follows them into the underworldñbut is it really Euridyce he desires, or is it Death herself? Director Cocteau was as much a poet as a filmmaker, and that poetic sense is in full force in this lovely film.
1950 France. Director: Jean Cocteau. Starring: Jean Marais, María Casare, Maria Déa, François Périer.

4:10am (20th) – Sundance – Tokyo!
I havenít seen this yet, but Michel Gondry, Bong Joon-ho and Leos Carax doing an omnibus film set in one of the liveliest and most varied cities in the world? Sign me up.
2008 France/Japan/South Korea/Germany. Directors: Michel Gondry, Bong Joon-ho, Leos Carax. Starring: Ayako Fujitani, Sohee Park, Julie Dreyfus.

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Fish Tank was an excellent movie. Glad it made the list. This week I will be DVR'ing "Easy Rider". And "Guess Who is Coming to Dinner" is one of my favorites. I read a story where Katherine Hepburn knew that was Spencer Tracy's last movie and her tears were real in the movie.