By John Seal
May 31, 2005
From the obscure to the obscurest to the merely overlooked or underappreciated; they all have a home in the TiVoPlex! All times Pacific.
5am Turner Classic Movies
Torrent (1926 USA): Amidst a TCM day devoted to the American films of Greta Garbo comes this rarity, her first stateside feature. The story revolves around a Spanish peasant (Garbo) whose love for landowner Ricardo Cortez cannot, of course, be requited. Garbo, taken to Paris by her father (Edward Connelly), becomes a singing star and eventually returns to her native land, only to fail in her efforts to convince her true love to go against the wishes of his family and marry her. Garbo is, of course, terrific, though the plot is a typically ornate example of '20s romanticism. Adapted for the screen by Dorothy Farnum (soon to work with King Vidor on the lamentably lost Bardelys the Magnificent), Torrent also features familiar faces like Lucien Littlefield, Tully Marshall, and Mack Swain. Interesting side-note: future star Joel McCrea was a stuntman on this film.
To Be and to Have (2002 FRA): Ah, the one-room schoolhouse, that long-lost, cozy icon of wholesome rural Americana. Though now extinct in the United States, this educational anomaly can still be sighted in the country that America most loves to hate: France! This documentary takes a look at one such school located in bucolic Auvergne, where teacher Georges Lopez instructs 12 children, ranging in age from four to 12, no doubt inculcating them with knowledge regarding the evils of McDonald's, Wal-Mart, and Renny Harlin movies. This feel-good film won the Best Documentary Prize at the 2003 European Film Awards and also airs 6/6 at 9am.
Candyman (1992 USA): I'm not much of a channel surfer, but when engaging in said activity the other night I ran across this decent horror film on Flix, airing (unannounced and unadvertised) in wide-screen! Tony Todd - whose commanding onscreen presence should have made him a star by now - features as the mysterious Candyman, a supernatural serial killer who puts in an appearance every time someone foolishly recites his name five times in a row. Though the film eventually degenerates into a fairly routine hack-and-slash affair, it at least eschews the annoying in-jokes and wink wink humor to which the genre had descended by the early 1990s. No guarantees that Flix will continue to air this wide-screen, but horror fans with a penchant for correct aspect ratios should definitely take a look. Candyman! Candyman! Candyman! Candyman! Candyman!
Pepe le Moko (1938 FRA): The trials and tribulations continue for IFC's programming director, or perhaps the problem belongs to whomever maintains their Web site, because at least three films scheduled on IFC last month - according to both their Web site and printed sources - never made it on the air. As regular readers know, this is nothing new for IFC, so whether or not Pepe le Moko will actually be broadcast will be unknown until about 4:46am this morning. Assuming it does, this is certainly a welcome addition to the line-up, as the film hasn't aired on US television in many years. French matinee idol Jean Gabin stars as the infamous Parisian hidden amidst the criminal underworld of Algie's rough- and-tumble Casbah. Like most men, however, Pepe can't resist a pretty face, and when lovely tourist Gaby (Mireille Balin) stumbles across his path, the master criminal is soon smitten. Can the S'retï's Inspector Slimane (Lucas Gridoux) use Pepe's newly discovered Achilles' heel to put him behind bars? Briskly directed by Julian Duvivier, Pepe le Moko was subjected to an unnecessary and inferior American version (the Charles Boyer vehicle Algiers) the following year. Unsurprisingly, the original will soon make you forget the remake, though Boye's famous line ('come with me to the Casbah!') will live on forever.
Pripyat (1999 OST): This wrenching documentary takes viewers on a tour of the Ukrainian town of Pripyat, a burg within the contamination zone established after the Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown of 1986. Once a bustling little municipality built to house the plant's workers, it's now a dead and decaying husk of abandoned buildings, sick and aging residents who have no choice but to continue living there, and little prospect for improvement until the final isotopes of Pu-239 dissipate in, um, about 24,000 years. Assuming the human race still exists, property values should go way up at that point. Also airs 6/2 at 5pm.
Jackie Brown (1997 USA): One of the most useful maxims of life remains "if you can't say anything nice, say nothing at all," but as TiVoPlex readers well know, I can't resist rising to the bait offered over and over and over again by idiot savant Quentin Tarantino, whose Jackie Brown returns to cable in wide-screen this evening. Even the most foolish of squirrels can occasionally find an acorn, however, and we must thank QT for reuniting Pam Grier and Sid Haig on the big screen, even though the resulting film remains another example of the flaccid excess that the erstwhile video store employee seems unable or unwilling to avoid. Gotta cram in at least two dozen homage to other, vastly superior films in each of your own productions, right, Quentin? Thanks, Pam and Sid for all the pleasure you've provided us over the years. Now see if you can find work again with a REAL director, like your old Filipino chum, Eddie Romero.
3:35am Showtime Extreme
The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972 USA): It might not be in the same league as its illustrious progenitor, but this sequel to the groundbreaking western The Magnificent Seven (1960) is lots of fun and has a great cast, including Lee Van Cleef, Luke Askew, Ed Lauter, and Gary Busey. Add in the bonus that Showtime is airing it wide-screen, and there's every reason for action fans to make time for this film. Though clearly shot on an economy budget (the three previous films in the series were filmed in Spain, whilst Ride's crew traveled no further than Twentynine Palms), this is a well shot and entertaining shoot-'em-up in the Dirty Dozen tradition. Also airs at 11:45am.
11pm Turner Classic Movies
Les Carabiniers (1963 FRA): Jean-Luc Godard's darkly comic take on the manners and mores of modern warfare (and by extension, the war film itself) returns to TCM this evening. Starring Marino Mase and Albert Jurose as two repulsive brothers who eagerly enlist when the government offers them unlimited plunder in exchange for their services at the front, Les Carabiniers is a sly and wry antiwar classic, and is considerably more accessible than many of Godard's films. Along with Breathless, this is the best film to use as an introduction to the director's oeuvre, and comes strongly recommended to nouvelle vague neophytes.
The Driver (1978 USA): One expects action in a Walter Hill picture, and action is what he delivers in The Driver, a crime drama about a nameless getaway specialist (Ryan O'Neal) being pursued by a nameless detective (Bruce Dern). Hey, who needs names when an archetype will do? After all, Hill got his start as a second-unit director for thrillers like Bullitt and original The Thomas Crown Affair, so the niceties of character development aren't particularly important to him. Filled with expertly shot and extremely well-edited car chases, The Driver also features Isabelle Adjani in her first English-language production and airs in wide-screen this evening.
A Room for Romeo Brass (1999 GB): Shane Meadows is one of the most intriguing young directors working in Britain today, a working-class auteur whose screen style differs markedly from that of kitchen-sink specialists such as Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. Though rooted firmly in the lower middle-class environs weï¿½re familiar with from the works of those two great filmmakers, Meadows' vision is at times more hopeful, more wistful, and certainly funnier. A Room for Romeo Brass makes its belated American television premiere this morning, and investigates the relationship of two awkward Midlands teenagers and a rather strange adult (played brilliantly by Paddy Considine) who insinuates his way into their lives in an effort to date one of their female siblings. As in Meadows' Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, you feel like you've seen these characters and this story somewhere before, but frequent collaborator Paul Fraser's wise and thoughtful screenplay adds more than enough twists to the proceedings to make A Room for Romeo Brass a distinctive rumination on the trials of adolescence. Also airs at 10:45am.
7am Fox Movie Channel
Around the World in 80 Days (1989 USA): If you weren't completely put off the familiar story by the abominable big-screen version that came out last year, you might want to save a few hours for this forgotten TV miniseries, which returns to the small screen tonight after a lengthy absence. The 2004 version suffered from the casting of Steve Coogan as Phileas Fogg, and though I am a great admirer of Coogan's, he is neither a romantic lead nor an action star and never will be. The producers of this series wisely selected future Bond Pierce Brosnan as their Phileas Fogg, and the balance of the cast is equally impressive, with Eric Idle as Passepartout and Peter Ustinov, Robert Morley, Jack Klugman, Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee and many others filling out an impressive roster of onscreen talent. Though lengthy at four-and-a-half hours, this version of Jules Verne's classic (if overrated) tale is, dare I say it, also superior to the big-budget 1956 version, with location footage in Britain, Hong Kong, and Thailand helping it overcome its made-for-TV limitations. Also airs at 9pm.
6:45pm Turner Classic Movies
Dollar (1938 SWE): TCM offers a generous selection of Ingrid Bergman's made-in-Sweden productions this evening, kicking off with this mature romantic comedy of manners. It does indeed star a pre-Hollywood Bergman, and she is one of the highlights here, but this film is more than just a curio. A refreshingly adult look at infidelity, lust, and greed that leaves American films of the period in the dust, Dollar also features a remarkable performance by Elsa Burnett as Mary Johnstone, a Chicago-based know-it-all whose blunt, hack-and-slash faith in the power of the almighty dollar brings trouble to the ski resort where three well-heeled couples are spending the weekend. The Stockholm-born Burnett is barely credible as an American, but her performance encapsulates the brash, take-no-prisoners qualities of her (adopted?) country's crony capitalism. Stina Bergman's screenplay is perceptive and intelligent, and Ake Dahlqvist's cinematography hints at a debt to Jean Renoir. It's followed at 8pm by the American television premiere of Bergman's very first feature film, 1934's Count of the Old Town, and at 9:45pm by 1935's Swiedenhielms, a rather wan romantic comedy about an aristocratic family whose future good fortune depends on their patriarch being awarded the Nobel Prize.
Star Wars Dreams (2003 GB): Sorry, no light sabers, but those politically coded red, blue, and green swizzle sticks would probably prove just as efficacious as the real life 'weapons system' examined in this documentary produced by the BBC. Hatched in the perfervid and twisted imagination of crypto-fascist cult leader Lyndon LaRouche and seized upon by the Reagan administration (which had been infiltrated by LaRouchians), the fever dream of space weapons that could shield the United States from a nuclear holocaust lives on in the non-reality-based environs of the Bush White House. A product of the twisted mythology of Christian fundamentalism paired with America's love affair with technology, the so-called 'Star Wars' systems - also known as Brilliant Pebbles, amongst other misguided nomes de guerre - don't and won't work, but that won't stop us from spending billions on them. Featuring interviews with Robert McNamara, the late Edward Teller, and historian Frances Fitzgerald, this is a blunt and timely indictment of this most egregious and wasteful of government programs.