Sunday, June 21, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for June 23-30

June 23-June 30


ENTER THE DRAGON (June 25, 12:00 am): Enter the Dragon is not only the most influential martial arts movie ever made, it is also one of the finest action films you'll see. It was groundbreaking as the first Chinese/Hong Kong martial arts film co-produced by a major American studio, Warner Brothers. Bruce Lee, who died six days before the movie's release, is dripping with charisma – charisma that was already big at the box office. Had Lee lived, he likely would have been cinema's greatest and most successful action hero. Not only was his martial arts ability on another planet, but his ease, charm, intensity and sense of humor makes it impossible not to love his character. In this film, he plays Lee, a Shaolin martial artist recruited by British intelligence to infiltrate an island owned by Mr. Han, a wealthy major drug dealer and a former Shaolin student kicked out for violating the code of conduct. Han has an international martial arts tournament on his island in which only the best compete for huge prize money. The movie has many fantastic action scenes including the final showdown between Lee and Han in a room of mirrors. I've seen this film at least 20 times, and love it every time.

JULES AND JIM (June 28, 3:45 am): I don't have a favorite film, but this one is easily a top 5. Directed by the brilliant Francois Truffaut, this 1962 film takes place over a period of about 25 years before, during and after World War I. It's about an intense friendship between two men – Jules (Oskar Werner), an Austrian, and Jim (Henri Serre), a Frenchman – that is stronger than many marriages, and how it evolves because of the presence of Catherine (Jeanne Moreau, one of cinema's all-time best actresses), an impulsive, captivating and enchanting woman. Catherine loves both men, marrying Jules before the war – he and Jim are fighting for opposing countries and fearful they'll meet in combat. After the war, Jim visits Jules and Catherine, who have a daughter. But things aren't good between the couple and Catherine, who's had several affairs, falls for Jim. Jules' love for her is so great that he agrees to divorce Catherine so she can marry Jim with all three of them, and the child, living together. But that marriage also has its problems. The acting is extraordinary and the voice-over narration by Michel Subor greatly enhances the storyline. Everything works to perfection from the beautiful cinematography that uses photos, freeze-frame, archived footage and tracking shots to  Georges Delerue’s soundtrack to the incredible ending. 


THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (June 26, 6:00 am): This is the original – and the best – version of James M. Cain’s classic novel (which also inspired Albert Camus, by the way). When it comes to noir, one would think that the MGM gloss was off-putting, but I think it actually helps the film. John Garfield has never been better and Lana Turner has never been more gorgeous. Not only can we see that they’re going to hook up, we can understand why they must hook up. The performances from the supporting cast are superb, the photography by Sidney Wagner is sharp and inviting, and Tay Garnett’s direction workmanlike, as he keeps the characters and the story in constant play. Despite the complaints of the changes in Cain’s original story (for censorship purposes), the film still outdoes the 1981 Nicholson-Lange remake in terms of the heat between the stars, not to mention the fact that Turner, while hardly a serious actress, ran rings around Lange’s performance.

BAND OF OUTSIDERS (June 28, 2:00 am): This film represents director Jean-Luc Godard at his best, exploring the petty crime scene and his fascination with pop-culture. Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) are two lowlifes that like to quote and re-enact B-movies. They meet Odile (Anna Karina) at an English class and a plot soon becomes hatched to steal the money that Odile’s father has embezzled from the government and hidden inside their house. But as with anything else by Godard, it is not so much the destination as the journey that is interesting. The interaction between the characters as they run about, dance, read newspaper stories to each other and pretend to have shoot-outs is augmented by Godard’s voice-over narration and his habit of letting the characters talk to the camera. Look for the “Madison dance” sequence where the three dance in a cafeteria. It was a definite influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.


ED: A++. This is one of the seminal films in the history of the cinema, having influenced many other directors, such as Ozu, Bresson (whose The Trial of Joan of Arc runs a good second in my estimation), and Godard (who used it in his Vivre sa Vie), among others. It has also been praised by critics from Pauline Kael to Roger Ebert as one of the masterpieces of film. It was voted as number 9 on a list of the 50 greatest films of all time in a 2012 poll of 846 critics, programmers, academics and distributors for Sight & Sound. Part of the reason for its extraordinary influence is that film does not contain one establishing shot, instead relying on a series of close-ups and medium shots as director Carl Theodor Dreyer (who tossed out the screenplay in favor of the actual transcripts of the trial) tries to get to the essence of Joan of Arc, who she was and her suffering during the trial. And he does this brilliantly, creating an atmosphere of threatening intimacy, in which the suffering of Joan at the hands of her tormentors will leave no viewer unmoved. Dreyer also makes extraordinary use of editing techniques, breaking down the film into a series of images, allowing him to avoid the tranquility one can usually find in a historical drama. He wants us to concentrate on the trial, not the scenery, costumes, or any other distraction. Seem in a theater, as I first saw it, the result is startling and almost mind bending, as there is nothing else to distract us. As for the acting, the performance of Renee Maria Falconetti, a famous actress of the French stage, is nearly flawless, thanks in large part to Dreyer filming the same scenes over and over again until he found the right nuance in her facial expression, one in which the emotion had been drained, leaving only the suffering. Falconetti wore no make-up, though Dreyer did shoot her in softer grays to distinguish her from her tormentors. Hers became a performance for the ages, though she never performed in another film again. In my mind, any grade for this film lower than as “A” is an act of sheer vandalism and a sign the critic hasn’t really understood the film. (Well, it doesn’t have an car crashes).

DAVID: C. It's probably – definitely, according to Ed – sacrilegious for a film lover to not think highly of The Passion of Joan of Arc. Because I respect Ed so much, I stayed up late Thursday to watch it again. It worked to a certain extent. Based on my recollection of seeing the film in the past year, I was going to give it a C-. Instead, I'm giving it a C. There's too much "talking" for a silent film. As a print writer, my goal is to show and not tell. It isn't always possible. Carl Theodor Dreyer is doing the opposite in a visual medium with this movie. Lips are moving at the speed of light at times and Dreyer provides plenty of dialogue cards yet not a whole lot is happening – and what we see isn't terribly compelling and, at times, repetitive. Dreyer was an excellent director, made a number of classics and inspired others, but he missed the mark here. It's not awful. The cinematography is impressive at times, particularly the way the camera frames Renee Maria Falconetti, who plays Joan. But, overall, the film is slow moving, which is particularly distressing as it's only 82 minutes in length. A minor point on the use of the actual trial transcript: I question the accuracy of the document. There weren't tape recorders or even pens and pencils at the time of the trial. The transcript came from notaries who were at the trial and took daily notes using quill pens. As for Ed's criticism that those who don't love this film don't understand it, he's just trying to bait me. He loves this film. He's also well aware that I am a fan of Ozu, Bresson and of Godard's earlier works (before he made films that few understand), and that I love cinema that is open to interpretation such as the works of Ingmar Bergman. And, like Ed, I enjoy a good car crash on the big screen, but it's definitely not a requirement needed for a quality movie. I know I go against the grain with my opinions of this film. It's not the first time I disagree with cinema experts and certainly won't be the last.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

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