From the obscure to the obscurest to the merely overlooked or underappreciated; they all have a home in the TiVoPlex! All times Pacific.
TiVoPlex for Tuesday March 4 2008 through Monday March 10 2008
By John Seal
March 4, 2008
9:15 AM Flix
Can't Stop the Music (1980 USA): Who would have guessed in 1980 that the Village People would have had a greater impact on American society than 25 years of punk rock? One viewing of Can't Stop the Music will remind you of the massive sea change in American attitudes toward homosexuality since 1980. Though no one had the nerve to say the 'g' or 'h' words in this film, the site of the People singing 'Liberation' - and the other more subtle hints laced throughout this film - must surely be considered revolutionary. While the straight characters in the film — Valerie Perrine, Bruce Jenner, and Steve Guttenberg — are plastic and dull, the People themselves represented the diversity, energy, and excitement of the Village scene. The late Glenn Hughes is particularly impressive, showcasing vocal range ("Danny Boy"!) and comic timing ("Leathermen don't get nervous!"). First rate entertainment, even if the People don't perform In the Navy or Go West. We can only hope that Flix will be airing this in widescreen, but it's worth watching regardless.
12: 45 PM Showtime Extreme
Magic Man (2007 USA): Regular TiVoPlex readers know I enjoy a good boxing movie, so it should come as little surprise that I'm giving a tip o' the hat to this independently produced documentary. Magic Man is the ring name of Brooklyn-born Paulie Malignaggi, a Golden Gloves champ and one-time Olympic athlete determined to make it in the cutthroat world of professional boxing. The film focuses on Malignaggi's 2006 bout with Miguel Cotto for the World Junior Welterweight championship. Held at Madison Square Garden, the fight went the full twelve rounds and...well, I'm not going to give away the ending. You'll just have to watch Magic Man to see who wins.
12:15 AM Showtime
Montenegro (1981 SWE-GB): Bad boy director Dusan Makavejev (Sweet Movie) made one of his rare forays into the world of commercial filmmaking with this predictably wacky sex farce about a libidinous Stockholm housewife. Susan Anspach stars as Marilyn Jordan, an American expatriate living in Sweden with her boring husband Martin (Erland Josephson). On her way to the airport to join hubby on another interminable business trip, Marilyn encounters a group of Yugoslav gypsies and immediately is attracted to their wild and woolly ways. Throwing caution to the wind, she joins them for a night on the town, and is soon introduced to exotic dancing, unusual sex toys, and full frontal male nudity. Makavejev, who was born in Belgrade, embraces the garlic-infused stereotype of the sweaty, swarthy, sexually insatiable Slav, whilst infusing the film with doses of surrealism and a side order of Marxist commentary. Montenegro makes its widescreen American television premiere this morning, and also airs at 3:15 AM.
5:00 PM Turner Classic Movies
The Rake's Progress (1945 GB): Rex Harrison stars in this handsomely mounted tribute to the William Hogarth painting of the same name. Harrison portrays Vivian Kenway, a spoiled playboy who puts his dissolute ways behind him when his country calls him to fight against Hitler. Told in flashback, the film traces Vivian's route from public school to the frontlines, and reflects some of the post-war ambivalence toward the moneyed classes that had recently come to fruition with the election of the Attlee government in the summer prior to its release. Produced by the Frank Launder-Sidney Gilliat team and co-starring Lilli Palmer as one of the women Viv loves and leaves, The Rake's Progress is a smartly written character study that also features some gorgeous black and white cinematography by Wilkie Cooper.
6:00 PM Showtime
American Drug War: The Last White Hope (2007 USA): If you enjoyed the somewhat overheated excesses of the recent shock doc Cocaine Cowboys, you'll probably get similar mileage from this film, too. It differs from Cowboys, however, by focusing on the political implications of the fight against substance abuse—and also on the nexus connecting big corporations, big government, and the prison industry to the now middle-aged War on Drugs. Featuring interviews with such disparate personalities as ‘drug czar' General Barry McCaffrey, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, Jello Biafra, Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Tommy Chong, this is an absolutely fascinating and quite maddening feature that asks the ever-important question: cui bono? Also airs at 9:00 PM.
12:30 AM IFC
The Delicate Art of the Rifle (1996 USA): Picking up where Peter Bogdanovich's Targets left off in 1968, The Delicate Art of the Rifle is an above average indie feature from one-shot director D. W. Harper, who went on to produce You're Gonna Miss Me, an excellent 2005 documentary about Texas musician Roky Erickson. Loosely based on the same real-life events that inspired Bogdanovich, Harper's film is told from the perspective of Jay (David Grant), the roommate of card-carrying conspiracy theorist Walter Whitman (Steven Grant, apparently no relation). Walt has set himself atop Foucault Tower, the imposing 27-story dormitory that dominates an otherwise unidentified college campus, and proceeds to shoot students and faculty alike — until he summons friend Jay to the roof for an explanation of his actions. Shot in North Carolina but set in Texas, The Delicate Art of the Rifle is a rough and occasionally clumsy piece of work that nonetheless transcends its student film roots and deserves greater exposure than it gets during its periodic appearances on IFC.
5:45 AM The Movie Channel
Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1999 USA): This is a very traditional documentary that would fit comfortably into the Ken Burns portfolio — but don't let that put you off, especially if you're a baseball fan. Hank Greenberg was the first Jewish baseball star, a Hall of Fame first-baseman who led the Detroit Tigers to four American League pennants and two World Series victories. He also was the victim of outrageous abuse at the hands of anti-Semitic 'fans' at ballparks across the nation—including his home field. In some respects, Greenberg was the 'canary in the coal mine' who prepared America for Jackie Robinson, and indeed, he's seen here encouraging Robinson to pursue his career and defy the bullies. It's a wonderful film that will have you feeling a little verklempt (and maybe even a little proud) in no time. Also airs at 8:45 AM.
10:15 PM Showtime Extreme
China Strike Force (2000 HK): Continent-hopping Stanley Tong (whose films include Jackie Chan's first stateside-set feature Rumble in the Bronx) goes cross-cultural again in this so-so action feature. China Strike Force stars Mark Dacascos and Coolio (!) as drug-dealing scum and Aaron Kwok and Lee-Hom Wang as the forthright cops out to put the cuffs on them. The acting (and dubbing) ain't great, but there are some decent action sequences and it's kinda fun to ponder why Coolio decided to take the gig playing a character named...Coolio. Why not ask the producers to give the baddie a more realistic name, like for instance Artis Leon Ivey, Jr.?
1:30 PM Turner Classic Movies
Flame in the Streets (1961 GB): John Mills leads the way in this kitchen sink drama about racial conflict in early '60s Britain. He plays Jacko Palmer, a union leader who fights for equality on the factory floor on behalf of West Indian workers. When daughter Kathie (Sylvia Sims) brings home her Jamaican fiancée (Johnny Sekka), however, things get a little dicier, and Jacko must confront his own prejudices as well as those of wife Nell (a snarling Brenda de Banzie). Produced when memories of the 1959 Notting Hill Riots were still fresh, but years before Enoch Powell's infamous 'Rivers of Blood' speech, Flame in the Streets is a bracingly honest drama that pulls few punches in its depiction of a Britain on the cusp of huge social and ethnic change.
12:45 AM Turner Classic Movies
Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (1966 USA): Something about the juxtaposition of 'Turner Classic Movies' with 'director Ray Dennis Steckler' just doesn't seem right, but I'm still absolutely delighted that this amazing film is making its TCM premiere tonight. Intended as a quick cash-in on the success of television's Batman, the film features the legendary Ron Haydock and Titus Moody as Rat Pfink and Boo Boo, two thrift-store super heroes out to rescue a kidnapped girl. The film is partly black and white, partly tinted, and totally wacko, right down to the film's title, which was mistakenly shortened in post-production and should have been Rat Pfink AND Boo Boo. It's not as good as Steckler's piece de resistance, the genuinely good Topanga Canyon-set melodrama The Thrill Killers (1964), but it achieves success on other (more surreal, more lysergic) levels and is absolutely essential viewing for fans of the outré.
2:00 AM Sundance
638 Ways to Kill Castro (2006 GB): Arriving just in time for the accession of Raul Castro, this darkly comic British documentary takes a look at the many, many plots derived over the last 50 years by the CIA (and others) to take down America's favorite bogey man. Whether poisoning his wetsuit, seeding his beard with depilatories, or simply opting for good old fashioned bombs and bullets, our beloved spooks have never run out of innovative ways to remove the Comandante from power. Featuring interviews with Fidel's allies and enemies alike, the film is a good primer on the fine art of political assassination, and even includes some face time for terrorist—er, freedom fighter—Orlando Bosch, whose involvement with a 1976 airline bombing was back in the news in 2007 when co-conspirator Luis Posades Carriles was released uncharged from a Texas prison.
1:00 PM Fox Movie Channel
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974 USA): After years of Fox airing this Peter Fonda action flick in pan and scan, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry finally shows up in widescreen. Was the wait worth it? Well, for me that's a rhetorical question, but if you're one of those folks who enjoys the uniquely '70s sub-genre of road movie crime comedies, the answer is a definite yes. Fonda plays the titular Larry, on the run from stick-in-the-mud Sheriff Franklin (Vic Morrow) after pulling off a $150,000 heist intended to fuel his race car habit. Ably assisted by mechanic Deke (Adam Roarke) and lover Mary (Susan George), Larry and the purloined cash hit the highway in his Dodge Charger. Filled with virtually non-stop car chases (and accompanying crashes), this is a popcorn movie par excellence. Look for an uncredited Roddy McDowall as Larry's holdup victim.
7:00 PM Cinemax
Hot Fuzz (2007 GB): My second favorite film of 2007, Hot Fuzz makes its small screen debut this evening. The great Simon Pegg plays Nicholas Angel, a star London bobby who finds himself dispatched to Hell: the quietest village in England, where crime is almost unheard of and the biggest threat to domestic tranquility is the gold-painted human statue performing in the town square. Nicholas is assigned to work with an assortment of hapless coppers, including Inspector Butterman (Jim Broadbent) and his sluggish son Danny (Nick Frost) — but things suddenly perk up when a series of ghastly murders take place. A deft blend of buddy movie and action flick with a hint of horror, Hot Fuzz does a fantastic job portraying the stultifying atmosphere of rural Britain, and is a laugh riot to boot. A terrific performance by Timothy Dalton as leering supermarket mogul Simon Skinner and a hilarious cameo by Steve Coogan add icing to the top of this very delicious comedy cake. Airs again at 10:00 PM.
6:30 AM IFC
Burden of Dreams (1982 USA): Les Blank's salute to obsessive German filmmaker Werner Herzog returns to the small screen tonight after a very long absence. Shot whilst Herzog was producing Fitzcarraldo, the film highlights the on-set squabbles between Herzog and star Klaus Kinski and the over-the-top decisions made by the director, such as the infamous sequence wherein Amazonian tribesmen were hired to haul a fully assembled riverboat up a hillside. Featuring valuable footage of Jason Robards and Mick Jagger, both of whom left the production early, Burden of Dreams is fitting tribute to one of the greatest of all filmmakers, who has defied the odds by continuing to produce excellent work (Rescue Dawn, Wild Blue Yonder) to this very day.
9:00 PM Sundance
One Take Only (2001 THA): Once upon a time — 1999, to be precise — Thai director Oxide Pang Chun produced a decent action feature called Bangkok Dangerous. (Apparently he's now remaking that film with Nicolas Cage in the lead role, but we all know how Cage remakes work out.) This deeply derivative follow up feature can't hold a candle to its predecessor, and only gets a mention because it's part of Sundance's new Asia Extreme season. If you enjoy Chun's hyperkinetic style, you might enjoy this — but the story (about, yawn, drug deals and prostitutes) is strictly pedestrian stuff.