Sunday, May 1, 2016

Back on FXM in May

Ah, we're at the first day of a new month, which means that I tend to spot some movies showing up on FXM Retro that haven't been on the channel in a while. The first example of that this month is Man in the Middle, which will be coming up tomorrow morning at 7:40 AM, and again at 6:00 AM Tuesday.

I also mention it because it was directed by Guy Hamilton, and when I posted about Hamilton's death a week and change ago I hadn't seen that Man in the Middle would be coming up on FXM Retro.

Anyone going to be in Korea?

Among the various international broadcasters I listen to is KBS World (Radio Korea), from South Korea. (I was never able to pick up the propaganda from the North on my radio.) Anyhow, Friday's program on Radio Korea mentioned a couple of film festivals in the country, one going on, and one to start next week:

The Jeonju International Film Festival started on Thursday and continues through this coming Saturday. Since this year is the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the festive is programming several adaptations of Shakespeare works, including movies originally made in English (such as the Olivier Henry V).

For those looking to shoehorn strident political commentary into their films, there's the Green Film Festival in Seoul, which looks at "environmental" films or films with a subject that is supposedly tangentially related to environmental issues. It will be running from this Friday through next Thursday. Note that the "official" link didn't work for me.

It's too bad I can't afford to take a trip to Korea.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

God Told Me To

As part of the TCM Underground block tonight, TCM is showing the imaginative God Told Me To overnight at 2:15 AM.

The movie starts off with scenes of everyday life in 1970s Manhattan, just around the time when President Ford was telling the city to drop dead. Suddenly, the quotidian scenes change as one person falls dead from a gunshot wound! And then more and more people start dropping dead too, which unsurprisingly causes panic. There's a mass-shooting sniper someplace high above the city, and NYPD detective Peter Nicholas (Tony LoBianco) is the one who ultimately winds up with the task of bringing him down off the water tower the police spot him on. Peter gets up there, and in trying to talk the man down, hears him say something rather shocking: when asked why he did it, the man answers "God told me to." Then the man jumps to his death.

What an opening. But things are about to get much worse, well at least for the New Yorkers portrayed in the movie; for the viewer, the movie is about to get much more interesting. Other people start comming mass killings as well, and all of them respond by saying "God told me to", just before they too die. Something is going on, and it's especially disturbing to the devoutly religious Peter. So he starts to investigate.

Meanwhile, his investigation is beginning to bring up some uncomfortable things about himself. Peter is a devout Catholic with an estranged wife (Sandy Dennis) now living out on Long Island, and who is living with his girlfriend (Deborah Raffin); presumably he can't bring himself to get a divorce because of that whole Catholic thing. But the investigation starts to bring up evidence of some strange guy named Bernard who has a shadowy past and an even more shadowy birth, but who apparently met all the killers before they went on their rampages.

The investigation into the past is more disturbing to Peter. At first, people give explanations that by most normal observers would be considered just another case of somebody making stuff up about alien abductions. But to Peter, he's getting the sinking feeling that all of this is the unblemished truth, and that what it's leading to is some sort of virgin birth. Oh, there's that pesky Christian doctrine again to torment our devout Catholic detective. Worse, it appears the father may not be God, but the Antichrist!

As I said at the top, God Told Me To is imaginative. It's got a plot that can be a bit difficult to follow at times, as there's a lot crammed in to the relatively brief running time. But for the most part what it does it does well. New York City makes a very good backdrop, especially since this was in the city's crime-ridden 70s phase. The Disneyfied Times Square wouldn't work as a backdrop, but the lower-class New York of the 70s does. Sure, the story winds up being a bit unbelievable, but there are a lot of Hollywood movies that require large suspensions of disbelief.

All in all, God Told Me To is an intriguing and disturbing movie, and one that I think would make an excellent double bill with the original 1970s version of The Wicker Man. God Told Me To is also available on DVD and Blu-Ray at not too bad a price.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Australia day on TCM

TCM is spending this morning and afternoon with a day of movies set in Australia. The last couple, at least, were definitely made in Australia. I probably should have written a post on Picnic at Hanging Rock (airing at 4:00 PM) last night, but there was other stuff on my plate. For those who haven't seen the movie, it's set at the turn of the last century, and involves a group of adolescent schoolgirls at an Australian boarding school who go for a day trip to a park where there's a mountain. Despite being warned not to, a couple of the girls go up the mountain -- and some of them don't return. It's an interesting story, and one that's very gorgeously filmed, having been made in Australia by Australians. Jackie Weaver, who has a bit part in it, presented it on TCM back in May 2014 I think when she was the Guest Programmer and presented movies from the Australian new wave. The movie is available for purchase, but since it's from the Criterion Collection it comes at a pretty steep price

That will be followed at 6:00 PM by ABBA: The Movie. This is a look at the Swedish supergroup's March 1977 concert tour of Australia. There's a framing story about a rural DJ who has the task of trying to get an interview with the group, and always winding up one step behind them, the poor hapless guy. Along the way, he gets man on the street interviews with "regular" Australians. More interesting, of course, are the scenes with ABBA themselves. The concert scenes are good, while the backstage stuff (obviously a lot of it staged since they're talking in English) are even more entertaining. I think this hasn't aired on TCM since New Years Eve between 2004 and 2005, when they showed a night of concert movies and I actually stayed up until 1:30 AM to watch the end of it. This one is also on DVD and a bit pricey, but not as much as Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The TCM Backlot

I never knew that TCM had a backlot like the old Hollywood studios did. Well, it really doesn't, of course. But a couple of days ago somebody on the TCM boards posted that apparently TCM has set up something new called the TCM Backlot. The publicity blurb on the page is breathless:

Welcome to the TCM Backlot – the ultimate fan club for everyone who loves Turner Classic Movies! The TCM Backlot is your ticket to go behind the scenes, attend private gatherings, meet TCM talent and become part of the network like never before. You’ll get insider access to TCM, where you can influence programming and enjoy exclusive benefits only available to TCM Backlot members. Plus, we’re taking you deeper than ever into the world of Hollywood, cinema, and the luminaries who created the greatest movies of all time.

When you join TCM Backlot, you’ll be eligible to:

  • Vote on programming and help shape the network
  • Go on the air as a Guest Programmer
  • Attend special events and member-only gatherings
  • Meet TCM staff, talent, and special guests
  • Watch rare videos and first looks at original programming
  • Go inside the history of TCM and Hollywood
  • Access an exclusive digital version of the Now Playing Guide
  • Preview TCM events, auctions, and upcoming guests
  • Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the TCM studios
  • Enjoy regular contests, discounts and giveaways
  • Be featured in the Now Playing Guide
  • And you can become a charter member for the low, low sum of just $87! OK, that's not so low. And that's about as far as I got before the page hit an error loading on my browser. But it's not as if I was about to join. TCM was breathless about the supposed social networking benefits of the Classic Film Union, and of course that fizzled. And frankly, that's not something I would have been interested in anyway. But $85 a year to become an "ultimate fan" or somesuch seems like nonsense to me.

    Note the difference between the two prices I quoted. Before the signup page crashed on me, I was able to read that you can become a charter member for that $87. But when you look at the reams of terms and conditions, you'll note that it's an annual subscription, costing $85 a year. For however many years this runs. Yeah right.

    I appreciate that TCM need to find revenue streams, but I don't think this is the way to go about it.

    Sophia Loren at the TCM Film Festival

    Ah, today is day thta the annual TCM Classic Film Festival starts in Los Angeles. Nobody got me tickets, so I won't be there. Anyhow, it seems to be the case now on TCM the cable channel that they use the current year's film festival to promote something they did at the previous year's festival, that being one of the older-time actors they scored an extended interview with. In the past they've done Luise Rainer and Peter O'Toole (both no longer with us), as well as Eva Marie Saint.

    Apparently, last year they interviewed Sophia Loren. That's because the interview with her will be airing tiwce tonight on TCM. Between and after the interviews will be a night of Loren's movies. As is often the case with TCM premieres, there's an airing at 8:00 PM for the benefit of people on the east coast, and then another airing after one feature film for the folks out west. This year, there's actually a feature and a short. At 9:15 PM, there will be the 2014 short Human Voice starring Loren as a woman trying to reconnect with an old boyfriend. TCM showed it last year and it was worth one viewing, but not something I'd call particularly great. Then at 9:45 PM there's Marriage Italian Style, which has her tricking Marcelo Mastroianni into marriage after a lengthy affair, only to tell him after he discovers the trick that she says only one of her three sons is his, and she won't tell him which.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2016


    TCM's three-week look at German cinema concludes this week, with among others, the interesting movie Kameradschaft, early tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM.

    G.W. Pabst directed this one with a cast of actors who, I think, wouldn't be much recognized in America. I certainly don't recognize any of the names, but that of course doesn't mean much. The men here are miners, working when they can in a mine not far from Germany's border with France. Or at least, that's where half the men work. The other half of the male characters are French, working in the French mine that's just on the other side of the border. Of course, the French mine owners don't care for the German workers, what with just having fought a war with them a decade earlier. The German owners, likewise, don't care much for the French miners. The border is so strong that it goes underground, through the mine where all of these people work, the French and Germans decidedly not being side by side.

    Anyhow, the French mining engineers have a problem. They keep having flames and embers smoldering, so they've decided to deal with it by walling those areas off, and letting the lack of oxygen burn the fires out. Or, at least, that's the plan. The way the engineers are told just to wall places off gives some obvious foreshadowing even if you don't already know the plot, that something is going to go wrong. And, of course, soon enough, something does go dramatically wrong, as there's a fire on the French side of the mine. As the French rescue crews go down the mine to try to rescue their workers, the German mine owners don't much care. Let them deal with it; it's their problem. Some of the German miners, however, have a different view. They should side with their fellow workers, rather than with their nationality. They decide under their own initiative to take the German rescue equipment and go down the French side of the mine themselves to help in the rescue effort.

    It's not all easy, of course, what with the language barrier, and the Germans not knowing the French side of the mine, and the families of the French workers protesting at the entry gates, and even one old guy going down the mine himself to try to find his grandson. But this is where the movie shines. The scenes in the mines are compellingly claustrophobic, and a fair sight better than the stuff that goes on above ground. The aboveground stuff isn't bad, although there are some conventional scenes of the distraught girlfriend or the distraught mother; it's just that the underground stuff is so good.

    The movie has an ultimate message against the nationalism that was keeping France and Germany apart and presumably threatening peace. This of course was to happen in a few short years when the Nazis came to power, so whatever mesage the movie was trying to send was fairly short-lived. Politics aside, Kameradschaft is a visually compelling movie.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2016

    If it's Tuesday....

    TCM is spending a night tonight with the movies of Tuesday Weld. I think I actually haven't seen Sex Kittens Go to College before; that on is airing overnight at 3:15 AM. One of the movies airing tonight that does deserve a bit more than a brief mention is the one that kicks off the night at 8:00 PM, Rock Rock Rock!

    This was one of those movies made in the early part of the rock and roll era, when promoters were trying to appeal to the young crowd by putting the teens' new music on screen. One of the things that meant is that the plots were rather worse. I've mentioned Rock Around the Clock and its almost shot-for-shot remake Twist Around the Clock before; those at least had the good sense to put their plots in the business side of the music industry . In Rock Rock Rock! however, the plot, such as it is, involves Tuesday (who was about 13 or 14 at the time) tying to get the $30 (in mid-50s dollars, mind you) to buy a dress for the big dance. Her boyfriend, meanwhile, is trying to line up some rock and roll names to perform.

    In a movie like this, it comes down to the performances. The filmmakers got Connie Francis, who I wouldn't exactly call a rock and roll artist although she was quite succesful commercially in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to dub Tuesday Weld's singing voice. Elsewhere in the movie, there's Chuck Berry and Frankie Lymon. But the other interesting thing in a movie like this is to see the artist the producers thought would become famous, but aren't remembered today. Cirino and the Bowties?

    One other thing is that movies actually made in the 1950s probably have a more authentic take on 50s set design (those lamps!) than movies made today looking back at the 50s.

    Monday, April 25, 2016

    Edgar Kennedy Day

    TCM is marking the birthday of actor Edgar Kennedy tomorrow, with a day of his films. Kennedy was a character actor so he didn't really get to be the star of features. But, he was famed for his "slow burn" of exasperation at the antics of the star around him. In addition to all those supporting roles, Kennedy did get to star, although in two-reelers. At RKO, he was the star of a series known as the "Average Man" shorts, and made four or five of them a year in the 1930s and 1940s, being in several dozen of them as a man who just wants to do his job or his work around the house, only to be stymied at every turn by his wife and her family. TCM will be showing eight of those shorts between 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM. The schedule has two 90-minute blocks with four shorts each, so I don't know the order of the shorts. I also haven't seen any of them, so I can't really comment on them. For whatever reason, TCM plays the RKO shorts from the 1930s and 1940s they have a lot less often than the shorts from Warner Bros. and MGM.

    As for the features, one that I'd like to mention is Hold 'Em Jail, which you can catch at 8:00 AM tomorrow. This is a Wheeler and Woolsey movie, starring RKO's comedy duo as a pair of salesmen who get framed and sent to prison. There, they basically wind up running the place, much to the chagrin of warden Kennedy. They also take part in the big inter-prison football game, on which the two wardens have a substantial bet. So Kennedy needs Wheeler and Woolsey to use every trick in the book to win the game for his prison. The result is a football game sequence reminiscent of the Marx Brothers' Horse Feathers. There's one other interesting thing about Hold 'Em Jail, which is the sort of family you can only get in a Hollywood movie. Edgar Kennedy as the warden is married to Edna May Oliver, funny as always. They have a daughter played by... a teenaged Betty Grable!

    Sunday, April 24, 2016

    Chaplin's World

    Earlier today I mentioned how I listen to international broadcasters and how there was a movie-related program on China Radio Intertnational. Well, I also understand German well enough to listen to some German-langauage broadcasts. Usually, that's just news, since that's a bit easier to follow, but one of the podcasts I have in my RSS reader is of a weekly travel program that airs on Germany's Deutschlandfunk, that goes to various places around the world and does brief features on three or four of them each Sunday.

    So today in my RSS reader, I was intrigued to see a report titled, more or less Chaplin Museum on Lake Geneva: On the trail of the Tramp and artist. Note that the link above is actually in German; my giving the title in English is just a translation. Apparently there's been a new museum dedicated to Charlie Chaplin that opened up in Switzerland, where he spent his final years. You can read the report, in German, at the link above; if you can understand German, you can download the audio here; that's a 12 MB file around 13 minutes. Deutschlandfunk audio files are all available for six months from the date of publication, so this one will be available until about 1000 UTC on October 31.

    As for the Chaplin's World museum, you can visit their website here; it's also available in French and German for anybody here who's not a native English speaker. I don't go to museums much so I don't know how out of line this is, but the admission fee is CHF 23 for adults, which is about USD 24.