Monday, July 7, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for July 8-14

July 8–July 14


LITTLE CAESAR (July 8, 6:15 am): The movie that made Edward G. Robinson a legitimate movie star. Warners set the standard for its gritty, engaging, violent, tense-filled gangster films in 1931 with the release of Little Caesar on January 9 and Public Enemy with James Cagney on April 23. Both are among my favorite films. In Little Caesar, Eddie G. plays Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello, a small-time hood who does everything possible to become a mob boss in Chicago. Robinson's portrayal of Rico, also called Little Caesar, is among the most authentic in cinematic history. His ability to get into character, playing someone that cold-blooded, ruthless and single-minded without a concern about anything or anyone else is impressive. The ending is a classic with Rico gunned down in the gutter saying with surprise, "Mother of mercy! Is this the end of Rico?"

HARLAN COUNTY, U.S.A. (July 10, 11:30 pm): This is an interesting 1976 documentary about a lengthy strike that started in June 1972 by coal miners in Harlan County, Kentucky, against a subsidiary of Duke Energy, which, today, is the nation's largest electric power company. The film is completely one-sided in favor of the striking workers, who gave complete access to Barbara Kopple, the director. The company and the hired strike-breakers were interested in far more important things, such as keeping the mine open and making a lot of money, than giving their side to "balance" this film. What the film shows is the struggles, difficulties and violence of a lengthy strike in a rural, poor community whose citizens depend almost entirely on its coal mining. There is no narration in the film with the strikers, their families and their supporters telling what's happening and the challenges of being on strike. The company and those they hired mean business with a number of scenes showing violent confrontations and evolving from hiding a handgun to those on both sides not concerned about showing off their hardware as the strike continues. The people interviewed provide compelling and fascinating perspectives, and the impact the mine and the strike have on their lives. The movie is also a precursor to the diminished power unions would experience in the coming years, and how they tried to change with the time by attempting to be more "corporate" and "professional," and forgetting why they were so important in the lives of its members.


THE SPY IN BLACK (July 11, 8:15 am): Director Michael Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger teamed for the first time in this fine espionage drama set in World War I about a German spy (Conrad Veidt) assigned to gather intelligence about the British fleet stationed in Scapa Flow. A female agent (Valerie Hobson), posing as the town’s schoolmistress, and a disaffected British naval officer (Sebastian Shaw), are sent to provide assistance. Veidt is charmingly sinister and becomes involved in a bittersweet romance with Hobson. There are several nice little surprise twists as the story progresses, and the ending is not quite what we expect, which makes it all for the better. Powell and Pressburger are one of my favorite screen teams and this movie is an excellent example of their work.

WESTFRONT 1918 (July 11, 3:00 am): Americans weren’t the only ones making films with strong antiwar messages such as All Quiet on the Western Front. Director G.W. Pabst was doing the same thing in Germany, in the same year as the American production. It’s his first sound film, and it packs one hell of a punch. While every bit as unremitting and bleak as All Quiet, it’s even more pessimistic in tone than the American production, painting the German homefront as a bitter, corrupt society on the verge of an economic breakdown. Is it any wonder this movie as among the first to be banned by the Nazis when they came into power in 1933?

WE DISAGREE ON ... SANS SOLEIL (July 10, 3:30 am)

ED: B. This is a documentary, and at the same time it’s not a documentary. Rather, it’s a first-person viewing of the state of civilization in the late 20th century. The main focus is in two impoverished African nations, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde Islands, with side trips to a rarely seen side of Tokyo, Iceland, and San Francisco, where the filmmaker follows the footsteps of James Stewart’s character in Vertigo. As the influence of Cocteau and Bunuel can be seen throughout, this is a film that should be seen when there is time. Some see it as pretentious claptrap, others as art. I see it as an interesting first-person narrative that challenges our perspectives and takes us to places we might not ordinarily wish to go. I would have graded it higher but for the fact that at times the director’s sense of artiness conflicts with the story he’s trying to tell. However, that doesn’t take away from the sense that this is an interesting film to watch, if only for its flaws.

DAVID: C. I saw this film about four or so months ago on HuluPlus, and it left no impression on me. It's not compelling or even well made, and comes across as a random, mixed-up collection of film clips with no direction. Worst of all, it is neither interesting nor fascinating. Ed mentions that some see the film as pretentious claptrap while others view it as art. I found it somewhat pretentious, but not over the top. As for art, all cinema is art, but some of it is good, some of it is bad and most of it is somewhere between the two. For example, I'm not a fan of Jackson Pollock's abstract impressionist paintings, but I recognize it as art. Sans Soleil is a confusing collage of images at various locations throughout the world. If there was something that legitimately tied it all together, it could have worked. Just because there's a narrator talking about a supposed world traveler and discussing his adventures doesn't mean it's a cohesive story. It most definitely isn't. But, hey, I've seen a lot worse.

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

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