Tuesday, January 29, 2013

TCM TiVo Alert for February 1-7

February 1–February 7

It’s TCM’s annual “31 Days of Oscar” month, where Oscar nominated films in every category are shown. This month TCM mixes it up with films from different studios highlighted.


LITTLE CAESAR (February 1, 9:00 am): This 1931 Pre-code gem from Warners made a major movie star out of Edward G. Robinson. As Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello, a small-time hood who ruthlessly becomes a mob boss in Chicago, Robinson makes the character one of cinema's greatest anti-hero. Eddie G. plays Rico, also known as Little Caesar, with incredible conviction and passion. Only James Cagney in Public Enemy portrays a Prohibition gangster on par with Robinson in Little Caesar. Rico is cold-blooded, single-minded and determined to take control of the Chicago rackets, not caring who or what gets in his way. The final scene in the gutter after Rico is gunned down and says, "Mother of Mercy! Is this the end of Rico?" is a classic.

THE DEER HUNTER (February 7, 1:00 am): Ever since I first saw The Deer Hunter in the theater in 1978 at the age of 11, I have been captivated by this brilliant film. To this day, it remains one of my favorite movies. Mike (Robert DeNiro), Steve (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken) are three western Pennsylvania steelworkers who goes to fight in Vietnam during the war. The movie, a shade over three hours long, takes its time showing us what life is like for the three leads, their friends and families. Their lives are centered on working at the mills (which were closing around the time of this film's release at a staggering level, destroying the economies of towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia) and escaping reality by hunting deer. The three are gung-ho to fight in Vietnam, but quickly learn the horrors of the war. The film is shocking, hard-hitting, tragic and captivating. The actors are fantastic and the film is impressive in how it captures the authenticity of living in a steel town and attempting to survive during the Vietnam War. It's a film you must see and one that is so good that you'll want to watch it again and again.


THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (February 6, 12:30 am): In my opinion this is the greatest horror film ever made, though the way James Whale directs it, it could also be seen as a black comedy. One of the decisions he made – to have the monster speak – was derided at the time and for a while later, but now is rightly regarded as a brilliant move on Whale’s part. It gives the monster a touch of humanity and frees him, for a time at least, from merely becoming the automaton he was to become in later films. It's also one of the rare times where the sequel surpasses the original.

I COMPAGNI – THE ORGANIZER (February 7, 5:30 pm.): A great film concerning the plight of exploited textile workers in Turin, Italy at the turn of the century and their fight for better working conditions. Far from depressing, it is a film with heart and humor with a great performance by Marcello Mastroianni. As it’s rarely shown in this country, tune it in.

WE DISAGREE ON ... EAST OF EDEN (February 4, 6:30 am)

ED: A. Made in 1954, released in 1955, when Elia Kazan was at the height of his creative powers, East of Eden is a finely nuanced film, a rough retelling, as it were, of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, embodied in the Trask brothers. Aron (Richard Davalos) is Abel, the good son, favored by his father, while Cal (James Dean) represents Cain, uncomfortable in his own skin and constantly fidgeting. The family patriarch, Adam (in a brilliant performance by Raymond Massey) is a stern, humorless taskmaster. Kazan captures the family dynamic perfectly, highlighting the contrast between the sons and Cal and his father. Nothing escapes Kazan’s eye, as notice the cinematography, with its dreamy shots of the surrounding countryside, and even a romantic shot of a freight train. This is the American Eden circa 1917, but Dean’s performance makes it feel much later. His heartbreaking rendition of Cal, consumed by jealousy, is probably the best performance of his short career. Richard Davalos, perfect as the innocent Aron; Jo Van Fleet’s wonderful portrayal of their mother. It all blends together under Kazan’s skilled guidance into a masterpiece of cinematic drama. Francois Truffaut praised the film and Dean in particular in Cahiers du Cinema, by noting “East of Eden is the first film to give us a Baudelairean hero, fascinated by vice and honor, who can embody both love and hate at the same time.” That Kazan can take the last third of Steinbeck’s novel and transform it into a gripping family drama only gives further testament to his peculiar genius.

DAVID: C. I've never understood the appeal of James Dean during his short cinematic career. His characters are all the same - mad at the world for some flimsy reason, or no reason at all. Dean broods and his characters often have trouble functioning because of their internal turmoil angst. Most critics love his performances in the three credited films he did: this 1955 film debut, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. But to me, Dean is a poor man's Montgomery Clift. Both are "method" actors, but Clift knew how to get the most out of nearly all his roles. Dean always went over the top to the point I had no idea why his characters acted the way they did. Rebel is the perfect example of that. Maybe Dean would have grown as an actor if he hadn't died so young. But I can only judge him based on what he did during his brief film career. East of Eden is his best performance, and I don't think much of it. Imagine my opinion of Giant - and if Ed gives it an excellent grade the next time it airs on TCM, you won't have to imagine. There is some indication as to why Dean's character, Cal, is troubled in East of Eden. His father Adam isn't an affectionate man and he clearly favors Aron, Cal's brother, in an obvious set-up of the Cain and Abel Biblical tale. If you can't figure it out by the name of the film, the names of the characters Cal (Cain) and Aron (Abel) provide assistance. If you still don't get it, their father's name is Adam. The name of their mother, who Adam tells his son is dead, is Kate, the only one without a name connected to the Old Testament story. She isn't dead. She runs a whorehouse in town. I guess the snake got to Kate. Unlike the Bible story, Cal doesn't kill his brother. He is troubled, but a nice guy who is misunderstood. (Aren't we all?) Dad is a vegetable farmer who loses everything when his plans for a long-hauling veggie business goes bust. Cal gets into the bean business and is a huge success because of World War II profits. He wants to give the money to Pops in an attempt to buy his love. But Adam isn't interested because the money came as a result of the war. Cal broods, brings Aron to see the mother he was told was dead, Aron broods, enlists in the military and Adam suffers a heart attack - or a broken heart. I'm a fan of many Elia Kazan films, but he really misses the mark with this one. The pacing is painfully slow and dull. The cinematography is nice, but doesn't save this movie from being a snoozer. As Bosley Crowther, The New York Times' main film critic of the era, wrote in his review, "The director gets more into this picture with the scenery than with the characters. For the stubborn fact is that the people who move about in this film are not sufficiently well established to give point to the anguish through which they go, and the demonstrations of their torment are perceptibly stylized and grotesque." He also calls Dean's performance "a mass of histrionic gingerbread." That last one is a little harsh - to gingerbread.

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

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