Friday, March 21, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for March 23-31

March 23–March 31


GREAT EXPECTATIONS (March 25, 10:15 am): Charles Dickens' books have translated into excellent films over the years, but none greater than this 1946 movie. The cast is outstanding, led by John Mills, Alec Guinness, Martita Hunt and Jean Simmons. The film is about Pip, an orphan who is taken to London at the expense of a mysterious benefactor. The benefactor believes Pip is a man with "great expectations." It's a charming film that leaves you with a good feeling inside because it's such an outstanding movie. David Lean co-wrote the screenplay and directs with spectacular cinematography. Lean would go on to direct epics such as The Bridge on the River KwaiLawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago. All are great movies and really, really, really long. Incredibly, Great Expectations isn't even two hours in length despite being based on a 544-page novel. 

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (March 28, 1:45 am): Made for about $100,000, and it sure looks cheap, this 1968 film is the granddaddy of all zombie films. The main characters give a good performance, which is impressive considering there's only one or two professional actors in the entire film. Those playing the zombies are locals who do a great job of scaring the hell out of moviegoers. The film's plot is basic on the surface: seven people are trapped inside a western Pennsylvania farmhouse with zombies interested in turning them into late-night snacks. But the underlying themes of racism and stereotypes is surprisingly sophisticated. The main character is a smart, young black man who has to constantly prove himself to an older white guy who thinks he knows it all. It turns out he knows little and becomes a zombie appetizer. It's an interesting film with director George Romero doing an admirable job of making an important piece of cinema with little resources. Compare it to some of the multi-million-dollar zombie films today and it holds up extraordinarily well.


IL POSTO (March 23, 4:00 am): A clever and perceptive satire about how the white-collar world crushes the hopes and ambitions of those that work for it. As the director, Ermanno Olmi, wrote in 1964, “ . . . everything – epic adventure, humor, and a feeling – is contained in the normal human condition.” Indicative of the new wave of Post Realist Italian directors, the film stars Sandro Panseri, a non-professional actor. The female lead is another non-professional, Loredana Detto, who later became Signora Olmi. (Way to go, Ermanno!) It’s funny, touching and compelling. Watch for the end scene when a worker dies and his desk is up for grabs. Real? I’ve seen it. It’s all too real.

BIG NIGHT (March 28, 8:00 pm): A totally wonderful offbeat independent film about two immigrant brothers from Italy, Primo (Tony Shaloub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) who start a Italian restaurant on the Jersey Shore. Primo is a brilliant chef with a total diva mentality: he won’t make the routine dishes that customers expect. The result is that there are no customers and the restaurant is failing. The owner of a nearby restaurant, enormously successful despite its mediocre fare, offers a solution - he will call his friend, a big-time jazz musician, to play a special benefit at their restaurant. And so Primo begins to prepare his masterpiece, a feast of a lifetime, for this big night. Shaloub and Tucci are brilliant and well supported by the likes Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossellini, Liev Schreiber, Ian Holm, and Alison Janney. This is no routine dish.

WE DISAGREE ON ... MARTY (March 23, 1:30 pm)

ED: A. Ernest Borgnine (who won the Oscar for this) and Betsy Blair are wonderful in this honest, simple, bittersweet story from Paddy Chayefsky about a lonely butcher and a teacher who have given up on the idea of love and meet one night at a social. In the ‘50s, movie studios finally began to pay attention to the lives of ordinary working folks as the basis for films, realizing that not everyone is glamorous. And Chayefsky was one of the best at portraying the hopes, trials and disappointments of the common man. This movie is so touching, so well made, that it’s difficult not to relate to the main characters on some level or other. I can only give this film my highest recommendation as a story.

DAVID: B-. I don't have negative things to say about this film. Ernest Borgnine steps out of his typical tough-guy character and does a good job playing Marty, a lonely butcher who doesn't ever think he'll ever get married. He meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a plain-looking teacher and they fall in love despite Marty's friends and mother telling him he can do better. It's sweet, but cliched and feels too much like a play, primarily because it's largely based on one. My biggest complaint is not a lot happens and what happens is largely the same thing: Marty and his friends can't decide what to do at night, and typically end up doing nothing. While authentic in showing everyday life, everyday life can be kind of boring so you can struggle at times to stay interested in the film. Also, Borgnine's supporting cast, except for Esther Minciotti who plays his mother, is just OK. But that's fine as Marty is clearly the film's main character and Borgnine is up to the task. Interestingly, his Oscar-winning performance didn't lead to him playing this type of character again. It won the 1955 Academy Award for Best Picture in a fairly weak year for film though it beat Mister Roberts, a vastly superior movie.

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

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