This Week on Cable: Wish Airplane! a Happy 30th Birthday!
If you've seen The Expendables or Eat Pray Love, then you no longer wonder why you pay that exorbitant cable bill -- new doesn't mean adequate or bearable. Movies are 120 years of rampaging stuff, not just this moment's passing bulldozer. This week: Surrealism, Romanians, Ann Sheridan, Hitler-assassination films devised while WWII raged on, and more. TiVos at the ready...
Airplane! (TCM, Tuesday @ 1:15 AM)
Coming in 1980 like a fresh fart, this breathtaking farce made Mel Brooks look sophisticated -- and yet, there's something inspired about this elephantine schtick's steamrolling assault of crude sight gags, surreal equations, and puns, puns, puns. There's no reality being made fun of here, just the rapturous ether of old movies (The High and the Mighty, Zero Hour and the Airport films, predominantly) and the play of language and outrageous nonsense. Practically a masterpiece.
Police, Adjective (Sundance, Wednesday @ 9:30 AM & 2:30 PM)
The Romanian New Wave seems to have trickled off after only a few years, save for this pungent, sharp 2009 anti-thriller by Corneliu Porumboiu, in which a young cop questions the morality of his job in an over-policed nation still sore from decades of totalitarianism. Multiple award-winner at Cannes.
Human Nature (IFC, Wednesday @ 12:00 midnight)
The Charlie Kaufman-scripted movie, directed by Michel Gondry (his first), that you've never heard of -- in it, scientists (Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette) discover a feral man (Rhys Ifans) and struggle whether to civilize him or regress themselves to his state of primal freedom. Plus a ton of philosophical digressions, Gondrian dreamtime and artifice posing as reality.
Famously plagued by production shut-downs, fleeing producers, a slashed budget and the unceremonious exit of its original stars (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett left, apparently in tandem, to star in Babel), Darren Aronofsky's pet project emerges from its own purple haze as unarguably the wackiest Hollywood movie of 2006. He reportedly nursed this mutant child along for years, and it does in fact evoke the foggy head-space of a teenager dubiously blessed with too much good weed and an unfettered devotion to the books of Carlos Castaneda. Three story lines (a conquistador slaying Mayans, a doctor with a dying wife, a futuristic astral-plane dweller devoted to a magical tree), all starring Hugh Jackman, and it won't be long into the intercutting that you will envy Aronofsky his dealer.
1984 (Encore Mystery, Wednesday @ 4:35 PM)
George Orwell's classic about a futuristic fascist England is done right in time (1984) by director Michael Radford, down to the film's deliberately antiquated visual style -- an incarnation of the future as seen from 1948. John Hurt is Winston Smith (looking exactly like Samuel Beckett -- coincidence?), Richard Burton is the government's voice of persuasion, and the rats play themselves.
That Obscure Object of Desire (Sundance, Thursday @ 8:00 PM & 3:20 AM)
Luis Buñuel's final masterpiece, in which Fernando Rey's horny aristo marries a young girl, played by two actresses (Angelina Molina and Carole Bouquet) and finds to his dismay he cannot get either of them to sleep with him. Released in 1977.
Kings Row (TCM, Wednesday @ 9:45 PM)
TCM all-day retro fest on Ann Sheridan centers on this 1942 melodrama that plays quite like a template for Lynch's Blue Velvet -- it might be the first creepy-evil-in-middle-American-suburbia film. But it's not just that, or just Charles Coburn's amputation-happy town doctor, it also lays out a turn-of-the-century Americana spread that includes a boyish Ronald Reagan at his most tolerable, and Sheridan, who despite her famous alcoholism was a cornfed vision with a voice like smooth hard cider.
The 400 Blows (Movie Channel Xtra, Thursday @ 4:10 PM)
The turn of the key that started the engine of the French New Wave's international buzz, Francois Truffaut's debut 1959 masterpiece is a rough-and-ready document of a young teen (Jean-Pierre Leaud), ill-raised by self-obsessed parents, restlessly rebelling against school and slowly veering, as Truffaut himself had, into petty crime and the jaws of juvenile detention. As fresh from the soil as the day it was made.
Like Neil Jordan after him, Irishman John Boorman has treated us to an alternating EKG of masterpieces and boondoggles. He followed up his indelible achievement with Deliverance with this inexplicable piece of malarkey, for which he wrote the paperback novelization(!). In a post-apocalyptic, haves-and-have-nots future, Sean Connery (in a loincloth) is an apish frontier guard who infiltrates the decadent, clothes-optional world of the immortal elites, and you tell me. It was 1974, and Charlotte Rampling was still hot and nude.
The Honeymoon Killers (IFC, Thursday @ 12:30 PM)
Like creeping water damage running down a Levittown tract house wall, Leonard Kastle's 1970 uber-cult-indie is another suburban nightmare, decked out with high-watt light bulbs, vinyl seat covers and polyester prints. It's long been among the most celebrated of forgotten cult items, touted once by Truffaut as his favorite American film, and might've been Martin Scorsese's first film had he not been booted after a week of shooting. Based on the trial transcripts of the infamous 1950 Lonely Hearts Club Murder Case, the film recounts the exploits of porcine ex-nurse Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) and seedy Spanish conman Raymond Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco), who were executed in Sing Sing for murder after spending years stealing from lonely women and dumping their bodies. What's even more fascinating than the true crimes or characters is the movie's chilling portrait of the American Underbelly, powered by its stark images, canned sound, abrupt explosions of Mahler and overall clamminess.
Man Hunt (TCM, Thursday @ 8:00 PM)
Fritz Lang's 1941 comeback film. Consider this situation, transposed to contemporary times: a Hollywood plot hinging on the assassination of a standing world leader, made while the U.S. was still bound to a neutrality pact with the nation in question. Couldn't happen now, but it did then, in the first film to contemplate the killing of Hitler. In fact, the Hitler face-off is interrupted early on (in an insidiously silent five-minute intro), and the would-be gunman, Walter Pidgeon as a Brit big-game hunter on a lark, is captured and interrogated (by George Sanders, speaking perfect German and imitating Lang down to the monocle), then he escapes to London, where the Nazis have even infiltrated the pubs and bobbie constabulary.