TCM TiVo ALERT
January 1–January 7
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
SOYLENT GREEN (January 1, 8:30 am): This is one of my "go-to" movies. I've watched it dozens of times and still love it. Charlton Heston plays tough New York City Police Detective Robert Thorn in the year 2022. Something awful, almost certainly man-made, has happened that has resulted in almost no fresh food or water (only the very wealthy and/or politically-connected are able to obtain some). There are serious problems with the death of most animals and plant-life, overpopulation, poverty, pollution and people surviving on wafers provided by the Soylent Corp., which has just come out with a new "high-energy plankton" called Soylent Green. As a cop, Thorn has some perks, primarily a tiny apartment that he shares with Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson), an elderly scholar who remembers what life was like before the environmental disaster. Thorn is investigating the murder of a high-level Soylent executive (Joseph Cotten in a far too small role). Thorn immediately suspects a conspiracy is the cause of the murder. Eddie G.'s performance, sadly his last, is one of his finest. It's beautifully tragic. The scene with Eddie G. goes to a place called "Home," a government-assisted suicide facility that looks like Madison Square Garden, is one of the most touching I've seen. And the ending is one of cinema's most memorable with an injured and possibly dying Thorn screaming, "Soylent Green is people!"
THE CANDIDATE (January 2, 8:00 pm): This is a great political satire, and its message of having to sell your soul and give up your integrity to get elected is more relevant today than it was when The Candidate came out in 1972. Robert Redford is Bill McKay, a liberal attorney and son of a former California governor (played by the great Melvyn Douglas), recruited by Democratic political operative Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) for a long-shot challenge to popular Republican Senator Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter). At Lucas' recommendation, McKay softens his message, which isn't resonating with voters, and compromises his principles. It works. McKay and Jarmon essentially become one as both say the same thing. The difference is McKay is young and good-looking, and Jarmon is older and doesn't look like Robert Redford. After McKay wins, the panic-stricken senator-elect brings Lucas into a room and asks, "What do we do now?" as the film ends. The storyline is intelligent and compelling, giving viewers a fascinating inside look at the political process.
ED’S BEST BETS:
THEM! (January 1, 12:00 pm): Not only is this the best of the “big bug” films that came out in the 1950’s, but it also has elements of a noir mystery. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s also one of the best “Red Scare” films of the period. The cast is terrific: James Whitmore, pre-Gunsmoke James Arness, veteran supporting actor Onslow Stevens, promising actress Joan Weldon, a young Fess Parker, and the great Edmund Gwenn. And look sharp for a very young Leonard Nimoy in a small role. It’s proof that when a sci-fi film is made intelligently, it’s a legitimate classic.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY (January 3, 8:00 pm): It was at least 10 years since the original Front Page, and by the Hollywood clock – time for a remake. But the genius of Howard Hawks was in the casting. Instead of going with another two males in the roles of editor Walter Burns and reporter Hildy Johnson, Hawks thought to make reporter Hildy a woman, formerly married to Burns, and about to leave the paper to remarry. It was pure inspiration, and in my opinion, made the film even funnier. Decorated with all the touches Hawks was famous for, including the overlapping dialogue, it still holds up today and is funnier than ever. Part of the brilliance in the remake was the casting of Cary Grant, a superb comic actor, as Walter Burns. But it is in the part of Hildy Johnson that Hawks struck gold. Jean Arthur, Hawks’ first choice, turned down the role, as did Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, and Irene Dunne. Columbia's studio head managed to borrow Rosalind Russell. She wasn’t thrilled at being assigned to the film and Hawks wasn’t exactly thrilled about having to “settle” for her. But once they got rolling, she turned out to be Hawks’ best move, as she’s perfect in the part: gorgeous, intelligent, sassy, and one step ahead – or so she thinks – of her ex-husband, Burns. It’s not only a movie to watch, but also one for cinephiles to own.
WE DISAGREE ON ... BROADCAST NEWS (January 3, 9:45 pm)
ED: B. This Network wannabe written and directed by James L. Brooks, is actually much better than Network, boasting excellent performances from leads Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks. However, there is a good reason I gave it only a “B.” James L. Brooks is also famous as the creator and writer of both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spinoff, Lou Grant, both of which were concerned with journalism. In the case of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, it was television journalism. And when we get right down to it, Broadcast News is nothing but a freer adaptation of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but without the censorship from CBS. Holly Hunter is nothing more than Mary Richards with a better sex life and William Hurt is a more articulate Ted Baxter. A certain anchorman for New York's Channel 4 was later said to have been the basis for Hurt’s character. And whenever I see a Brooks performance, I know I’m in for a boatload of frustrated pathos. If I’m given the choice between Holly Hunter as Mary Richards and Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards, give me the original every time.
DAVID: A. James L. Brooks wrote, directed and produced Broadcast News, one of the funniest and most clever satires on journalism. And the casting is perfect. William Hurt plays Tom Grunick, a good-looking, smooth-talking TV network anchor who is able to fake sincerity about news he not only doesn't care about, but largely doesn't understand. He represents the move toward news as entertainment that's been prevalent for the past few decades, Albert Brooks is Aaron Altman, a reporter who likes his news hard and serious. He is essentially Brooks portraying the same intelligent over-thinker he's played wonderfully in many movies. You love him and yet you laugh as he sweats so much blowing his big chance to anchor because he's unable to overcome his self-doubt and insecurity. Holly Hunter is magnificent as TV producer Jane Craig, neurotic to the point she cries at her desk every morning and can't help herself when Tom becomes interested in her. To Aaron and Jane, work is everything, and it's just about everything to Tom only without the stress. It's easier for Aaron and Jane to bury themselves in their work, which they love, than to focus on their dysfunctional private lives. The 1987 film could have easily become depressing. Brooks gives us a taste of that depression, but keeps it light enough through satire and some brilliant and funny lines. Describing to Jane what the devil would be, Aaron says, "He will be attractive. He'll be nice and helpful. He'll get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation. He'll never do an evil thing. He'll never deliberately hurt a living thing. He will just bit by little bit lower our standards where they are important; just a tiny little bit. Just coax along flash over substance; just a tiny little bit. And he'll talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he'll get all the great women." As for Ed's contention that this film is "nothing but a freer adaption of The Mary Tyler Moore Show," I disagree though his "better sex life" and "more articulate Ted Baxter" lines are very funny. While much of the legendary TV show takes place at the WJM station, the show is more about a woman working in a mid-management position in a traditionally-male business. The show would essentially be the same if Mary worked as a junior partner in a law firm or as an executive for a Wall Street investment house. Television news is essential to the plot of Broadcast News. Without it, Broadcast News a completely different film in need of a different name.
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