The annual TCM Summer Under the Stars event is well under way, with each day devoted to the films of a specific actor or actress. I’m not specifically highlighting those out here (you can check out the full lineup yourself at TCM’s new SUTS microsite), but you’ll probably notice the theme on certain days anyway. Thursday is Toshiro Mifune, which basically means a whole bunch of awesome Akira Kurosawa films. And Sunday is Ginger Rogers, which is probably more exciting for me than most people; she happens to have been in many of my favorite films, and TCM is programming most of them.
Monday, August 6
12:45pm – TCM – Possessed
A pulpy noir with Joan Crawford driving herself crazy (literally) pining over a man who strings her along. He’s basically an homme fatale, which is interesting, with Crawford taking on the typically male noir role of the one pulled into ever darker despair by trampled-on love. The film tries to do too much, throwing in all sorts of other noirish plot points, but remains a really good watch for noir fans.
1947 USA. Director: Curtis Bernhardt. Starring: Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks.
8:00pm – TCM – 3:10 to Yuma
The original version of 2007’s highly successful Christian Bale-Russell Crowe western is well worth watching in its own right – a little less actiony, a little more thoughtful, though its story of a peaceful farmer shuffled into the role of law enforcement to get a criminal to the train for his trial without having him rescued by his gang remains largely identical.
1957 USA. Director: Delmer Daves. Starring: Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, Felicia Farr, Leora Dana.
Tuesday, August 7
6:00am – IFC – The Protector
Whatever you do, don’t mess with Tony Jaa’s elephants. Consider yourself warned. Here Jaa takes on a city full of gangsters intent on stealing his elephant (and the mystical power they possess); the story here isn’t anything special, but Jaa’s fighting ability and choreography certainly is.
1995 Thailand. Director: Prachya Pinkaew. Starring: Tony Jaa, Nathan Jones, Petchtel Wongkamlao.
(repeats at 1:15pm)
7:00am – Sundance – Encounters at the End of the World
Werner Herzog has made the savage beauty of nature one of his themes throughout most of his fiction films, so perhaps it’s only natural that he has moved onto explicitly non-fiction explorations of some of nature’s most remote locales, in this case, Antarctica.
2007 USA. Director: Werner Herzog.
(repeats a 12:00N)
8:00am – TCM – Blackboard Jungle
Glenn Ford is the teacher who takes on rowdy inner-city kids in one of the earlier “heroic teacher” films. A young Sidney Poitier is one of the students, and a scene in which a record of “Rock Around the Clock” is played is reputed to be the first time rock n’ roll appeared in a film.
1955 USA. Director: Richard Brooks. Starring: Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Louis Calhern, Sidney Poitier.
9:30am – IFC – Away from Her
A very strong directing debut film from actress Sarah Polley, about an older woman (Julie Christie) suffering from Alzheimer’s and her husband’s difficulty in dealing with essentially the loss of his wife as she has more and more difficulty remembering their life together. It’s a lovely, heartbreaking film, bolstered by great understated performances.
2006 Canada. Director: Sarah Polley. Starring: Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, Olympia Dukakis, Stacey LaBerge.
10:15pm – TCM – To Sir, With Love
Twelve years after being the troubled student in Blackboard Jungle, Sidney Poitier takes on the role of the teacher, trying to take hold of a bunch of bored, acting-out London teenagers.
1967 UK. Director: James Clavell. Starring: Sidney Poitier, Judy Gleeson, Christian Roberts, Suzy Kendall, Lulu.
11:00pm – Sundance – Little Children
Todd Field’s perfectly written (and acted) story of intersecting unhappy suburbanites reminds us why melodrama shouldn’t be a bad word – this is melodrama at its very best, and its very best is stunning. Kate Winslet turns in a should’ve-been-Oscar-winning performance as the frustrated wife and mother grasping for an emotional connection with another neighborhood dad (Patrick Wilson), while Jackie Earle Haley registered a comeback as a sex offender.
2006 USA. Director: Todd Field. Starring: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Gregg Edelman, Jackie Earle Haley.
1:00am (8th) – IFC – The Good, the Bad, the Weird
An utterly wacky and awesome Korean reimagining of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, with a somewhat hapless trio (okay, at least one of them is hapless) attempting to get to a treasure before a pair of conflicting armies prevent them. It is ridiculous, action-packed, and did I mention awesome?
2008 South Korean. Director: Jee-woon Kim. Starring: Kang-ho Sang, Byung-hun Lee, Woo-sung Jung.
Wednesday, August 8
10:45am – TCM – The Lady from Shanghai
Most of Welles’ films, no matter the genre, feel a little noirish in mood, but The Lady from Shanghai is the real thing, complete with fatalistic hero who gets dragged into a murder plot by a femme fatale (Rita Hayworth). And noir set-pieces don’t get much better than the chase sequence set in a bewildering hall of mirrors.
1948 USA. Director: Orson Welles. Starring: Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth.
8:00pm – IFC – The Prestige
Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins follow-up, a wonderfully twisty and evocative period thriller about a pair of stage magicians and their potentially deadly rivalry. Some great ideas elevate this far above what you might expect, and solid performances all around carry it through nicely. Definitely deserves mention among the finest thinking-man’s films of the past decade.
2006 USA. Director: Christopher Nolan. Starring: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall.
(repeats at 12:45am on the 9th)
8:00pm – Sundance – I’m Not There
In Todd Haynes’ unusual biopic, it takes six different actors (playing six sort of different characters) to encapsulate all the different facets of Bob Dylan – everyone from a young black boy singing his way along the hobo trails to Cate Blanchett as a nervous and standoffish post-electric figure sparring with public image. It’s a fascinating approach to a fascinating man, and it ends up working extremely well.
2007 USA. Director: Todd Haynes. Starring: Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger, Kris Kristofferson.
(repeats at 10:15pm)
12:15pm – TCM – Only Angels Have Wings
I’ve never gotten into Only Angels Have Wings as much as I have into other Howard Hawks films – why I don’t know. It has elements I like – Cary Grant as a daring pilot making dangerous cargo runs in exotic locales, Jean Arthur in an uncharacteristically dramatic turn, and a sighting of a young Rita Hayworth. Just doesn’t seem to come together in a memorable whole for me.
1939 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Richard Barthelmess, Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell.
12:00M – TCM – Gilda
Gilda was the last person Johnny ever expected to meet again, much less as the wife of his boss, a sleazy casino operator in South America. Glenn Ford plays a quintessential defeated noir narrator in Johnny, while Rita Hayworth imbues Gilda with all her available mystique to make Gilda one of the more memorable films of the 1940s.
1946 USA. Director: Charles Vidor. Starring: Glenn Ford, Rita Hayworth, George Macready
Thursday, August 9
7:45am – TCM – Rashomon
Two men and a woman are in the woods, and one of the men dies. But we get three different eyewitness versions of how his death transpired, and the film shows us all three without ever privileging any of them as true – any of them or none of them may be what really happened. With this brilliant film, Akira Kurosawa forever banished any sense that what you see on film is narrative truth.
1950 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Machiko Kyô, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura.
9:15am – TCM – The Seven Samurai
Probably Kurosawa’s best-known film, The Seven Samurai is an eastern version of a Western, with down-on-their-luck samurai (led by Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune) working together to help a ravaged village hold off bandit invaders. Completing the cycle of cinematic borrowing, the film was remade in the US as The Magnificent Seven.
1954 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima.
12:45pm – TCM – Throne of Blood
This is Kurosawa’s version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and between this and Ran (his version of King Lear), Kurosawa pretty much established himself as someone who knows exactly how to adapt Shakespeare into another time and place and still make something amazing.
1957 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura, Akira Kubo.
2:45pm – TCM – Yojimbo
Toshirô Mifune is a samurai who plays the two violent factions controlling a village against each other in one of Kurosawa’s most thrilling and slyly humorous films – I may in general still have some trouble getting into Japanese films, but I had no trouble with this one. Perhaps familiarity with Leone’s spaghetti western reworking of the story in A Fistful of Dollars didn’t hurt.
1961 Japan. Director: Akira Kurosawa. Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai.
Friday, August 10
10:15am – TCM – Grand Hotel
This 1932 Best Picture Oscar-winner is honestly pretty creaky around the joints these days, but if you wanna see how they used to do ensemble pictures in the studio days, this is it. MGM’s top talent, from Garbo and Crawford to Beery and two Barrymores are all on hand.
1932 USA. Director: Edmund Goulding. Starring: Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt.
1:10am – Sundance – L.A. Confidential
A recent rewatch confirmed this as one of my favorite films of the ’90s, as it perfectly encapsules the feeling of film noir while telling a damn good story – convoluted but easy to follow, thanks to solid screenwriting and excellent turns by all the actors involved.
1997 USA. Director: Curtis Hanson. Starring: Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito.
(repeats at 5:40pm on the 11th)
7:30pm – IFC – Full Metal Jacket
Kubrick takes on the Vietnam war with one of his most highly-regarded films, following a unit of Marines from basic training under a tyrannical sergeant through fighting in the streets of Vietnam.
(1987 UK/USA. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Starring: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey.
(repeats at 2:00am on the 11th)
8:00pm – TCM – You Can’t Take It With You
Capra won his third directing Oscar for this film (the others were for It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), but to me it’s not one of his more interesting pieces. Young couple James Stewart and Jean Arthur invite chaos when his staid, wealthy family meets her wacky, irreverent one.
1938 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Spring Byington.
12:00M – TCM – Key Largo
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall team up for the final time on this great noirish melodrama of a group of people, including a wheelchair-bound hotel owner, his recently widowed daughter-in-law (Bacall), a war veteran (Bogart), and a ruthless gangster and his girl, forced to take refuge against a fierce hurricane. Among the best films for all involved, and that’s saying something considering who all is involved.
1948 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Edward G. Robinson, Claire Trevor.
Saturday, August 11
5:00pm – IFC – Letters from Iwo Jima
The Japan-focused half of Clint Eastwood’s two-part exploration of World War II, which most people consider superior to the American half, Flags of Our Fathers. Of course, I goofed and only saw the American half, but I keep meaning to go back and see Letters from Iwo Jima as well, not least of all because Ken Watanabe is always worth watching.
2006 USA. Director: Clint Eastwood. Starring: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase, Hiroshi Watanabe.
8:00pm – TCM – Lolita
“How could they make a movie of Lolita?” runs the tagline, and indeed, it’s hard to imagine anyone even trying in 1962 – both because of the pedophiliac content and the interior nature of the narrative, very difficult to reproduce in cinematic form. But Stanley Kubrick decided he was up to the task, and though it isn’t considered one of his best films, it still rates pretty highly.
1962 UK/USA. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Starring: James Mason, Sue Lyon, Shelley Winters.
8:00pm – Sundance – Blue Velvet
I’ll be honest, this is not one of my favorite David Lynch films. There are a lot of things I like about it. The unsettling take on suburbia, the gorgeously disturbing photography, the kids playing detective, the severed ear, you know, the normal Lynch stuff. But then it just gets to be too cruel for me. Still, it’s a Lynch classic, and you oughta see it. And I oughta see it again, see if my opinion has changed.
1986 USA. Director: David Lynch. Starring: Kyle McLachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper.
(repeats at 12:00N on the 12th)
12:30am (12th) – TCM – A Star is Born
Judy Garland’s comeback role after several years off the screen remains one of her best, crystalizing both the hope and sorrow that her later life represents. The fact that she’s playing a wanna-be star at the beginning of her career makes it just that much more poignant – and watch out for her rendition of “The Man That Got Away.”
1954 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Judy Garland, James Mason.
Sunday, August 12
7:00am – IFC – Marie Antoinette
Though Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette is unconventional, it is a solid and riveting re-interpretation of the giddy but not untroubled courts of Louis XVI and Louis XVII. The use of actors like Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman, who are not known as period actors, as well as anachronistic music, sounds like an ill-conceived attempt to make the story feel contemporary, but it actually works. Coppola took some serious risks with this film, but they paid off beyond all expectation.
2006 USA. Director: Sofia Coppola. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Judy Davis, Rip Torn, Rose Byrne.
(repeats at 3:00pm)
7:30am – TCM – Carefree
A lot of people will put this at the very bottom of the Fred-Ginger oevre, and they’re probably right. This one brings in all kinds of crazy-ass Freudian psychology, dream interpretation and other things that were all the rage in 1938, and lead to Ginger walking around like she’s drunk (she’s supposed to be hypnotized) a lot. Which I find more amusing than I probably should.
1938 USA. Director: Mark Sandrich. Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Ralph Bellamy, Louella Gear, Jack Carson.
1:00pm – TCM – Bachelor Mother
A very slight but rather charming Ginger Rogers vehicle that I like far more than I probably should. Ginger is a struggling department store clerk who happens by an orphanage just after someone leaves a baby there; she’s mistaken for the mother and through a series of miscommunications with the orphanage and her boss at the store (David Niven), ends up having to take the baby. It’s fairly silly at times, but also kind of heartwarming, and Ginger’s honestly at her best here.
1939 USA. Director: Garson Kanin. Starring: Ginger Rogers, David Niven, Charles Coburn, Frank Albertson.
8:00pm – TCM – 42nd Street
By 1933 when 42nd Street came out, the Hollywood musical had already died. So excited by the musical possibilities that sound brought in 1927, Hollywood pumped out terrible musical after terrible musical until everyone was sick of them. 42nd Street almost single-handedly turned the tide and remains one of the all-time classic backstage musicals. It may look a little creaky by later standards, but there’s a vitality and freshness to it that can’t be beat.
1932 USA. Director: Lloyd Bacon. Starring: Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, George Brent, Bebe Daniels, Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, Una Merkel.
9:45pm – TCM – Swing Time
Many people call Swing Time the best of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals, and it’s certainly up there. Frothy story? Check. Jerome Kern music? Check. Fantastic dances? Check. Of course.
1936 USA. Director: George Stevens. Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Helen Broderick, Victor Moore, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore.
10:00pm – Sundance – Sideways
You’d think a movie about two near middle-aged men setting off on a trip through wine country before one of them gets hitched (he wants to have a final fling; his friend wants to give him a nice sendoff) wouldn’t have a lot of interest to someone like me, but Alexander Payne managed to capture something both very specific to these men and universal in this film. As the two search for meaning in their lives – lives which feel wasted and unfulfilling – Payne gets at real truths about human identity and that stretch far beyond the immediate circumstances portrayed in the film. Definitely one to be remembered and returned to as life goes on.
2004 USA. Director: Alexander Payne. Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh.
11:45pm – TCM – Stage Door
I cannot describe to you how much I love this film. I’m not sure it’s wholly rational. Katharine Hepburn plays an heiress who wants to make it on her own as an actress, so she moves (incognito) into a New York boarding house for aspiring actresses. Her roommate ends up being Ginger Rogers (who’s never been better or more acerbic), and the boarding house is rounded out with a young Lucille Ball, a young Eve Arden, a very young Ann Miller, and various others. The dialogue is crisp and everyone’s delivery matter-of-fact and perfectly timed, and the way the girls use humor to mask desperation makes most every moment simultaneously funny and tragic – so that when it does turn tragic, it doesn’t feel like a shift in mood, but a culmination of the inevitable.
1937 USA. Director: Gregory La Cava. Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Andrea Leeds, Gail Patrick, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Constance Collier.
the recovering academic