The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
CBC, 1:30 a.m. Has Norman Jewison really been making movies for going on 40 years? That's about how long ago he directed a brooding Steve McQueen in this manly tale of an up-and-coming gambler. The Kid, as he's known, is desperate to beef up his poker-playing resume by upsetting the reign of a champion known as The Man, portrayed by a crusty (is he ever anything else?) Edward G. Robinson. But aside from getting dealt a few good cards, that victory also means fending off the underhanded moves of a dude called Slade (Rip Torn), who has his own score to settle with The Man and is determined to see The Kid win, even if it has to be unfair and unsquare. Suspense, thievery, bullets of sweat: it's all here, without a single boring lecture about any of these guys 12-stepping their way out of it all.
April One (1993)
TVO, 8 p.m. It's April Fools' Day, but ex-con David Maltby (a completely charming Stephen Shellen) isn't smiling. In fact, he's disguised himself as a priest and taken Bahamas' vice-consul to Canada hostage in her Ottawa office, on the theory that rich people vacation in the Bahamas, and rich people are bad (or something like that). In exchange for her release, he wants a firehall turned over to street people and his best buddy sprung from the Kingston pen. But while negotiations unfold, David develops a wacky relationship with the diplomat, slowly revealing his offbeat sense of humour. ("Line one," he tells her in a deadpan delivery, when he passes her the phone. "Trying to cut back," he says, explaining why he's ordered only two cigarettes up to the room.) David Strathairn plays the befuddled hostage negotiator.
Showcase, 11 p.m. We were watching Querelle for about a half an hour when my viewing mate suddenly said, "This movie makes no sense, right?" Certainly this is a true art house film, the final directorial outing of Germany's Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who died of a drug overdose soon after it was made. Adapted from the novel by Jean Genet, this tale of a sailor (Brad Davis) struggling with his homosexuality plays more like an outsized opera, with only minor nods to reality. What's really strange though is the way it portends both the AIDS crisis (in 1982, AIDS was barely on radar screens), and Davis's own demise from the disease (albeit from sharing needles). Davis's character does in fact have unsafe sex; and in one scene, as two characters discuss homosexuality, a chanteuse belts out Each Man Kills the Thing he Loves. Now that's weird.
On Moonlight Bay (1951)
Bravo!, 2 a.m. Despite the romantic title, this film is a product of what might loosely be called Doris Day's tomboy phase. (Calamity Jane came out two years later, although to be fair, Day was making other, far more girly movies at the same time.) Here she plays Marjorie Winfield, a no-nonsense young gal in an American town, circa the First World War, whose high-society dad wants her start to learning how to dance, wear up-dos and paint her nails. Oblivious to boys, she does a 180 on that count when she almost shoots a handsome young man named William Sherman (Gordon MacRae). As with lots of Day films, it's all a transparent but valid excuse for singing, flirting and eyelash batting. Later TV fixutres Billy Gray of Father Knows Best and Ellen Corby of The Waltons are along for the ride.
How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired (1989)
Showcase, midnight Based on the much lauded novel by ex-pat Haitian Dany Laferriere, this provocatively named film (some newspapers refused to run the full title in their ads) is about a sweet-talking, novel-writing black man (who calls himself simply, Man), and his adventures with women and his typewriter during a hot and hazy Montreal summer. As the story follows his personal and professional zigzags, it also takes several well-placed jabs at racism. "When whites work a lot, they say they're slaving away like niggers," Man notes. "But whites also say we Negros are lazy -- which is strange, wouldn't you say?" Not that blacks get a whitewash, so to speak. While Man may endure his fair share of redneck putdowns, he chalks up his own love of Montreal to the city having "plenty of white chicks, plenty of beer and not one dictator." Both lyrical and disquieting, this is a movie that's anything but black-and-white.
Slaves of New York (1989)
Bravo!, 1 a.m. Talk about a flavour of the month. Anyone who thought Tama Janowitz was a great new voice back in the 1980s must have also agreed with the folks at the Grammys when they named Cindy Lauper (rather than Madonna) Best New Female Artist at about the same time. To be fair, this movie is probably even worse than Janowitz's much-hyped book, about a hatmaker (played by Bernadette Peters) who is, if not mad as a hatter, at least pretty screwy, even by New York standards. Her boyfriend (Adam Coleman Howard) is a fatuous painter. Both know there are two options for artists in Manhattan: Rustle up enough success to buy a nice condo, or become a slave tenant to someone else who does. A lowbrow look at city life, directed, if you can believe it, by the very highbrow James Ivory.
Wigstock: The Movie (1995)
Bravo!, 2:30 a.m. Every year, drag queens converge on New York City to strut their stuff while trying hard not to fall off their 10-inch heels. The 1992 and '93 confabs are captured here in all their glorious camp. Among the Liza Minnelli and Diana Ross wannabes is the now infamous RuPaul, who here calls himself Supermodel of the World. There's also Mistress Formika and the one-and-only Lypsinca, a legend in her own mind. What might have come across as pathetic turns out to be lots of fun in the hands of Barry Shils, who usually makes (real) horror flicks, and here lets all the fun speak for itself. For those pondering any major life changes of their own, there are also lots of terrific tips on decolletage, false eyelashes and the finer points of backcombing.