What’s on TCM: May 2016

Robert Ryan

Happy May, everyone! I’m going to keep this introduction short since (at the time of writing this) I have to catch my flight to TCMFF very soon.

Robert Ryan is May’s Star of the Month and will be featured every Friday night this month. If you enjoyed last month’s series on Weimar-era German cinema, you may also be interested in the three-night series called Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood coming up on May 2-4. Later in the month, there’s TCM’s annual Memorial Day weekend war movie marathon. There will also be a spotlight on movies produced at American International Pictures (AIP), which should be really fun.

Now, on to the rest of the schedule!

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Bates Motel (2013)

Bates Motel

How has it taken me this long to get around to writing about Bates Motel? It’s one of my favorite shows on TV right now. Bates Motel is a prequel to the events of the movie Psycho, focusing on Norman Bates’ life as a teenager and his relationship with his mother.

The series begins shortly after the death of Norman’s father, an incident that is just one of many deeply difficult and traumatic events in the life of Norma Bates. Eager to start a new life, Norma buys a hotel in White Pine Bay, Oregon and moves there with Norman. However, their new life isn’t quite what Norma had hoped it would be. She’s assaulted by someone from the family who originally owned the house and hotel, she finds out the city is planning to build a bypass that will take away a lot of the road traffic away from the hotel, and she discovers her hotel has a history of being used for shady means.

In fact, the entire town of White Pine Bay is hardly the quaint small town she had been hoping to live in. The town is built around the drug industry and other criminal rackets, which Norma’s other son Dylan gets involved with when he comes to town. Dylan isn’t nearly as close to Norma as Norman is, which Dylan resents, but he ultimately cares about his brother.

Meanwhile, Norman tries to adjust to life at his new high school. Fitting in isn’t easy for him, but he makes friends with fellow student Emma, who is dealing with cystic fibrosis. Emma has a crush on Norman and develops a friendship with Norma. However, Norman has a misguided, unrequited crush on Bradley, a much more popular girl in school. In addition to his highly-sheltered upbringing, Norman is also experiencing unusual blackouts and Norma is struggling to understand what’s going on with him while trying to protect him from himself and from the outside world.

On the whole, if you’re a fan of PsychoBates Motel is well worth checking out on Netflix. When the series was announced, I felt like the series had the potential to be good and fortunately, I was not disappointed. Like most TV series, it has its stronger and its weaker seasons. Season 1 was great, I wasn’t as impressed by season 2, and season 3 was a little bit of a return to form. But even the weaker seasons are worth sticking with because it all builds up to season 4, which is currently airing on A&E. By season 4, it’s very clear that Norman is more deeply troubled than Norma can handle and every episode so far has been really, really good.

Although the movie Psycho was released in 1960, Bates Motel is set in the modern day. However, there is a lot of very retro flair to the series that almost makes it seem like it’s only this quasi-modern day setting. The characters in the show use smartphones and the internet, but then there’s Norman’s teacher who has a very vintage-looking style and Norma doesn’t drive a particularly ultra-modern car. The time it takes place in is just one of the differences between the movie and the show. The Bates Motel was located in Arizona in the movie, but it’s in Oregon in the TV show. Those differences don’t really detract from the show, though.

Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore are both fantastic as Norma and Norman. Farmiga is particularly amazing and it amazes me that she doesn’t get more recognition at awards. She makes you want to root for Norma, she simultaneously makes you very frustrated by her, but she also has some great comedy moments in there, too. And Highmore is definitely up for the challenge of taking a very well-known character portrayed by a very iconic actor and making it his own. He channels just the right amount of Anthony Perkins’ performance, but he does a great job of making it a sort of less-evolved version of the character. As the series progresses, his performance has only gotten stronger.

In addition to being a prequel to the events of PsychoBates Motel is very frequently compared to Twin Peaks. I’m a huge Twin Peaks fan and there is a very distinct influence there, but Bates Motel stands up very well on its own. They’re both set in small towns where nothing is what it seems, but it’s not like Norman is having dreams about being a room with red curtains and a black and white floor. Twin Peaks has a lot of supernatural and paranormal themes, but Bates Motel deals more with psychological issues and crime stories.

The hardest thing about watching Bates Motel is that it has many great characters and the show really makes you like them and sympathize with them. But since we know what happens in Psycho, we know that inevitably, none of these characters are going to have a happy ending.

My Picks for TCMFF 2016

TCM Film Festival 2016

The 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival is just a little over a week away, and like many other attendees, I’ve been poring over the schedule for the past week trying to figure out what, exactly, I want to attend this year.

This will be my third year attending and this year’s schedule was, by far, the most difficult for me to decide on. Every year, there are always lots of amazing things happening at any given time, but this is the first time where there were so many blocks of time where I was literally interested in everything.

With so many hard choices to make, here are a few ways I like to narrow down my options:

  • I skip movies that I’ve been to screenings of recently or that I know will be coming up at theaters back home
  • I try to prioritize unique experiences that I’ll be unlikely to have at home
  • Silents and foreign films have an edge since I typically have fewer chances to go to screenings of those at home
  • If torn between a lesser-known movie and one that’s more famous, I’ll try to go with the lesser-known one
  • Whether or not I’ll have time to make it to the next movie/event
  • Is there a special guest I’m particularly interested in seeing?

As my schedule currently stands, I’m a little light on the silents this year, but I’m pretty darn happy with it. It looks like I’ll have a nice mix of old favorites and new-to-me movies, plus I’ll have the chance to attend some pretty awesome events.

Before I break my choices down day-by-day, here are my two big must-see events of the festival: The Manchurian Candidate introduced by Angela Lansbury and Band of Outsiders introduced by Anna Karina. I love The Manchurian Candidate and Lansbury is absolutely brilliant in it, so I was thrilled to hear this was on the schedule. I’ve never seen Band of Outsiders, but I am a big fan of 1960s French cinema and I have fairly few chances to see foreign films on the big screen at home, let alone see an icon from that era/genre in person. Needless to say, I’m hugely excited for that one.

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What’s on TCM: April 2016

Judy Garland

Happy April, everyone! There is a fantastic month of movies ahead on TCM to look forward to, so let’s get started.

First of all, we have Judy Garland as Star of the Month. Her movies will be paying every Friday night in April. There’s also a spotlight on John, Lionel, and Ethel Barrymore with a Best of the Barrymores spotlight every Monday night. Between those two movies, there’s a lot of great stuff to look forward to.

I’m also very excited about the From Caligari to Hitler spotlight on films from Germany’s Weimar era, which will be running on Wednesday nights starting April 13th. Since I’m a huge fan of many movies from this era such as Metropolis, Diary of a Lost Girl, The Blue Angel, and M, I’m so looking forward to this. Plus there are a few movies in that schedule that I’ve never seen before, but have been wanting to see for a long time. Should be great.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s a night of Sophia Loren coming up on April 28th. This night’s schedule includes the premiere of an interview she taped at the 2015 TCM Film Festival. I had the privilege of being able to attend the taping of this interview and I can safely say you’re in for a real treat. Since Robert Osborne was unable to attend the festival last year, Loren’s son Edoardo Ponti filled in for him, making this a totally unique interview. They’ll also be playing Human Voice, which is a short film she starred in in 2014. Her performance is absolutely incredible in it; I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Without further ado, let’s get on to the rest of the schedule!

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What’s on TCM: March 2016

Merle Oberon

Happy March, everyone! Looking at TCM’s schedule for the month, there’s a whole lot to be excited about this month. First of all, my favorite thing going on this month is the spotlight on movies that were condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency coming up every Thursday night. It’s no secret that I love the boundary-pushing pre-code era and although this spotlight highlights movies from other eras, it’s still definitely a series that’s right up my alley.

Merle Oberon is March’s Star of the Month and her work will be showcased every Friday night this month. There’s also a series on movies about art and artists every Monday night, a special two-night Jerry Lewis celebration in honor of his 90th birthday, and a great Jean Harlow birthday tribute to look forward to. Now, on to the full schedule!

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From Screen to Stage: 42nd Street

42nd Street

It’s hardly unheard of for a movie to be adapted for a book or for a hit play to be turned into a film; it’s a practice that’s been around for practically as long as narrative cinema has existed.  For a movie to be turned into a stage play or musical is less common, and is often less commercially successful, but it’s certainly happened several times over the years. 42nd Street is a case where the story has existed in all three forms over the years: a book, a film, and a stage musical. Even over 80 years after the story of 42nd Street first came into existence, audiences continue to be drawn to it.

Recently, a traveling production of 42nd Street stopped at the Fox Theater in Detroit and, as a huge fan of the movie and other Busby Berkeley musicals, I couldn’t resist buying a ticket to check it out for myself.

When a story is adapted for a different medium, it’s almost inevitable that there will be differences between that and the original version. I have never read the book 42nd Street was based on, so I only have the movie to compare it to. If you’re a fan of the movie, the good news is that the basic story of the stage version is pretty much the same as it is for in the movie. There are some little differences here and there, but it’s basically the same aside from a slightly different ending. The stage version also features songs from other Busby Berkeley musicals like Gold Diggers of 1933 and Dames, but they add a lot to the show; they certainly don’t detract from anything.

Of course, the biggest thing I was interested in finding out is how they were going to translate those legendary musical numbers for the stage. The musical numbers are absolutely mesmerizing in the movie version, but you do have to be willing to suspend a huge amount of disbelief that they ever could have been performed on an actual stage.

So, how did they go about it? In the case of the production I saw (I can only speak for the 2015/2016 touring version) they were smart and didn’t try to completely re-enact what Busby Berkeley did. If you go to see the stage version of 42nd Street, you’ll get to hear songs like “The Shadow Waltz,” “Dames,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and “We’re In the Money,” but the performances bear no resemblance to how we know them from the movies. Some songs are included as musical numbers in “Pretty Lady,” the show-within-a-show of 42nd Street, while others are used to further the story. In the movie, the “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” number is the one that’s most believable as a stage number and the stage version stays pretty true to that.

If you have the DVD for Gold Diggers of 1933, it includes a featurette about how 42nd Street transitioned from book to film to stage. This includes clips of interviews with people who were involved with the 2001 Broadway revival and they talk about how they did a more literal Busby Berkeley homage in one song. Although I thought that idea was really clever, it just wasn’t part of the production I went to.

However, just because most of the musical numbers in the stage version aren’t exactly what we know them to be from films, that doesn’t mean they’re any less dazzling. The audience was just as enthralled by the musical numbers as we’re supposed to believe the audience in the movie was; only they’re actually meant to be performed on a real stage. In the production I saw, the big “42nd Street” number was an absolute showstopper; a truly remarkable way to bring the show to a close. The sheer amount of energy that went into that number was just incredible. If you’re a fan of Busby Berkeley musicals and ever have the chance to see the stage version, I very highly recommend it. The show is a very loving tribute not only to 42nd Street, but to Busby Berkeley musicals in general.

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Hail Caesar

During the golden age of the studio system, Hollywood studios were very protective of their stars’ images. The last thing any studio wanted to happen was to have one of their prized stars’ images tarnished by a scandal. To keep bad publicity at bay, studios would hire people to put the kibosh on stories before they made their way into the gossip columns. Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is one of these “fixers” for Capitol Pictures and the time and energy he has to invest into protecting the studio’s stars takes a toll on his personal life.

First of all, Capitol Pictures is in the middle of production on their latest prestige picture, Hail, Caesar!, when its star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) suddenly disappears. Baird has a reputation for womanizing and going off on benders for days at a time, but this time, he’s been drugged and kidnapped by a couple of extras who are working as part of a group of Communist sympathizers. The group sends a ransom note to Capitol Pictures, demanding $100,000 for his return. When Baird wakes up in the home of a Hollywood big shot, he actually begins to side with the Communists, not realizing his fellow Capitol Pictures star Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) also has ties to the organization.

Then there’s DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), the musical star with a wholesome image who is expecting a child out of wedlock. Not willing to go along with a studio-arranged marriage, she is willing to go along with Mannix’s other idea of putting her child up for adoption, then adopting it back.

Not quite as scandalous is the matter of Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), the singing cowboy star whose career is being forced in a new direction. While Hobie was right at home with a lasso and a horse, he’s hopelessly struggling with his latest role in a more sophisticated period film. He desperately wants to be out of the picture, but Mannix insists he finish the movie and insists he start being seen with starlet Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio) to continue building his new image.

In the midst of all this, Mannix is struggling to decide whether or not he ought to accept a job offer from Lockheed Martin.

When the trailer for Hail, Caesar! hit the internet back in October 2015, I, like many people, was really excited about it. Unfortunately, I liked the trailer more than I liked the movie. Hail, Caesar! wasn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination; I got some good laughs out of it, liked many of the performances, and thought the sets were fantastic. And any fan of classic Hollywood is bound to have fun picking up on all the references to real stars and incidents that inspired its various storylines.

However, the direction felt unfocused and the movie felt longer than its 100 minute runtime. With so many different characters involved and so many storylines going on in such a short amount of time, there just wasn’t a whole lot of time to develop any of them into anything I was genuinely interested in. For example, the DeeAnna Moran story was clearly inspired by the ordeal Loretta Young went through to cover up the fact that her daughter Judy Lewis was fathered by Clark Gable. The real story of that is one of Hollywood’s most notorious scandals and could certainly be a movie unto itself, but it’s actually one of the least interesting storlyines of Hail, Caesar!

All in all, there are worse ways to spend 100 minutes, but it’s ultimately a lot of missed potential. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’d be worth checking out if you can catch it at a cheap show.