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A B&W classic

Sunday, March 1, 2015
Anne Baxter, left, and Bette Davis in the 1950 realistic, dramatic depiction of show business, All About Eve.

On the first day of 2015’s third month, the New Year’s resolution of cable & DirecTV to show great films has not faltered, even if only today’s programming was available at deadline time. The impressive Also Rans include one of BC on TV’s top five African-American DVD releases of 2012 (Think Like a Man, 3.44 pm HB), what might be the best thriller since The Silence of the Lambs (*Prisoners, 2.55 pm Fx1W), what might be the most influential Western after Stagecoach (Shane, 6.55 pm FxCL), the first film of a trilogy making up what is certainly the best comic book adaptation in American cinema (Batman Begins, 1.05 pm MaxP), a bone-chilling account of the greatest modern sin against humanity without a single frame of blood or guts (Hotel Rwanda, 9.52 pm Paramount) and one of the finest films made about India by a non-Indian and non-Satyajit Ray-ian (*Slumdog Millionaire, 7.48 pm Paramount). On top of all that, there are back-to-back screenings of the best shark movies so far shot (Jaws, 1.30 pm, Jaws 2, 4.30 pm AMC) and a fine performance from Judi Dench in one of her most talked about roles (Philomena, 8.10 am Fx1E).

Today’s best film:

Quiz Show (Robert Redford/ 1994/ USA/ Biography-History-Drama / 133 mins/ PG-13 for some strong language), 1 pm Turner Classic Movies BEST FILM OF THE WEEK. Watch this if you liked Argo, All the President’s Men or Good Night, and Good Luck. Probably the best of Robert Redford’s outings as director, Quiz Show features remarkable performances from John Turturro, Ralph Fiennes, Paul Scofield and Rob Morrow and one of the best, and best-paced, historically accurate screenplays of the modern age telling the true story of the fixing of TV game shows in the 1950s. Rarely does history work so well as drama. Even the video game crowd will sit still for all of its two hours-plus runtime. Hard to say whether the rich Wasp character, the working-class New York Jew or the driven investigator is most intriguing. Unreservedly recommended.

Best of the rest:

Kung Fu Hustle (Mandarin title, Gong fu) (Stephen Chow/ 2005/ China-Hong Kong/ Action-Comedy-Kickup/ 95 mins/ R for sequences of strong stylised action and violence), 6.15 pm HBO Plus. Watch this if you liked Shaolin Soccer, Bulletproof Monk or The Legend of Drunken Master. There cannot be a more succinct assessment of Stephen Chow’s follow-up to Shaolin Soccer than its own DVD slipcover blurb, “Kill Bill meets Looney Tunes.” Chow’s hugely stylish and immaculately executed movie pushes the limits of credulity to their extreme while stretching the medium in nearly every frame. It takes a genius to conceive of an axe-wielding gang of bandits doing the hustle by way of celebration after killing off their rivals; it takes a craftsman endowed with a stunning gift to pull it off technically and dramatically. Yes, Kung Fu Hustle is an action comedy that would not disappoint a Jet Li audience; but it is also a fine film, beautifully and lovingly made that does everything movies do and most of what art should. Recommended like lemon chicken and special fried rice.

All About Eve (Joseph L Mankiewicz/ 1950/ USA/ Drama/ 138 mins/ Unrated but probably PG), 10 am Fox Classics. Watch this if you liked Sunset Blvd, Casablanca or either the original or remake of 12 Angry Men. One of the great American films—No 16 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Best list—features Bette Davis in her great role as the fading Hollywood star confronting extinction (and prior usurpation by her own protégé, Anne Baxter, very nearly as good). A crackling script tackling deep questions of life’s meaning via superficial Hollywood concerns—and a supporting role from one Marilyn Monroe—make this as pleasurable for patient grown-ups as it might be “bow-ring” for the PlayStation set. It won six Oscars including Best Picture, Supporting Actor (George Sanders), Director and Screenplay. Its eight other nominations (tied with Titanic, it’s the most Oscar-nominated film of all time) include two Best Actresses, one each for Davis and Baxter.

*Starred films have been chosen in the last three months. 

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