"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
Happy New Year Everyone!
There are 17 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
W.C. Fields never found a more true life environment than It's a Gift (1934) to ply his deadpan but hilariously creative humour. His domestic setting is so full of relatable situations and characters, not a single scene (apart from the time period fixtures contained therein) appears dated in the slightest.
Instead of the film's gags playing as individual set pieces (outrageously funny as they are), they continue to build on our familiarity with Fields' household members to provide even more hilarious pay-offs as we continue to witness his family's dysfunctionality. All of the brilliantly inspired moments are chock full of verbal and physical witticisms, often occurring simultaneously. They are timed to perfection by one of the great comedic directors of all time, Norman Z. McLeod who also helmed two of the Marx Brothers' most sensationally funny films: Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932). Fields plays his typical curmudgeonly henpecked "master of the house" (as long as it's said quietly enough so his wife doesn't notice), one Harold Bissonette (pronounced 'Bis-on-ay' as many are reminded). In It's a Gift, Fields manages to successfully endear us to his character more than in his other films; continuously put upon, but resilient, he soldiers on wonderfully. Fields himself worked on the screenplay (under the pen name Charles Bogle) along with numerous other writers credited and even more uncredited, but by the look of things, everyone got along famously. Certain phrases from this timeless classic will live on in perpetuity like "What about my kumquats?!", "Funny thing, they should call you up here at this hour of the night from the Maternity Hospital", "Do you know a Carl LaFong?!", "Yes! The sun is wrong but your watch is right... of course!", and so, so many more. And then there's the surprise ending... as blissful as any in cinema's history. This perfect little comedy is exactly what the title proclaims and will arrive on TCM Tuesday, January 2 at 6:15pm PST.
A really bad day is in store for anyone who encounters Them! (the giant mutant ants that is). The motion picture, however, is one of the best creature features ever made, and a previous recommendation here. Them! will march on TCM Wednesday, January 3 (early morning) at 4:30am PST.
Don't miss Nicholas Ray's intensive study of a most unusually disturbed character, In a Lonely Place with Humphrey Bogart perfectly cast as Dixon Steele whose unpredictable explosions of anger make him a prime suspect for the killing of a young ingénue. This highly probative film noir, previously recommended here, will arrive Sunday, January 7 at 5pm PST.
For an uproarious and thoroughly engaging movie-watching experience, it's hard to beat Bringing Up Baby previously recommended here. The antics will begin on TCM Thursday, January 11 at 3pm PST and will repeat Saturday, January 27 at 7am PST.
Released in 2007, Into the Wild concerns the true-life adventures of a young college graduate, Chris McCandless, who decides to disconnect from family, established societal and materialistic values, travel across the country and eventually live in the Alaskan wilderness on his own. Inspired by the writings of Thoreau and London among others, Chris' ultimate fantasy of communing with nature turns into a tough reality that eventually overwhelms the young romanticist.
Sean Penn has both written the screenplay from Jon Krakauer's book and directed this most impressive film. Less sophisticated directors might have either leaned toward idealising McCandless and his adventuresome spirit or criticising his naivety regarding independent survival in such a harsh landscape with only the slightest means of support. Penn, with great insight, is able to present both perspectives and others while admirably restraining from taking a moral stance of his own. His reserved but mature storytelling allows us to "find our own way" and fully engage in the many fascinating and diverse characters whom Chris encounters during his journey, while also gaining a deeper understanding of Chris through their eyes. There are dedicated performances from a large ensemble cast, with Emile Hirsch as Chris McCandless and Hal Holbrook as Ron Franz superlative standouts.
Highly personal 'journeys of discovery' films like Into the Wild tend to polarise audiences. On the one hand, many will determine Chris' story to be bold and inspirational, finding him commendable for "marching to his own beat". Others will see the person and his dream as reckless, insensitive to others and foolish. If instead of "taking sides", however, viewers can take a page out of filmmaker Sean Penn's book and suspend judgement, immersing themselves in the voyage itself, such a distinctively introspective character study like this one, that is so well made with courage, restraint and conviction, can be extraordinarily enlightening. There's also our ability to relate at stake here: As flawed as his character may be, Chris' final journal entry and peace with himself can be an emotionally potent, spiritually profound revelation, particularly for those who place empathy before virtue.
Also divisive amongst subscribers is TCM's decision to present such recently released films. Hopefully for the unfamiliar, that will not stop them from watching one of the new millennium's finest. Travel into the wild Friday, January 12 at 10:30pm PST.
The Narrow Margin, a film noir bonafide classic, is a previous TCM recommendation here. This little firecracker is set to explode Saturday, January 13 at 7:15pm PST.
Perfectly appropriate for the romantically inclined is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Its sublime depiction of supernatural romance is enhanced by the intelligence and maturity of the artists who guide us through a profound exploration of love's true nature and spiritual acceptance. It has previously been recommended here. The romance will commence Sunday, January 14 at 5pm PST.
TCM's current monthly schedule can be confirmed by clicking on any of the above images. For those who live in parts of the U.S. other than the western region, the time zone can be adjusted in the upper right-hand corner of TCM's programme.
(To be continued... ) A.G.