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November 07, 2004

TV Alert

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

It's time once again to set your Tivos. Broadcast dates given here are EST.

  • Hugh Grant on "Inside the Actors Studio." I've been reasonably amused by a handful of Hugh Grant's movie appearances. But, IMHO, his best performance by far has been this hilarious interview on "Inside the Actors Studio." As ever, the show's host James Lipton tries to be admiring and solemn; Hugh Grant will have none of it. He admits that he's a lousy actor who loves applause; he teases Lipton and flirts with the audience. The whole Grant package glows: the floppy-haired sheepishness semi-disguising the boastful rogue beneath; the bashful stuttering that contrasts with the whopping vanity. Grant manages to dodge Lipton's obsequiousness for a half hour; then Lipton's tongue finally does manage to snake its way up Grant's ass. But what a funny first half-hour it was. Bravo; Sunday, November 14 at 6 a.m. and noon.

  • Secret Honor. After doing a scorched-earth number on Hollywood in the 1970s, Robert Altman seemed to lose both his luck and his magic touch. No longer able to get a job in Hollywood, he moved to New York and directed theater and opera; he moved to Paris and made tiny films, many of them adaptations of stage plays. A few of these are worth searching out. The 1984 "Secret Honor" is one of them -- a virtuosic movie adaptation of a one-man off-off-Broadway monologue about Richard Nixon. It's near the end of his Presidency; Nixon is pouring himself drinks as he prowls his office, wondering whether he should resign. [CORRECTION: Tim points out that the film's action "takes place after Ford pardoned Nixon, not during the Nixon presidency." I've seen the movie three times, and misremembered it anyway. Welcome to middle-age.] Altman retains the one-character, one-set framework, and adds subtle audiovisual fireworks of his own; if you respond to Altman's good movies, you'll know what I mean when I say that this is one of those Altman films that transports you off into Altmanville, a submarine-seeming and elastic four-dimensional space-time that's uniquely his. (If you don't respond to Altman's movies, you won't have a clue what I'm talking about and should probably skip this movie.) The firstclass horror-comedy monologue was written by Donald Freed and Arnold Stone; as Nixon, Philip Baker Hall gives a performance that's a brilliantly effective impersonation and then some. What a portrait of a certain kind of paranoid derangement. "Secret Honor" is one of those amazing small movies, like "My Dinner With Andre," that shows what a substantial piece of movie art can be made with the tiniest of resources. Here's a long Salon appreciation of Altman's movies. Sundance: Friday, Nov. 12 at 6:30 PM; Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 6:30 AM, and 3 PM; Sunday, Nov. 21 at 12:05 AM.

  • The Stepfather. In pop-movie-history terms, the '80s are remembered as the decade when Hollywood turned away from the experiments of the '60s and '70s and got back to genre basics, giving them an MTV-inspired supercharge. This small 1987 horror film, very loosely based on the case of the New Jersey murderer John List, isn't one of those '80s movies. Instead, it's a small, classic satire -- hilarious and scary both, efficiently directed by Joseph Ruben from a flawless script by the great Donald Westlake. Terry O'Quinn is superb as the suburbanite who wants a Saturday-Evening-Post-style normal-Daddy life so badly that he can't tolerate any deviation from his ideal. Sundance: Saturday, Nov. 13 at midnight; Friday, Nov. 19 at 2:30 AM; Wednesday, Nov. 24 at 3:35 AM; Sunday, Nov. 28 at 1:30 AM.

  • The Housekeeper. Claude Berri's movie starts out with a yummy sex-fantasy premise, then delivers a surprisingly moving vision of age and youth. It's the type of foreign film some critic always calls "wise," but it's better than that; a real sting gets delivered alongside the usual worldliness, ruefulness and resignation. Jean-Pierre Bacri is sensational as a sexy-but-slowing-down, middle-aged jazz aficionado; Émilie Dequenne is touching as the confused and self-centered -- but also receptive and sweetnatured -- young woman who takes a job cleaning his apartment. I blogged about this movie at some length here. Sundance: Monday Nov. 8 at 9:00 AM; Tuesday Nov. 9 at 5:30 AM; Sunday Nov. 14 at 11:30 AM; Tuesday Nov. 23 at 3:30 PM; Saturday, Nov. 27 at 7:30 AM; Sunday, Nov. 28 at 12:00 AM.

  • Modern Marvels: The Brooklyn Bridge. For my money, "Modern Marvels" is the most consistently interesting documentary series on TV. Solid and lowkey, it focuses on engineering subjects: the history of metals; the construction of ships and dams. And it's as direct and matter-of-fact as a series dealing with engineering challenges ought to be. I especially loved an episode currently in rotation about the construction of New York's Brooklyn Bridge -- a genuinely epic and heroic story that the Modern Marvels team does fine justice to. It's a stirring and informative hour of television. The History Channel: Wednesday, Nov. 10, at 7 AM.

  • The American Experience: The Golden Gate Bridge. Now that I think about it, the subject of extraordinary bridges seems to bring out the best in documentary filmmakers. I've bitched before about how droopy and dull most PBS documentaries are. An exception is this "American Experience" hour about the construction of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, which convincingly presents the bridge as one of America's greatest works of art. The PBS team can't resist imposing some of their usual "America, where did we go wrong," pained mournfulness, but not too much, and for once the result is actually spirit-lifting. I don't see the show coming up soon on the PBS schedule, but I notice that a DVD of the episode can be bought here.



posted by Michael at November 7, 2004


Thanks, Michael!
The University of 2blowhards keeps me shining at the corporate watercooler! Best part - its free for the taking - my appreciation always.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on November 8, 2004 3:59 PM

Your description of James Lipton's interviewing style is priceless. (A TV commercial: the cost of Hugh Grant's haircut? $125. The cost of TiVo? $100. The value of seeing James Lipton "snake his tongue up Hugh Grant's ass"? Priceless. You handle life. Let Mastercard handle everything else.)

Has "Inside the Actor's Studio" done anybody new for awhile? It seems like it's been a year or more since I've seen them generate a new one of these.

Posted by: annette on November 9, 2004 9:00 AM

Secret Honor takes place after Ford pardoned Nixon, not during the Nixon presidency. I like the empathetic camerawork; apparently the closed-circuit monitors were a last-minute touch. It's available on a Criterion DVD, for unfortunates like me who can't get the Sundance Channel.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on November 10, 2004 4:46 AM

Pattie -- Thanks as always for stopping by. Hope I don't get too pompous -- please call me on it when I do.

Annette -- Lipton's amazing, isn't he? So shameless. Yet a handful of the interviews are really good, and he deserves credit for them. Which are your faves? I liked Tommy Lee Jones, Sharon Stone, Chris Walken, Bette Midler, Holly Hunter, and no doubt a few others, but memory as always is failing ... Let me know if you find the Hugh Grant as amusing as I did.

Tim -- Thanks for the correction. I've seen the movie three times, yet still ... Sigh. And to think my memory's only going to get worse.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 10, 2004 11:28 AM

Yes...I enjoy them. I saw the Grant thing the first time around, and he was very amusing, although he almost always is when being interviewed.

I actually thought the Robin Williams, uh, "interview" if you can call it that (mostly Williams riffing on his own, and at his best)was good. So was Kevin Spacey (he actually read part of "Glengarry Glenn Ross" with a student, and he's a talented mimic) and Richard Dreyfuss. And Mike Nichols. Interestingly, the more heralded the actor (Streep, DeNiro, Hackman) the less articulate they seem to be on explaining "acting" and the more boring an interview they were. I don't think they really know consciously how they do it. Billy Joel was a really interesting musical guest. If you want to understand how amazing a piano player he really is, watch that. He was able to vividly demonstrate how much of his music is really chamber music!

But I think Lipton as interviewer is helped greatly by having a funny, articulate interviewee.

Posted by: annette on November 10, 2004 11:54 AM

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