Steven Spielberg was only 21 years old when Universal Television signed him to a contract that allowed him to direct pretty much any Universal-owned TV movie project or regular series episode that he fancied; and though Spielberg’s choices were actually more limited than the contract seemed to promise, he made the best of the scripts that Universal had sitting around. Spielberg especially lucked out when he found the teleplay for Duel, thriller-master Richard Matheson’s adaptation of his own short story, about a harried businessman (played by Dennis Weaver) who makes the innocent mistake of passing a tanker truck in the California desert and then finds that same truck riding his bumper, unwilling to back off. Spielberg has called Duel a Hitchcockian experiment in pressuring an audience, keeping viewers hooked for as long as possible with a minimum of plot and character. But the movie also squeezes a lot out of Weaver's general discomfort as a civilized guy out of his element, unsure how to relate to working-class types and gradually becoming more and more of a jerk. Stylistically, the main touch that Spielberg brings is an emphasis on master shots, with sparing close-ups (and insert shots a-go-go), but Duel does fit with the central theme of his career: humanity’s excessive and frequently misbegotten attempts to impose order on the wild. Duel airs on Starz’s Retroplex channel at 11:20 p.m. Eastern.
Or: Micro-budget auteur Joe Swanberg has lately been making more of a move toward the mainstream with movies like Drinking Buddies, but those who miss the inarticulate conversations and explicit sex of his earlier movies should tune into Sundance Channel at 3:30 a.m. Eastern for Uncle Kent, starring Kent Osborne as an animator who hangs around Los Angeles smoking pot, drawing pictures, going to parties, and trying to get to know a possibly bisexual woman he met on the internet. One of six (!) movies that Swanberg released in 2011, Uncle Kent aims for the flavor of real life, with fleeting moments of humor alternating with boredom and awkwardness. Swanberg and Osborne don’t seem to be aiming for realism as an aesthetic ideal so much as avoiding any responsibility for shaping this material, but their methods do yield some remarkable results at times, especially when the subject turns to sex. There’s a real movie nestled in here, tied to a middle aged would-be libertine’s envy of his friends’ and family’s more mature relationships.