Thursday, January 31, 2013

Quickies for February 2013 Part 1

A Burning Hot Summer (2011) ✭✭✭

This is a Philippe Garrel film. It’s French, French, Lord Have Mercy French. All about jealously, betrayal, adultery and existential malaise. Unpasteurized camembert oozes from its sprocket holes. Pampered, privileged folks who have life by the testicules go around creating their own unnecessary personal misery. Monica Bellucci gets naked, but it’s in service to artistry. Or perhaps it’s its own sort of artistry. At any rate I’m not complaining. More coq au vin anyone?

Goodbye First Love (2011) ✭✭✭✭

All about the abiding influence of first love, and how we never quite get over it. Lola Créton --who would have made a superb protagonist for Eric Rohmer-- is quite good as a young woman who ventures on despite being unceremoniously dumped by the love of her life. When he suddenly reappears several years later, the film, like Créton, throws cool-headedness to the wind. Director Mia Hansen-Love is quietly building an impressive portfolio of well-made films that deal with strong emotions, but she wisely focuses on the practical rather than pathos.

Ruby Sparks (2012) ✭✭1/2

The follow-up from the team that brought you Little Miss Sunshine and somehow it took them six years to come up with this drivel. Uninspired, unoriginal and too cute for its own good. If Paul Dano gets any more precious I really don’t know what we’re going to do.

The Well Digger’s Daughter (2011) ✭✭✭✭

Four stars is probably pushing it a touch, but fans of Daniel Auteuil and sunny provencal vistas will enjoy this simple morality play set in the early days of WWI. Nothing new or inventive here, but a well executed rural drama, laced with sentiment and elements of class struggle. If you liked Jean de Florette or My Mother’s Castle, you’ll find this a pleasant and enjoyable diversion.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

TCM for February 2013

February may be a short month, but TCM has compensated by cramming it full of classic goodness. Not many obscurities, but a lot of movie-lover essentials. Full schedule can be found HERE.

Below are a few of my picks. All times Eastern.


6:15 PM
The bandit king of Sherwood Forest leads his Merry Men in a battle against the corrupt Prince John.
C-102 mins, TV-G, CC

The Adventures of Robin Hood


8:00 PM

An American saloon owner in North Africa is drawn into World War II when his lost love turns up.
BW-103 mins, TV-PG, CC,

4:00 AM
Three prospectors fight off bandits and each other after striking-it-rich in the Mexican mountains.
BW-126 mins, TV-PG, CC,

12:15 PM
A headstrong girl fights the strictures of the Catholic church in Europe and the Belgian Congo.
C-152 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

3:00 PM
A naval officer longing for active duty clashes with his vainglorious captain.
C-121 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format


1:00 PM

A husband and wife fight to conquer alcoholism.
BW-117 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

3:00 PM
Sexual repression drives a small-town Kansas girl mad during the roaring twenties.
C-124 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

10:00 PM
A free-spirited convict refuses to conform to chain-gang life.
C-126 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

12:15 AM
When mobsters kill the witness he was assigned to protect, a dedicated policeman investigates the case on his own.
C-114 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

2:15 AM
A group of aging cowboys look for one last score in a corrupt border town.
C-144 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format


12:30 AM
Two Devil's Island prisoners devote all of their time to hatching escape plans.
C-151 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format

3:30 AM
Three vacationing students set out to humiliate an insecure girl.
C-95 mins, TV-MA, CC,


10:00 AM

Vladimir Nabokov's racy classic focuses on an aging intellectual in love with a teenager.
BW-153 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format



7:45 AM

On his way to an awards ceremony, a distinguished professor thinks back on his loveless life.
BW-91 mins, TV-PG,

9:30 AM
A medieval knight seeks revenge when his daughter is murdered.
BW-89 mins, TV-14,

11:30 AM
A young boy's life changes the summer he moves in with relatives while his sick mother tries to recover.
C-101 mins, TV-MA, Letterbox Format


11:00 PM

Oklahoma farmers dispossessed during the Depression fight for better lives in California.
BW-129 mins, TV-G, CC,


4:00 AM
A man on the run joins an embattled film company run by a maniacal director.
C-131 mins, TV-MA, Letterbox Format

The Stunt Man


6:15 PM

A possessive son's efforts to keep his mother from remarrying threaten to destroy his family.
BW-88 mins, TV-PG, CC,

8:00 PM
The investigation of a publishing tycoon's dying words reveals conflicting stories about his scandalous life.
BW-120 mins, TV-PG, CC,

10:15 PM
A U.S. agent recruits a German expatriate to infiltrate a Nazi spy ring in Brazil.
BW-101 mins, TV-PG, CC,

12:00 AM

A young bride is terrorized by the memories of her husband's glamorous first wife.
BW-130 mins, TV-PG, CC,


12:00 AM
An advertising man is mistaken for a spy, triggering a deadly cross-country chase.
C-136 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format


1:30 AM

A photographer discovers a murder in the background of a candid photo.
C-111 mins, TV-MA, CC,

3:30 AM
A romantic English lass can't choose among three very different suitors.
C-171 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format


5:00 AM
A traveling salesman's music-inspired dreams lead to tragedy.
C-108 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format

Pennies From Heaven
4:00 PM

Two American journalists get more than they'd bargained for during an Indonesian revolution.
C-115 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

A flamboyant star throws a TV comedy show into chaos.
C-92 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format


5:45 PM

An American reporter covering the war in Europe gets mixed up in the assassination of a Dutch diplomat.
BW-120 mins, TV-PG, CC,

8:00 PM
An insurance salesman gets seduced into plotting a client's death.
BW-108 mins, TV-PG, CC,

10:00 PM
An ambitious young man wins an heiress's heart but has to cope with his former girlfriend's pregnancy.
BW-122 mins, TV-PG, CC,

12:15 AM

A British womanizer refuses to grow up until tragedy strikes.
C-114 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

2:15 AM
An American military officer discovers his superiors are planning a military coup.
BW-118 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format


12:00 AM

Naval officers begin to suspect their captain of insanity.
C-125 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

The Caine Mutiny

2:30 AM
A cross-country trip to sell drugs puts two hippie bikers on a collision course with small-town prejudices.
C-96 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format

4:30 AM
Two shore patrolmen decide to show a prisoner a good time on his way to the brig.
C-104 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format


8:00 PM

An unemployed actor masquerades as a woman to win a soap-opera role.
C-116 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format

10:15 PM
When his wife leaves him, an ad exec gets a crash course in parenting.
C-105 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format

12:15 AM
A doctor's experiments bring a group of comatose patients back to consciousness.
C-121 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format

2:30 AM
A young man arrested for drug smuggling fights to survive the horrors of a Turkish prison.
C-121 mins, TV-MA, Letterbox Format


5:30 PM

A blue-collar worker's encounter with a UFO leaves him a changed man.
C-135 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
A tough detective tries to clear a cartoon character charged with murder.
C-104 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

10:00 PM
An English teacher inspires his students to seize the day with sometimes disastrous results.
C-129 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format

12:30 AM
In this true story, a military DJ in Vietnam risks his career to broadcast the truth.
C-121 mins, TV-MA, Letterbox Format

2:45 AM
An experienced pool shark coaches a young hothead on his way to the top.
C-120 mins, TV-MA, CC,


10:00 PM
A man's investigation of a friend's death uncovers corruption in post-World War II Vienna.
BW-104 mins, TV-14, CC,


8:00 PM
A recent college graduate has an affair with his neighbor's wife, then falls for their daughter.
C-106 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format

10:00 PM
A Broadway producer decides to get rich by creating the biggest flop of his career.
C-90 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

The Producers

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hi Bob!

RFD TV is one of those obscure channels you probably don’t get unless you have satellite television. It started back in the 1990s showing cattle auctions. Seriously, home video footage of cows standing around in a muddy pasture in the Midwest while an auctioneer, nice and warm in a studio somewhere, motormouthed in the background. It was a bovine version of Barrett-Jackson. I guess ranchers phoned in their bids or something -- it was never made clear quite how it worked -- but eventually the channel branched out to shows on horsemanship, campfire cooking and live performances by Polka bands.

Well with cattle prices through the roof in recent years -- although farmers still claim they’re going broke -- RFD TV has squirreled away enough cash to start a new channel called FamilyNet. Aimed at the more upscale, sophisticated sodbuster, FamilyNet often resembles an agribusiness version of CNBC, with detailed reports on the effects of weather patterns, pork belly contracts and so forth. FamilyNet also features programs about antique tractors, Country Music personalities and a hunting show with a religious theme.

Prime time is devoted to sitcoms from the 70s and 80s; basically stuff that TVLand stopped running years ago. FamilyNet’s programming includes episodes of Bob Newhart’s two popular CBS shows back-to-back and, unsurprisingly, it’s the most consistently entertaining hour on television. First we have The Bob Newhart Show which originally ran from 1972 to 1978, followed by an episode of Newhart which was even more successful, airing from 1982 to 1990. While each show reflects the culture and attitudes of its times, there are definite similarities in formula and approach and, in their own way, each show utilizes the low key star’s unique comedic abilities to the fullest. 

In the science of comedy, Bob Newhart is that rarest of beasts: he’s funniest when he’s the straight man. And to that end, the producers of his TV shows smartly surrounded Newhart with oddball characters to which he could react with his patented befuddled politeness. In The Bob Newhart Show, psychologist Bob Hartley had to deal with an array of eccentrics in his group therapy sessions, and those interactions are like the sacred scrolls of comedic timing. Of course, that was when producers still cared about such things and actors had the chops to pull it off. Today, it’s much easier to just be cool and lackadaisical and ironic (see Silver Linings Playbook) and simply call it comedy.

Case in point, Jack Riley’s remarkable turn as the grim-souled patient Elliot Carlin. Carlin evoked such deep seated anger even Dr. Hartley seemed a little afraid of him. Yet through Riley’s tremendous control and lyrical ear, everything that came out of the man’s mouth was hilarious. Carlin’s antagonistic banter with a fellow patient, the wimpy Mr. Peterson (John Fiedler) produced comedy gold as well. On one episode, Mr. Carlin has to leave early from a group session and Dr. Hartley asks those in attendance for advice on how to proceed, to which Fiedler responds in his famous squeaky voice, “I think we should kill him.” Now there’s nothing funny about that line on paper --in today’s culture, it’s kind of repulsive and sick-- but the combination of Fiedler’s suppressed frustration and Newhart’s stunned reaction make it a bit for the ages.

The Bob Newhart Show reflected the swinging 70s in a number of ways. Virtually all the regular characters were unmarried, happily part of the dating scene and not particularly interested in settling down anytime soon. Bob and Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) lived far from the suburban family ideal, with no kids -- and no apparent plans to have any --in a high rise Lakeshore Drive apartment. Bob’s goofy neighbor Howard (Bill Daly), ironically an airline navigator, was a meek, perpetually lost soul who always seemed to have an apartment full of leggy flight attendants. And then there are the clothes, which are nothing short of a hoot. Each decade has its fashion faux pas; the 70s only more so. Maybe one reason we aging boomers have such high incidence of back trouble is we spent our formative years lugging around massive lapels and humongous neckties. All that fabric takes a toll on the skeletal system.

Newhart finds Bob as Dick Loudon, proprietor of a Vermont country inn, local talk show host and best selling author of how-to books. Yes, they gave him three jobs, all rife with comic possibilities. The show’s original design was to be an American-ized Fawlty Towers, and the first season struggled to make that formula work. Fortunately, TV programmers were more patient in those days and the show finally hit its stride after a couple years of grasping at straws.

The writers finally hit upon the right combination of eccentrics and the show eventually became a primer for ensemble comedy. Julia Duffy’s Stephanie, a former debutante now reduced to scullery maid due to a tiff with her Daddy, was the perfect fish out of water, retaining the pampered preppie mindset despite her menial chores. Her boyfriend and Dick’s TV producer Michael (Peter Scolari) took glib shallowness to impressive levels. But, as someone who worked in the TV business during this era, I must say Scolari’s self indulgent preening was not really that far from the norm, and he clearly based his character on real life colleagues.

However the show’s crowning achievement was the creation of Larry, Darryl and Darryl. Played by William Sanderson, Tony Papenfuss and John Vlodstad, this trio of simple backwoodsmen captured the nation’s comic imagination, and pushed Newhart to new heights. Like Kramer on Seinfeld, their popularity grew until they received a show-stopping ovation from the studio audience whenever they appeared. But unlike Kramer, they never became parodies of themselves, retaining the rough-hewn innocence that made them stars in the first place. William Sanderson is a superb character actor, with his talent on display in projects as far ranging as Blade Runner and Deadwood. On Newhart, with a subtle neck scratch and a few drawled bon mots, he was able to strike a comedy bulls-eye and illicit empathy without any apparent effort. WIlliam Sanderson’s Larry is that rare combination of talent and role that surpasses the sum of its parts, and enters the realm of true acting alchemy.

Let’s not forget Bob Newhart; the unassuming master and the gentle glue that held all this madness together. In the 1960s, before these TV shows came along, Newhart had achieved his own astonishing miracles, with two albums of comedy routines that topped the Billboard charts. Not just the comedy charts mind you, ALL the charts. He outsold such musical talents as Elvis and The Beatles; a feat that remains unmatched by a comedy recording. His early routines consisted mainly of brilliantly executed one-sided phone calls, and his TV scripts featured this ability as often as possible. There has never been a better phone actor than Bob Newhart, and he parlayed those confused stammers and thought filled pauses into a marvelous television legacy. Thank goodness people didn’t text back then or we might have never heard of Bob Newhart.