TCM Classic Film Festival honors Robert Osborne’s legacy

The TCM Classic Film Festival is dedicated to famed host and historian Robert Osborne. The fest runs Thursday through Sunday in Hollywood.

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

This year’s edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival will be bittersweet. Our excitement about four days filled with gorgeous movies and great guests is tempered with sadness because of a very sad loss: TCM host and historian Robert Osborne passed away on March 6 at his home in New York City. He was 84.

The fest, which runs in Hollywood from Thursday, April 6, to Sunday, April 9, is dedicated to Osborne’s memory and we hope that this year’s theme – Comedy in the Movies – will help to chase the blues away.

At Wednesday’s press conference, held at the TCL Chinese Multiplex Theatre, TCM representatives noted that Robert Osborne was the festival. As to how Osborne’s legacy and contributions (specifically his intros to the films) will be remembered going forward, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz said: “We would like to bring Bob back, sure, but there’s the question of doing it the right way. Maybe it’s a matter of having an introduction to his introduction.”

“Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” screens poolside Friday night. Do we need to watch Bette and Joan for the 5,000th time? Maybe …

Some of the titles for a comedy-focused fest have obvious appeal, for example: “Born Yesterday,” “The Graduate,” “The Jerk,” “High Anxiety” and “Whats Up, Doc?

Others have a dark slant … which is right up our alley, of course: “Some Like It Hot,” “Beat the Devil,” “Unfaithfully Yours,” “Lured,” “Twentieth Century,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Harold and Maude,” “Dr. Strangelove” and “The Front Page.”

And the campy noir treat “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” will screen Friday night poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Additionally, there are tearjerkers, such as “Postcards from the Edge,” perhaps the greatest musical of them all, “Singin in the Rain,” and other feel-good fare, such as  “The Princess Bride,” “Casablanca,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

There are, in fact, nine themes for the fest: Discoveries; Essentials; Festival Tributes; Dark Comedies; Divorce Remorse; Movies Spoofs; Hey, That’s Not Funny; Special Presentations; and Nitrate.

As for Nitrate, the TCM program guide points out that films produced before the early 1940s were released on nitrate stock, which has a luminous quality and higher contrast than the cellulose acetate film that superseded it. (Nitrate was replaced because of its volatile nature.) The film noir classic “Laura” is part of this roster.

TCM programming director Charlie Tabesh explained at the press conference: “We try to get everyone interested in classic film, young and old. When we book, we try to put very different films against each other … so that people have a choice.”

That is an understatement! There are about 90 films at the fest.

Plus, there is a full slate of special guests and events – Mankiewicz will interview veteran actor Michael Douglas; director Peter Bogdanovich will discuss his career as will blacklisted actress Lee Grant; comedy greats Carl and Rob Reiner will be honored at a hand and footprint ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX – as well as panels, parties, presentations, book signings and more.

Mr. Osborne would be proud.

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‘Killer Joe’ borders on bipolar, despite a riveting performance from Matthew McConaughey

Killer Joe/2011/LD Entertainment/103 min.

The words “TEXAS REDNECK” jump off the poster for “Killer Joe,” William Friedkin’s neo noir/Southern Gothic black comedy written by playwright Tracy Letts and starring Matthew McConaughey as a hitman who’s also a cop.

The rednecks are the Smiths, a Southern family for whom sleaze and greed have long replaced Sunday grace. In the opening scene, Sharla (Gina Gershon) gets out of bed and answers the door; her stepson Chris (Emile Hirsch) is outside, rain drenched, having been kicked out of his place by his girlfriend. Does Sharla bother to throw on clothes before opening the door? Hell, no. This ain’t no Ritz Hotel after all.

Turns out, Chris is a drug dealer with a debt and needs cash fast. His solution is to murder his mother (mostly unseen in the movie) and cash in on her insurance policy. No one’s really that fond of the mother so the rest of the family – stepmom Sharla, Chris’ remarried father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) – are all on board with his plan. They’re not the sharpest tools in the shed, but they know a job like this has to be done right so they hire a pro named Killer Joe (McConaughey). Need I say, things don’t go to plan?

On the plus side, “Killer Joe” is well shot, well directed and well acted – McConaughey is especially magnetic, outlining the character’s chilling darkness and letting us fill in the blanks. On the minus side, though, “Killer Joe” never feels like much of a noir or much of a comedy. The mood shifts border on the bipolar, culminating in a resolution that may have worked on stage but seems laughable (in a bad way) on film, not to mention ridiculously violent. By that time, though, we are nothing if not primed for blood to be shed.

This marks the second collaboration for Friedkin and Letts – their first was 2006’s “Bug” based on Letts’ play. The Chicago-based playwright’s other work includes the Pulitzer-prize winning “August: Osage County” (the movie version is set to start filming in September) as well as “Superior Donuts” and “Three Sisters.”

Given the talent that came together for “Killer Joe,” was I wrong to hope for meatier fare? Though tempting on the outside, this ain’t the blood-red burger I wanted on my plate.

“Killer Joe” opens today in LA.

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