Friday, December 31, 2010

2010. Unannotated.

Big Screen

"The Ghost Writer"

"The Social Network"

"I Love You, Phillip Morris"

"Black Swan"

"The Town"

"Toy Story 3"

"Inception"

"Let Me In"

"Tangled"

"City Island"


Little Screen

"Morning Joe"

"The Middle"

"In Treatment"

"The Big Bang Theory"

"The Soup"


Actors Acting

Bale ("The Fighter")

Portman ("Black Swan")

Brosnan ("The Ghost Writer")

Leo ("The Fighter")

Eckhart ("Rabbit Hole")

Heaton ("The Middle")

Byrne ("In Treatment")

Murphy, voice ("Tangled")

Saturday, December 25, 2010

dark holidays

Bridges and Jones shine in an atypical holiday movie.
Every Christmas, my wife and I treat ourselves to a double-bill of two of our favorite films, titles which are only peripherally related to the holiday.

Our matinee is Morton DaCosta's "Auntie Mame" and our evening program is Richard Quine's "Bell, Book and Candle." Perhaps not coincidentally, both were major year-end holiday releases in 1958.

We never divert.

But if we did, I'd suggest two other titles are are far removed from the usual suspects - you know, "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street."

First, there would be Tim Burton’s exquisite “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993), one of the best film musicals of recent years that clearly prepared Burton for the task of taking on Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” - and almost as triumpantly. Like the Sondheim classic, "Nightmare" boasts a major song score by Danny Elfman, gloriously symphonic and gloriously idiosyncratic.

The combination of Elfman's songs, Burton's strangely appealing little characters and director Henry Selick's wonderous stop-motion animation combine to make "The Nightmare Before Christmas" compulsively watchable.

Then there's Daniel Petrie's superior 1969 TV film, "Silent Night, Lonely Light." The estimable Robert Anderson (who penned "Tea and Sympathy" and "I Never Sang for My Father") wrote the lovely play on which Patrie's movie is based - about two lonely people who have a chance meeting as a cozy New England inn during the Christmas holiday.

Each one is there for personal, troubling reasons.

On stage, "Silent Night" was directed by Peter Glenville with Henry Fonda and Barbara Bel Geddes in the leads and Lois Nettleton, Bill Berger, Peter De Vise and Eda Hainemann in support. It opened at the Morosco Theater on December 28th, 1959 and was immediately snapped up for filming by Universal which then let the project linger for ten years.
No, the film version of "Silent Night, Lonely Night" was not made for theaters. Nevertheless, it's an excellent movie, intimate and involving.

Lloyd Bridges (outstanding) and Shirley Jones (an Emmy nominee) take over the Fonda-Bel Geddes roles (and would subsequently be reteamed in Richard Brooks' "The Happy Ending" the same year); Carrie Snodgress plays the Nettleton part and Lynn Carlin and Cloris Leachman show up in roles created for the film by adapter John Vlahos, who wisely retained most of Anderson's script. Its dialogue is nearly verbetim.

It's a wrenching work that, for some bizarre reason, is never telecast during the holiday season and is available only on out-of-print VHS tapes.

Sad

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rooney! Quine! Together!

The Mick, going all crazy as the scat-talking MSgt. Yancy Skibo in Quine's deliriously funny "Operation Mad Ball" and doing the jive (below) with fellow cut-ups Dick York and Jack Lemmon.
The unsinkable Mickey Rooney - exactly how long has he been in movies anyway? - has been Turner's highlighted star this month and among the neat discoveries of this invaluable 70-title retrospective is the fact that Rooney made four films with the wonderful Richard Quine, a filmmaker largely know for his appealing output with Jack Lemmon.

Three of the titles will air on 23 December - "All Ashore" (1953), a bit of singing-sailor silliness at 7:30 a.m. (est.); "Sound Off" (1952), at 10:30 a.m., in which Rooney plays a song-and-dance man drafted into the Army, and "Operation Mad Ball" (1957), an antic farce that predated Altman's "M*A*S*H" in gleefully deflating the military. It screens at noon. And at 7:30 a.m. on 30 December, don't miss the vivid "Dricve a Crooked Road" (1954), with Kevin McCarthy and Diane Foster backing up the Mick.

You can't go wrong with Quine. Particularly when Rooney is in tow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

cinema obscura: Mazursky Times Two

Sharkey, Kidder and Ontkean do well by Paul
Mazursky. A singular filmmaker who was crucial to 1970s moviemaking and who is now largely ignored. Paul Mazursky. Like Hal Ashby, he made a handful of films in the '70s that remain indelible and invaluable, two of which have been almost impossible to see these days.

Until recently.

In fact, when The Film Society of Lincoln Center paid a rare tribute to Mazursky in May of 2007, these two titles were missing for its schedule - 1971's inside eccentricity on modern filmmaking, "Alex in Wonderland," and the unjustly underrated "Willie & Phil" Mazurksy's deft 1980 take on François Truffaut's "Jules et Jim."

Good news!

"Alex in Wonderland," which has Donald Sutherland contributing a memorably solipsistic performance in a movie for filmic eggheads, is scheduled to air on Turner, but in the wee hours of 21 December - at 4:30 a.m. (est.), no less. Tape it.

And "Willie & Phil," which arguably offered Michael Ontkean, Margot Kidder and the late Ray Sharkey their best roles on film, has been popping up regularly on the Fox Movie Channel.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

chemistry-free

Gyllenhaal and Hathaway - so young, so obnoxious
Last August, The New York Times' op-ed columnist, Maureen Dowd, wrote a misguided column called "Tragedy of Comedy," in which she and someone named Sam Wasson jawed glibly about the lowly state of the romcom. For some bizarrer reason, the decided to be bullies and lay the blame at the feet of the two Jennifers - Garner and Aniston.

Little did they know, they hadn't seen anything yet. Their tear-stained duet was about six months premature. Aniston's "The Switch," which is actually saavy, alert fun, now seems like a masterwork of restraint compared to the last three romantic disasters of the year.

First, there was Edward Zwick's rudely disjointed "Love and Other Drugs," which purported to be a romcom but wasn't and which has the distinction of turning two previously very companionable screen presences - Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway - into toxic annoyances. To describe both of them in this film as "obnoxious" would be wildly charitable.

Then came Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's "The Tourist" gleefully devoured by Glenn Kenny in a now-classic pan for MSN Movies. Watching this alleged film, it is difficult to believe that either Johnny Depp with his ugly facial hair and Angelina Jolie with her spindly arms are major movie stars. They come off more like poseurs - he thinking that he's still playing a pirate and she under the delusion that she's Elizabeth Taylor's successor.

Last and certainly least, there's James L. Brooks' "How Do You Know," a strangely pointless film with Reese Witherspoon applying her usual steamrolling charm and trying her darndest to do smart, ping-pong-style repartee with Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd. And failing.

This film is so hopeless that even the peerless Wilson is no fun. Jack Nicholson, meanwhile, looking well-fed and umcomfortable, practically phones in his performance (or maybe had an assistant do it for him). Only Rudd comes through unscathed. But he survives all alone.

Aside from their shared awfulness, these three have one other thing in common. Each of their so-called romantic couples come sans chemistry.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

turner classic movies. december. 2010.

Too much going on this month, what with the holiday, so I'm keeping the December Turner entry short and sweet.

On 5 December at 8 p.m., Turner screens a difficult-to-see Jennifer Jones-Henry King collaboration. King oversaw Jones in her first major film role in "The Song of Bernadette" and directed her in one of phenomenally popular films, "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing," with William Holden. The movie that was to be his last - the 1962 adapation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender Is the Night" - is the one showcased here.

Filmed with much fidelity to the book, King presents Jones, with her penchant for conveying uncontrolled, tempestuous passion, in a role that she was born to play - Nicole Diver, who meets her better half, Dick (Jason Robards, Jr., in one of his first screen roles), in a sanitarium.

This role and this story, which spans decades, cannot be played small, and Jones doesn't even try, using her actorly mannerisms to perfection. The supporting cast - and what a cast - includes Tom Ewell, Joan Fontaine and Jill St. John, and Bernard Hermann contributed another one of his great scores. The film, btw, runs a leisurely 146 minutes.
The lovely Delores Michaels appeared in only 11 films but made a lasting impression on me. A Hitchcock blonde who got away before Hitch could discover her, I remember Michaels fondly for Henry Levin's "April Love" (1957), James Clavell's "Five Gates to Hell" (1959), James B. Clark's "One Foot in Hell" (1961) and Edward Dmytryk's "Warlock" (1959), which Turner screens at 8 p.m. on 7 December. The moody Western co-stars Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn and Dorothy Malone.

A truly stellar cast.

And on 14 December, starting at 11:15 p.m., be sure to catch a couple worthwhile Liza Minnelli titles - "A Matter of Time" (1976), directed by her father, Vinncent Minnelli (his final film), and co-starring Ingrid Bergman, and Lewis Gilbert's entertaining dancical, "Stepping Out" (1991), featuring a very young Jane Krakowski, Bill Irwin and Julie Waters.

I'll be back later in the month with more Turner insights.