Turner Classic Film Fest: A history of violence

I know, pretty dark headline for  a post about a really fun, glamor heavy film fest. All the more so because, at least for me, TCM  Fest is the kind of event that  can put you in a kind of steel bubble which the daily news can barely pierce. If another Cuban Missile Crisis happened during Comic-Con, what would happen? Maybe if it ended differently this time.

Indeed, even a momentous event  like the death of Osama Bin Laden could just barely penetrate TCM’s  mix of Hollywood fantasy and scholarship. For me, the news first came as I overheard another filmgoer during an intermission of “West Side Story,” which I had popped in on just to see how good the 70mm print was, say to another. “No, he’s really dead.” I figured it was another classic film star gone forever. George Chakiris, who played Sharks leader Bernardo, had introduced the screening, but how were Jets Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn doing?

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Totally random movie moment #1

So, last night I drove out to my mom’s house and turned on the TV and found the channel turned to TCM. Since it was my mom’s house, there was no “info” button to push as I watched an early sixties Japanese film in which, at some kind of drunken orgy, a man finds his son with his girlfriend and quickly murders her. Then, there’s a non-sexual freaky-threeway of strangulation. The characters died but it wasn’t the end of the movie. In fact, it was barely the beginning.

Time to drag out the computer. Turns out I was seeing a bit of Nobuo Nakagawa’s highly notorious, blood-soaked 1960 horror oddity “Jigoku” which means, you guessed it “Hell” in English. Here’s the trailer. Abandon normal film logic, all ye who watch this.

  

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Another Tony Curtis moment

Blake Edwards’ 1965 “The Great Race” is an childhood favorite of mine —  I remember being about six the first time I saw it. I think I liked the cars, the broad slapstick, and the cartoony iconography. I watched it again a couple of years back for the first time in its entirety in probably more than 20 years and found it held up a lot better than I had expected, not least because of a really fine comic performance by Tony Curtis as the absurdly heroic and properly chauvinistic the Great Leslie.

In this scene — briefly interrupted by some very nice Laurel & Hardy-slapstick from villains Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk — good guy Curtis puts various gentlemanly moves on early feminist Natalie Wood, who he had also romanced the prior year in “Sex and the Single Girl.” It’s a very funny send-up of supremely confident romantic movie heroes of old and of Curtis’s own ultra-suave persona. It also features some very nice sword play by Curtis, who was actually knew how to handle a saber.

“The Great Race” airs Sunday night/Monday morning as part of TCM’s 24-hour Tony Curtis marathon tomorrow night at 1:30 a.m. Eastern/10:30 Pacific for you night-owls and DVR owners.

  

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Looking for a 7/4 movie suggestion?

Well, I always pretty much have the same one, and it’s showing today on TCM at 11:30/2:30.

Fans of the terrific HBO “John Adams” miniseries in particular might find this a refreshing alternative take on the founding fathers and just how the Declaration of Independence came to be written and signed. True, it’s a little stagy and far from the best Broadway-to-Hollywood transfer in movie history, at least on a strictly cinematic level. At the same time, it’s a cracking entertainment with first-rate wrting and indelible performances by William Daniels (“The Graduate,” “St. Elsewhere”) as Adams, Screen Actors Guild President Ken Howard (“The White Shadow”) as eventual president Thomas Jefferson, and the once-blacklisted veteran character actor Howard Da Silva (“The Lost Weekend,” “Sgt. York”), for me, the definitive Benjamin Franklin. There’s also a nice appearance by a crush-inducing Blythe Danner (she became Gwyneth Paltrow‘s mom the same year the 1972 film was released) as a slightly ahistoric Martha Jefferson.

Now, if this is the first time you’re hearing of “1776,” there is one major difference between this and other cinematic history lessons, but you’ll that figured out by about 2:47 or by reading the name of the video.

Yeah, it’s a musical. The songs are by the late Tin Pan Alley songwriter turned history teacher Sherman Edwards and the great, if necessarily theatrical, dialogue is written by Peter Stone (“Charade”). Live with it. Here’s another favorite number with great work by Daniels, Da Silva, and Howard based on real opinions the three great men held.

  

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Monday night at the movies, the post TCM Fest edition.

I’m recovering from the fest and doing other stuff as well, so I’m going to try and keep things fairly short tonight.

* The non-extra initial Blu-Ray/DVD release of “Avatar” has, guess what, done very, very well.

* Thanks, Hef! He saves the world for heavily retouched naked women, pays writers more than just about anybody, and now he ponies up the missing funds to save the Hollywood sign.

* One item I don’t actually have to link to report on is that the TCM Classic Film Festival is going to be back next year, with the idea of being an annual event. I can do that because I was present at last night’s big screening of “Metropolis” where none other than Robert Osborne announced it to the assembled multitudes at the more beautiful than ever Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

What was interesting about the way this festival was marketed is that people who live in Los Angeles were clearly not the primary target. Individual ticket prices were roughly double what film geeks like myself are used to paying to see similar presentations — actually more than double when you consider that most repertory programs are actually double bills. With the exception of fellow press and a USC film student who had picked up one of thirty free tickets that has been donated, everyone I spoke to was from elsewhere, and usually a place where the opportunity to see such frequently revived cinematic warhorses as “Casablanca” and “Some Like it Hot” on the big screen are nevertheless beyond rare.

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