Thursday, November 29, 2012

TCM TiVo Alert for December 1-7

December 1 – December 7

ANNIE HALL (December 1, 6:15 pm): The movie that changed it all for Woody Allen, its lead actor, director, and co-writer - and his fans. While Allen's previous films weren't conventional comedies, the main focus was on being funny; and so many of them were. There are still great comedic scenes in Annie Hall, but this 1977 film is far more serious than anything Allen ever made to that point. Stardust Memories (1980) brilliantly spoofs this with Allen, playing filmmaker Sandy Bates (a character similar to him), being told by fans that they prefer his "earlier, funnier movies." In Annie Hall, Allen plays Alvy Singer, a comedian who falls in love with the movie's title character (Diane Keaton). Hall is fun-loving, carefree and a bit naive. Singer is a neurotic intellectual (yeah, nearly all of Allen's characters are neurotic intellectuals), and the two fall in love. But Singer wants to change Hall - including buying her books about death - and make her smarter. The love affair falls apart, but the film delivers some great laughs and an insightful analysis of relationships. The characters break the "fourth wall" to deliver some of the movie's best lines, including the opening with Singer saying, “There’s an old joke. Two elderly women are at a Catskill Mountain resort, and one of them says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know, and such small portions.’ Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.”

HANG 'EM HIGH (December 2, 6:00 pm): When it comes to great cutting-edge Westerns, Clint Eastwood has made more than anyone. Many of them have received the praise they deserve including The "Man with No Name" trilogy of A Fistful of DollarsFor a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as well as High Plains DrifterThe Outlaw Josey Wales, and Unforgiven. To me, 1968's Hang 'Em High belongs in the same class as those. Eastwood is Jed Cooper, who is wrongly accused by a posse (including Bruce Dern, Ed Begley Sr. and Alan Hale Jr., the Skipper on Gilligan's Island) of killing a man and stealing his cattle. The posse hangs Cooper, but that doesn't kill him - even though it leaves him with a nasty scar around his neck. As Eastwood characters are prone to do, Cooper wants revenge. But this one has a twist. Cooper, who was previously a lawman, becomes a federal marshal. He comes across a member of the posse and tries to arrest him, but ends up having to shoot (and of course, kill) him when he reaches for his gun. Slowly, he comes across everyone in the posse. Cooper wants to see all of them brought to justice, but because that would lead to being hanged, none of them are terribly interested in the proposition. There are plenty of shootouts and great action scenes, but the best part of the film is Cooper's struggle to uphold the law while resisting his strong urge to seek revenge. This was Eastwood's first film after the "Man with No Name" trilogy. Yeah, he immediately did another Western, but the character of Cooper is far more complex than his roles in the trilogy.

NIGHT AND THE CITY (December 4, 4:00 am): The ungodly hour makes this one that should be recorded. And it will be worth the effort, for this is a brilliant noir by director Jules Dassin concerning the travails of a low-life hustler (Richard Widmark) who tries breaking in to the pro wrestling business. Brilliant performances abound in this dark look at the underbelly of London life and Widmark is served well be a great supporting cast, including Gene Tierney, Herbert Lom and Mike Mazurki. It was remade as a boxing noir of sorts with Robert DeNiro and Jessica Lange in 1992, but ignore that – this is the one to see.

BABY FACE (December 6, 9:45 am): Here it is, the most notorious Pre-code film of ‘em all. See Barbara Stanwyck! See Barbara get pimped out by her own father! See Barbara get felt up on screen! See Barbara hit the bricks to New York and sleep her way to the top with no bones being made about it! And it was made not in 1993, but 1933!! Not only does that make it all the more amazing, but also a film not to be missed!

WE DISAGREE ON . . . ALL THE MARBLES (December 7, 3:45 am)

ED: B-. Let’s begin the conversation by stating that this is far from the best sports movies ever made. In other words, Hoosiers it’s not. As a comedy, it can’t compare to Major League. But – it does have a certain charm of its own, and for what it is it’s quite watchable, especially if one likes to look at pretty girls, which are in abundance here, and not just the leads Laurene Landon and Vicki Frederick. Peter Falk is the girls’ shady manager and acquits himself well. This is the last film directed by the great Robert Aldrich and he financed it himself as an independent production. Also of note is that the late, great Mildred Burke trained Frederick and Landon for their roles, and that the Geishas, the Japanese team, are not The Jumping Bomb Angels, as has been erroneously reported by the IMDB database. They are Ayumi (Jumbo) Hori and Taemi (Mimi) Hagiwara, both major stars in Japanese women’s wrestling. It's enjoyable, but take it for what it is.

DAVID: D+. A more appropriate letter grade for this film is a combo: T&A. You'll see plenty of both. This 1981 movie treats wrestling as if it's real, and not a "work," a term used in the business to politely say that it's staged. The women's tag-team, known as the California Dolls, wrestle at crappy shows in crappy towns on their way to headlining a televised women's tag-team match in Las Vegas. I guess they're climbing some sort of ladder of contenders. But professional wrestling doesn't work that way. The premise of the movie is flimsy at best, and Peter Falk, the team's manager, as the love interest of one of the Dolls is quite a stretch. Some of the wrestling sequences are decent, but unrealistic. Falk tells the ladies to practice sunset flips, which is how they win the match in Vegas (as if you couldn't see that ending coming 20 minutes into the movie). For those not familiar with wrestling, a sunset flip is when a wrestler jumps over another prone wrestler bent over at the waist, dropping that person flat on the mat with the first wrestler's legs holding down the shoulders for the three count. A disclaimer: I was co-editor and co-publisher of Wrestling Perspective, a wrestling trade publication that existed from 1990 to 2007, and Ed was its senior writer and a brilliant wrestling historian. By 1981, the sunset flip was fading into the sunset as a finisher. It hasn't been used in wrestling that often during the past 30 years. Also, to get the audience to support his team, Falk gets the crowd to sing, "Oh, You Beautiful Doll," a 1911 ragtime song that hardly anyone in 1981 would recognize. And if they did, they wouldn't know more than the first two lines. Yet the entire crowd at the big Vegas match knows and sings all the lyrics. There aren't many quality wrestling films - there's The Wrestler (2008) and some incredible documentaries - so it shouldn't come as a shock that ...All the Marbles is a really bad movie.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

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