New in theaters
Last week offered us one truly wonderful film, The Brothers Bloom, one very good film, Sugar, and a lot of other things that are mostly best not spoken of. Well, those two mentioned remain in theaters this week, as, unfortunately, do all the others. But they’re joined by one truly remarkable film, Goodbye Solo (see review in Wednesday’s Xpress), that was shot in Winston-Salem and Blowing Rock, N.C., by Winston-Salem-born filmmaker Ramin Bahrani.
Oh, sure, there are a couple of other movies, too. However, just how excited anyone is likely to get over Tony Scott’s remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is open to question, though the Denzel factor will probably help. And, of course, there’s the latest Eddie Murphy debacle, err movie, Imagine That. This is one of his “family-friendly” offerings. Is that a plus or a minus? Don’t ask me. You don’t think I have the slightest intention of watching it, do you?
And for those of you who have yet to see Sunshine Cleaning, it goes into second-run release this week and lands at Asheville Pizza and Brewing for the evening shows. That means there’s still a week left to catch it—and you should.
Notable DVD releases
In an unusual outburst of organization, I did some shelf rearranging the other day. In part this consisted of placing DVDs (usually screeners) I could not conceive of ever watching again on the top shelf—the one that requires a step stool to reach. Among those banished to this Siberian realm was Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. This perhaps conveys the level of excitement I’m feeling about this movie’s appearance on DVD this week.
I’m a bit more jazzed over Tom Tykwer’s superior thriller The International showing up, though I have to admit I liked The International better before I caught up with Tykwer’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006) and saw just how much more the man is capable of than is demonstrated by The International. At the same time, the appearance of Fired Up—in an “unrated edition” no less—this week may serve to put both The International and Gran Torino into perspective as the fine entertainments they are.
This week also finds the box set of The Puppet Master films hitting shelves. I’m sure I’ve seen most of these films about marionette mayhem at one time or another, but there’s something sobering about the idea of shelling out 90 bucks to spend 720 minutes with the entire series. I suspect there’s some kind of market for the films; I could probably name a few likely buyers.
More appealing is a set of movies starring Jack Lemmon: Phffft! (1954), Operation Mad Ball (1957), The Notorious Landlady (1962), Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), Good Neighbor Sam (1964). It’s hardly a definitive group, but it has its points. Phfft! (the title was columnist/commentator Walter Winchell-speak for a couple breaking up) is pretty negligible, despite teaming Lemmon with Judy Holliday (It Should Happen to You made the same year was a much better co-star vehicle for them). Under the Yum Yum Tree is an absolute stinker—the kind of smarmy ‘60s sex farce that manages to seem more leeringly sleazy than the hardest R-rated comedy you can imagine. The other three, however, are worth having, and it’s nice to see them getting some attention here.
Notable TV screenings
Fox Movie Channel continues being lame. Come on, guys, I know you own such titles as The Last Gentleman (1934) and Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1934). Would it kill you to bump a couple showings of Dunston Checks In (1996) to run them?
Turner Classic Movies, however, continues its Great Directors series this month. I still balk at the idea that, say, George Sidney is one of the greats, but I’m not going to complain in other areas.
Preston Sturges TCM, Wednesday, June 10, starting at 8 p.m.
The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan’s Travels (1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) and The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947)
Yeah, I’m going to complain that they left out Christmas in July (1940), but only because it’s my personal favorite of Sturges’ movies. I’ll concede it’s not the best, but I like it and think it gets too often overlooked—and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek gets too much attention. But any evening that gives us a triple feature of The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels and The Palm Beach Story is a great evening.
If you don’t know Preston Sturges, it’s high time you changed that. It took him 10 years of writing some of the best comedies—and a few dramas—before he could convince a studio to let him direct his own material. He did this by selling Paramount the screenplay for The Great McGinty for a dollar. The rest—or at least the next five years—is history. He was the studio’s wonder man. Even though not all his films were huge financial successes, he was someone Paramount could point to with justifiable pride to prove that they actually made good movies.
Sturges wrote dialogue like nobody else. The Coens today are the closest anyone has come to his way with words, and they rarely sound quite as effortless. His direction is almost equally unique, because he could blend scintillating dialogue, romance and slapstick in the very same scene. (His dictum that “a pratfall is better than anything” gets a workout in every film being shown.) The Lady Eve is his most romantic film (this doesn’t prevent Henry Fonda from suffering many indignities). Sullivan’s Travels is his most seriously intended (this doesn’t prevent Joel McCrea from, in his own words, falling into “everything there was”). The Palm Beach Story is his funniest (no one escapes with dignity intact).
Jacques Tourneur TCM, Friday, June 12, starting at 6 a.m.
Timbuktu (1959), Nightfall (1956), The Fearmakers (1958), Berlin Express (1948), Out of the Past (1947), Curse (Night) of the Demon (1957), The Leopard Man (1943), I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and Cat People (1942)
Jacques Tourneur made what is, hands down, my favorite horror picture, Night of the Demon. It was made in Great Britain, shorn of 13 minutes and retitled Curse of the Demon for its U.S. release. Although TCM is listing the film under its U.S. title, they also list a 96-minute running time, so chances are this is the complete film. Based on a short story called “Casting the Runes” by M.R. James, the film concerns a paranormal researcher (Dana Andrews) who ill-advisedly insists on trying to debunk a Satanic cult headed up by the evil Dr. Karswell (Niall McGinnis). Unfortunately, there’s nothing to debunk, and the researcher finds himself on the receiving end of a curse that will cause him to be killed by a demon in two weeks.
The film is played with utter conviction, boasts nonstop atmosphere and an absolutely terrific musical score by Clifton Parker. Yes, there’s a pretty unfortunate shot of the demon at the end of the film when it appears to be slashing at a rag doll with its claws, but otherwise this is classic horror at its very best. The dialogue is richly theatrical without being hammy, and Niall MacGinnis’ Karswell is one of film’s great villains.
There’s more to Tourneur than this one film, as this day-long tribute proves. I’ve never seen the films that precede Demon (something I hope to correct on Friday), but Out of the Past is one of the essentials of film noir, while Tourneur’s three horror films for producer Val Lewton—The Leopard Man, I Walked with a Zombie and Cat People—were and are a breath of fresh air for a genre that often is lacking in intelligence.
Howard Hawks TCM Sunday, June 14, starting at 6 a.m.
A Song Is Born (1948), Tiger Shark (1932), Sergeant York (1941), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Twentieth Century (1934), His Girl Friday (1940), Ball of Fire (1941), To Have and Have Not (1945), The Big Sleep (1946), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), Air Force (1943) and The Crowd Roars (1932)
All Sunday is given over to Howard Hawks. A look down that list of titles is probably enough to explain why. I’ll confess to being less than whelmed by a few titles. I’ve gotten to a point where I find the much-praised Bringing Up Baby almost unwatchably obnoxious (give me Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 rethinking of it, What’s Up, Doc? any day). And I’ve never been that fond of Sergeant York or Air Force, which has more to do with not caring much for war movies in general than in anything specific about these examples. The rest, however, are pretty much movie gold.
Twentieth Century is at the top of my list, with John Barrymore giving his last truly great performance as flamboyant theatrical producer Oscar Jaffe and Carole Lombard giving her first truly great performance as his difficult star Lily Garland. Movies don’t really get much better than this, though his 1940 rethinking of The Front Page, His Girl Friday, comes close. Anyone who thinks old movies are slow needs to see His Girl Friday. It may not be quite the fastest-moving movie ever made, but it’s close—and it probably does hold the title for fastest dialogue delivery.
Only Angels Have Wings is an improbable story involving aviators at a low-rent freight company in some South American banana republic. Somehow Hawks—with the aid of Cary Grant and Jean Arthur—makes its nonsense not only work, but does more than that. It’s powerful drama and comedy in a movie that seems to almost shimmer in its black-and-white photography.
While A Song Is Born isn’t really a great movie—it’s a musical remake of Ball of Fire, which is also on hand—it does something I didn’t think possible. What’s that? It gets something like a controlled performance out of Danny Kaye. This is the only movie on record where I don’t spend every second Kaye is on-screen wishing for a tranquilizer gun. If this isn’t a testament to Hawks’ greatness as a filmmaker, I don’t know what is.
The other filmmakers up this week are Orson Welles, Robert Wise, Clarence Brown, Elia Kazan, Woody Allen, Billy Wilder, John Huston and Akira Kurosawa. That’s a pretty impressive array.