By John Seal
October 22, 2012

Do I make you horny, baby?

From the obscure to the obscurest to the merely overlooked or underappreciated; they all have a home in the TiVoPlex! All times Pacific.

Tuesday 10/23/12

4:15 PM Sundance
Soul Kitchen (2009 GER): Foodies will tumble big-time for this surprisingly cheery comedy from Edge of Heaven director Fatih Akin. Adam Bousdoukos headlines as Zinos, a Hamburg restaurateur whose down-at-heel dining establishment offers cheap and cheerful grub for the locals as well as a place to go dancing to classic soul music. After he returns from an overseas trip, however, Zinos makes a horrifying discovery: in his absence, chef Shayn (Birol Unel) has spruced up the menu and brother Ilias (Moritz Bleibtrau) has introduced some rather uncouth elements to the restaurant. The Germans don’t exactly have a sterling reputation for comedy, but Soul Kitchen suggests they do have a funny bone after all.

7:00 PM Turner Classic Movies
Mandy (1952 GB): “Oh, Mandy, you came and you gave without taking...and I need you today, oh, Mandy...”. Sorry, I was just flashing back for a moment to my mother’s Barry Manilow records, which she played a lot back in the day. “At the Copa...Copacabana...the hottest spot north of Havana...at the Copa...COPACABAAAAANA...music and fashion were always the passion”...okay, i’ll stop now, but those songs are permanently imprinted on my brain, and I’ll no doubt be singing Mandy to myself when I’ve long since forgotten the names of my grandchildren. As for Mandy (the film), it’s an excellent drama about the trials and tribulations of a young deaf girl (eight-year old Mandy Miller) whose parents (Phyllis Calvert & Terence Morgan) are determined to prove that she can speak. Enter Dick Searle (Jack Hawkins), headmaster of a school for the deaf and a strong advocate for Mandy who thinks he can help - as long as he can also keep the school’s donors and sponsors happy. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick, much better known for such comedies as Whiskey Galore and The Ladykillers, Mandy was nominated for six BAFTAs and won the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Wednesday 10/24/12

4:15 AM Turner Classic Movies
The Magician (1926 USA): German star Paul Wegener headlines this outstanding American-produced, shot-in-France silent fantasy. Wegener plays Oliver Haddo, an alchemist convinced he needs the blood of a virgin to complete his experiments. Not too surprisingly, this virgin must be of the female variety - and even less surprisingly, Haddo has a dwarf assistant (Henry Wilson) to help him find the perfect young lady. He succeeds, and soon sweet young thing Margaret Dauncey (Alice Terry) finds herself and her hemoglobin in great danger. The story sounds rather sordid, but it’s all based on a Somerset Maugham story and directed by the great Rex Ingram (Ben-Hur), so The Magician is not exactly a potboiler. The film features the most impressive scientific lab set design of the pre-Strickfaden era, and Michael Powell began his long and illustrious career as The Magician’s assistant director. It’s followed at 5:45 AM by The Letter (1929), a creaky but interesting early talkie starring the legendary Jeanne Eagels as a married woman who kills her lover.

6:00 AM HBO Signature
La Isla Interior (2009 ESP): A worthwhile Spanish drama about family and genetics, La Isla Interior provides a powerful and sobering look at the crippling effects of mental illness. Cristina Marks stars as Gracia, one of three siblings re-united by the imminent death of their father. Also on hand are brother Miguel (Alberto San Juan) and sister Coral (Candela Pena), as well as dear old mum (Geraldine Chaplin). Dad has long suffered from schizophrenia and the family has long avoided dealing with its legacy, but his passing forces them to come to terms with his - and perhaps their - illness. Though deadly serious in intent, there’s an underlying current of dark humor that works in the film’s favor, and San Juan delivers a particularly strong performance.

9:30 PM Turner Classic Movies
The Fall of the House of Usher (1949 GB): First the good news: this British take on Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale hasn’t been seen on American television for a very long time. Now the letdown: it’s not very good. Of course, quality or the lack thereof is not always the deciding factor in the TiVoPlex, and I’m very excited about the opportunity to see this film again! Directed by a 24-year-old filmmaker named Ivan Barnett - who’s still with us today, but only ever helmed two additional features - The Fall of the House of Usher is poverty row gothic and looks it. Underscoring the film’s down-at-heel origins, only one cast member - Gwen Watford, here playing Lady Usher - ever appeared again on the big screen. I guess everyone else was more interested in continuing their career in dinner theater.

Friday 10/26/12

7:00 AM Turner Classic Movies
Jungle Cavalcade (1941 USA): Frank Buck was a big name in the 1930s and early ‘40s, his prowess as a big game collector reflected in a series of motion pictures, of which Jungle Cavalcade is a late example. If you’ve seen one Buck pic you’ve pretty much seen ‘em all, but for those of you who haven’t, think of them as The Endless Summer: Safari Edition. In Jungle Cavalcade’s case, it might also be entitled Frank Buck: The Clip Show, as the film consists almost entirely of scenes excerpted from earlier Buck adventures.

12:05 PM Starz In Black
Screen Door Jesus (2003 USA): Here’s what I wrote about this film when it first screened on Starz in Black back in 2009:

I'd never previously heard of this film, but with a title like Screen-Door Jesus, is there really any reason NOT to watch it? It's a shot-in-Texas indie about a woman who finds the image of Jesus imprinted, or etched, or something, into her screen door. And it won the Golden Starfish at the Hamptons International Film Festival! I'm sure you'll agree that any film that wins a Golden Starfish is worth 90 minutes of your time.

Screen-Door Jesus turned out to be a pretty decent little character study, so if you missed it in 2009 - perhaps you were distracted by that piece of Jesus toast that was all the rage back then - give it a look this afternoon.

Saturday 10/27/12

Midnight Turner Classic Movies
Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story (2007 USA): Ballyhoo artist extraordinaire Castle gets his due in this hugely entertaining TCM original documentary. Castle, of course, was the king of the movie gimmick, pioneering the use of such tools of the trade as the Fright Break, the Punishment Poll, and Percept-O (the seats that vibrated during the first run of The Tingler). The story is told in full here and includes a great selection of interview subjects, including the late Forry Ackerman, Bob Burns, and David Del Valle. It’s followed at 1:45 AM by Macabre (1958), a Castle chiller featuring a kidnap victim hidden in a sealed coffin. You’ll be relieved to know 1958 audience members were insured in case of "death by fright," but you and I are not so lucky.

10:30 AM Encore

(This review previously appeared at http://www.berkeleyside.com/2011/06/28/big-screen-berkeley-the-missouri-breaks/)

The Missouri Breaks (1976 USA): By the 1970s, the western was no longer the happy hunting ground William S. Hart, Tom Mix, and Roy Rogers had populated during the genre’s first half century. Black and white tales of good guys and bad guys were out, and filmmakers began to turn the genre on its head: now the baddies were frequently the characters the audience empathized with. The white man’s injustice towards Native Americans became a popular theme, and spaghetti westerns even introduced the idea that - gasp! - there might be a place for Marxist dialectics in the Old West.

Directed by Arthur Penn, The Missouri Breaks is a typical example of the American revisionist style. The film stars two of Hollywood’s biggest names - Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando - but neither of their characters are men you’d invite home to meet mother. (Unless, of course, your mother was Joan Crawford.)

Set in the badlands of Montana, the story begins with a hanging. The victim is Sandy Chase (Hunter von Leer), a man accused by rancher David Braxton (John McLiam) of stealing horses. Though Braxton is no lawman, he’s a well-respected man about town who (when not dipping into Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy) fancies himself judge, jury and executioner. By his reckoning, he’s been losing 7% of his herd per annum to rustlers, and that’s got to stop - by fair means or foul.

Sandy’s old riding partners Tom (Nicholson), Little Tod (Randy Quaid), and Cal (Harry Dean Stanton) are part of the problem, but they’re not exactly living large thanks to their rustling proceeds. Moving purloined ponies across the Missouri Breaks without having land on which to rest and water them is a logistical nightmare, so the gang decides to rob a train and purchase some land with the loot.

Wrong. After pulling off the unlikely rail heist, Tom takes a trip into the belly of the beast and cheekily purchases some acreage from Braxton. Whilst the rest of the gang ride north to steal gee-gees from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Tom masquerades as a simple farmer intent on irrigating his crops. That changes, however, when Braxton’s hired gun Lee Clayton (Brando) enters the scene and immediately senses that Tom’s thumb is not particularly green.

Clayton may not appear until the 30-minute mark, but he dominates the screen thereafter. A bird watching Irishman who douses himself in lavender perfume, Clayton is one of Brando’s most grotesque characterizations. It’s impossible to tell if Marlon was taking the role seriously, and one’s tolerance for his quirky performance will determine how much or how little you enjoy The Missouri Breaks.

In welcome contrast, Nicholson is restrained and subtle - there’s little here of the grinning and gurning Jack of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest or The Shining. The film’s best performance, however, is provided by Stanton as Tom’s loyal and heavily moustachiod sidekick Cal. Though Randy Quaid’s agent somehow got his client third billing, Little Tod is a peripheral character at best: Cal has a substantially bigger and more important role to play, and his final reel demise is one of the film’s most wrenching moments.

John Williams’ score is satisfying and surprisingly complex, cinematographer Michael Butler effectively captures the earthy browns, cloudy grays and watery blues of the Montana badlands, and Thomas McGuane’s screenplay features one undeniably great line of dialogue: “the closer you get to Canada, the more things eat your horses.” As long as you don’t mind watching Brando mince across the screen spouting dialogue in a comic brogue, you’ll find The Missouri Breaks hugely enjoyable entertainment. Also airs at 1:30 PM.

Sunday 10/28/12

12:30 AM Turner Classic Movies
Tormented (1960 USA): Here’s a Halloween treat you won’t want to miss! From the mind of writer-director-producer Bert I. Gordon (aka Mr. BIG) comes Tormented, the story of a spurned woman and her efforts to get revenge on her man...even after she’s dead. The guy is Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson), who thinks his relationship with old flame Vi (Juli Reding) has come to an end after she conveniently topples off a lighthouse. No such luck, however, as Vi’s ghost returns to remind Tom that love is thicker than ectoplasm! As with most Gordon pics of the period, this one has a role for Bert’s daughter Susan, and Joe Turkel (Blade Runner) pops up as Nick the Blackmailer.

8:00 AM Fox Movie Channel
Pippin: His Life and Times (1981 USA-CAN): I’ve never seen this made-for-TV adaptation of the hugely popular stage musical of the same name, but Ben Vereen repeats his Broadway performance as The Leading Player and the balance of the cast is also interesting. Martha Raye steps into the role of Berthe (originally occupied by Irene "Granny Clampett" Ryan), whilst William Katt and Chita Rivera also put in appearances. Though not much of a musical fan, Pippin’s rarity will probably be enough to tempt me to take a peek.