Wednesday, June 13, 2012

TCM TiVo Alert for June 15-22

June 15–June 22


THE FRONT (June 19, 5:15 a.m.): I'm a huge Woody Allen fan, but it's a mixed bag when he's only acting, and not directing and/or writing a film. Watch Scenes from a Mall - if you dare - for evidence that acting-only films can be disasters for Allen. Thankfully, The Front is the opposite. This delightful comedy, with a healthy dose of anti-McCarthyism, has Allen as Howard Prince, a restaurant cashier/third-rate bookie in the 1950s who serves as a "front" for an old friend who is blacklisted from Hollywood. His friend writes scripts for a TV show, Prince puts his name on them and they split the money. Everyone's happy, right? Well, not exactly. Prince's friend knows other writers who want to get in on the action. Soon, Prince's name is on many scripts and his ego is running wild. Allen is flawless in the role as a lovable loser who has to convince people that he's actually brilliant. He is surrounded by an excellent cast. Of note is Zero Mostel, who was blacklisted in real life. He plays Hecky Brown - not to be confused with Shecky Greene - who is a beloved character on a TV show in which Prince is a "writer." Brown was sort of a Communist years ago because he was attracted to a woman who was a party member. After being blacklisted, Brown becomes desperate, humiliated and eventually kills himself. Prince is asked to testify before a House on Un-American Activities Committee subcommittee. The ending is priceless. The movie pays tribute to those who were blacklisted, but focuses more on comedy allowing the message to be delivered in a soft, but effective, way.

WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (June 21, 6:15 p.m.): As a journalist, I've always loved how Hollywood portrays newspaper reporters. They were superheroes doing things physically impossible such as writing a story and having the newspaper on the street within minutes of hot news. Directed by the legendary Fritz Lang, While the City Sleeps has three upper-management types fighting it out over who will be executive director of a major corporation with a newspaper and radio station, inherited by a character played by Vincent Price, who's father has died. Price always does a great job playing eccentrics in a very entertaining and engaging way. The winner has to produce a major exclusive on The Lipstick Killer, a murderer terrorizing the city. The film is fast-paced with smart dialogue and great acting. The cast includes George Sanders, Dana Andrews, Ida Lupino and Howard Duff. It's one of Lang's most under-appreciated films.


GOJIRA (June 15, 8:00 pm): We came to know it here as Godzilla, King of the Monsters with Raymond Burr as the intrepid reporter. But this is the original Japanese version before it was edited and Raymond Burr inserted for American audiences. Whereas the Godzilla we have come to know over the years seems like just another monster-on-the-loose picture with numerous plot holes, the original turns out to be a well crafted, tightly plotted film. Here we see that Godzilla is not one’s mere monster, but actually a metaphor for the A-Bomb, which in turn leads us to realize that we (America) are Godzilla. The scene after the destruction of Tokyo with the victims lying in the hospital and the background music sung by young women will really remind the viewer of Hiroshima. For many of our readers, it will be the first time they have seen the original and to each and every one of you, I say: Do Not Miss This Film!

NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (June 18, 10:00 pm): Only Fellini could give us a story about a prostitute with a heart of gold and extremely bad taste in men and make it not only interesting, but have us rooting for her as well. That’s because his wife, Giulietta Masina, one of the finest actresses to ever appear on the Silver Screen, is playing the title role of Cabiria the Prostitute.  She makes us believe that she is the character she portrays and uses subtle facial movements to convey the emotion Cabiria feels in each scene without resorting to mugging for the camera; a rare ability indeed. Fellini raises it from the story of a mere prostitute to one about the resiliency of the Human Condition. The sequence of Cabiria’s experiences – at first sight seemingly random and insignificant, add up as she bounces back from each setback with a stolid determination to go on, whatever the future brings. It’s definitely a Must See and one TCM rarely shows, so catch it.

WE DISAGREE ON ... HAUSU (June 15, 2:30 a.m.)

DAVID: D+. I'm amazed this fourth-rate, predictable Japanese horror film from 1977 gets aired on a semi-regular basis on TCM. There's nothing unique or interesting about this film. It's so bad that no director wanted to handle it for two years. Finally, Nobuhiko Obayashi agreed to direct and produce the film. He should have left bad enough alone. He's contended the horrible special effects were done that way purposely. The special effects are so over the top and ridiculous that I hope it was intentional. Nearly all of the actresses had limited experience, and that too is obvious. The characters' names are silly. Prof (short for professor) is the smart one, Kung Fu knows martial arts, Mac (as in Big Mac) likes to eat, and Melody is the one with musical talent (and we're subjected to a painfully bad scene in which she loses her fingers while playing a piano that eats her). Throw in some gratuitous nudity, some bloody death scenes, awful acting and a paper-thin plot and the end result is an exceptionally bad film. Thankfully, it's only 88 minutes long.

ED: A-.. Hausu (House) is the definitely one of the weirdest films ever made, a gonzo take on the Haunted House genre. It’s populated with characters out of a shoujo drama with names like Gorgeous, Fantasy, Mac, Prof., Sweet, Melody, and Kung Fu who travel to sepend what they think is a quiet summer vacation at the house of Gorgeous’s aunt, who she hasn’t seen in years. Once they arrive it’s a non-stop romp through the surreal, as if Tim Burton decided to make Willy Wonka while on acid. This film may be about a haunted house, but it is the film itself that is possessed.  It features a white cat, whose eyes beam out green sparks; a carnivorous piano that eats Melody when she starts tickling its keys, her disembodied fingers still playing afterward, a floating head biting one of the girls on the buttocks; mattresses and futons on the attack; giant lips trying to swallow the surviving girls, and Gorgeous having her face shatter like glass and her body becoming a human inferno. All of this done with effects that will not frighten or repulse you, but make you scratch your head and laugh out loud at the sheer outrageousness of it all. This was Nobuhiko Obayashi’s directorial film debut. Previously he cut his teeth filming commercials with Kirk Douglas and Charles Bronson. (Wouldn't it be great to see the piano eat Bronson?) He brings all the tricks he developed in these commercials to full bear in a film so surreal it has to be seen to be believed. You will either love it or hate it but you won’t be able to stop watching it. 

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