By John Seal
July 30, 2012
12:45 AM Sundance
Birdwatchers (2008 ITA-BRA): Written and directed by Chilean Marco Bechis, Birdwatchers would make a great double bill partner with Iciar Bollain’s 2010 drama Even the Rain. As with Bollain’s pic, Birdwatchers tells a story of indigenous South Americans trying to reclaim resources stolen from them by the gringos. This time, however, it’s not water, but land formally in the stewardship of the Guarani Indians - and now in the process of being reclaimed by the tribe. Naturally, the current "owner" - who’s built a fancy home with a pool on the plot - is not too pleased by the developments, and complications ensue. In addition to winning the Amnesty International Award at Motovun, Birdwatchers also took home the Film That Shouldn’t Be Forgotten prize at 2009’s Italian Golden Globes. I love the name of that award.
11:45 AM Flix
Dog Soldiers (2002 GB): The British Army battles werewolves in this gruesome but satisfying Neil Marshall (The Descent) helmed horror flick. Shot in the Scottish Highlands, the film follows a squad of regular troops on war games, including Corporal Bruce Campbell (Thomas Lockyer) and Sergeant H(arry) G. Wells (Sean Pertwee). They’re supposed to engage in mock combat with a unit of commandos, but the elite squad turn up dead - and something, or somethings, are still hungry for more military meat. Dog Soldiers is one of the better werewolf movies of recent vintage, but be prepared for plenty of blood and guts.
1:10 AM HBO Signature
El Mal Ajeno (2010 ESP): Released on DVD in the U.S. as For the Good of Others, El Mal Ajeno stars Eduardo Noriega (Transsiberian) as Diego Sanz, a doctor desperately in need of a mental health day. The camel’s back is finally broken by a suicidal patient, a young woman (Angie Cepeda) whose boyfriend (Marcel Borras) is not happy with the care she’s getting. So unhappy is he, in fact, that he shoots Diego - an act that has some extremely unexpected and unlikely consequences. Directed by Oskar Santos, this magical realist film is no classic, but Noriega is excellent.
Midnight Turner Classic Movies
The Lost Tribe (1949 USA): I’m cheating a bit here. TCM is airing a trio of Jungle Jim features tonight, but I’ve written about one of them (1949’s Jungle Jim) in the past, so I’m limiting myself to the two less familiar titles. The Lost Tribe sees our hero (the eternally wooden Johnny Weissmuller) battling lions and sharks - sharks? - deep in the African jungle, where wicked white men are searching for a legendary lost city; it’s followed at 1:30 AM by Pygmy Island (1950), in which a female military officer (Ann Savage) goes missing and Jim’s help is needed to find her. And yes, there are "pygmies" in the film, only they’re midgets, one of whom is former Munchkin Billy Curtis. Pasty white, all-American Billy Curtis. That’s entertainment!
9:45 PM Encore Family
The Stranger (1946 USA): Here’s a weird one, at least in the context of the programming we usually get on Encore’s Family Channel. Orson Welles' vast body of work (not to be confused with his own vast body) is burdened by the lengthy shadow cast by his earlier Citizen Kane, a film so venerated and over-rated at this point that its hard to consider objectively. The Stranger is one of Welles' very best efforts, was the director's only American film to turn a profit on release, and deserves a much wider contemporary audience. Welles plays Dr. Charles Rankin, a recently-hired professor at an exclusive boy's school. He's well-loved by both his students and the local community, but unfortunately Dr. Rankin has a dark secret: he's actually an escaped Nazi war criminal called Franz Kindler, who's being pursued by Wilson (Edward G. Robinson, fresh off the trail of Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity), an investigator for the Allied War Crimes Commission. Welles' acting brilliance shines through as he makes his characters and his audience empathize with the repulsive Kindler; perhaps only Joseph Cotten in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) carried off the same task with as much aplomb. A wonderful piece of work - and an unusual one from Howard Hughes' RKO - The Stranger was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, and makes absolutely no mention of its lead character's childhood playthings. Which makes it an even weirder choice for Encore Family.
9:00 PM Encore Dramatic Stories
The Motorcycle Diaries (2004 ARG): The Motorcycle Diaries comes from the great Brazilian director Walter Salles (Central Station), and like all his films, it looks absolutely stunning; no one can capture the wide open expanses of South America quite like Salles. As with Central Station, the story is also utterly compelling, as it follows our overly-earnest young hero, Che Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his light-hearted buddy Alberto (Rodrigo de la Serna, in one of the great overlooked performances of 2004) as they embark on a road trip around the continent. The two middle-class boys soon discover a world of poverty and despair far from the privileged one they've inhabited, setting the idealistic Che on the path towards revolutionary fervor and T-shirt immortality. This beautiful and moving film also features a superb score from Gustavo Santaolalla.
3:15 PM Turner Classic Movies
Cry of Battle (1963 USA-PHI): Young up and come James MacArthur - later to appear in over 250 episodes of Hawaii 5-0 - headlines as David McVey, spoiled son of a wealthy businessman, in this rarely seen wartime drama. Caught up in the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, David makes common cause with fellow Yank Joe Trent (Van Heflin). Joe, however, is a hard-drinking womanizer who rapes a local woman, and he and David flee into the jungle in order to avoid retribution for his crime. They meet up with a group of guerrillas, including the beautiful Sisa (Rita Moreno), and soon an unfortunate and deadly love triangle develops. Directed by Irving Lerner, Cry of Battle isn’t terribly special but benefits from decent Philippines location work.