TCM TiVo ALERT
January 8–January 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
METROPOLIS (January 10, 8:00 pm): Not only is this 1926 masterpiece, directed by Fritz Lang, the greatest silent film ever made, it's one of the 10 greatest films of any kind in cinematic history. The special effects are at least 40 years ahead of time, the set designs are stunning, and the scenes with thousands of extras moving as one entity are incredible. The compelling storyline is of a futuristic society in which the rich live above ground while the workers live and work below ground providing energy for the upper-class. The son of a rich industrialist falls in love with a woman who wants to lead the workers in a peaceful uprising for equality. A mad scientist at the behest of the rich industrialist makes a robotic clone of the woman to lead the workers astray. Lost scenes have been found and added numerous times over the years. TCM is showing the restored 149-minute version of the film, which includes some still photos and extra footage found in 2010 in Argentina. It's regularly on TCM. If you haven't seen it in a while, definitely watch. If you have never seen it, you must.
ANNIE HALL (January 11, 4:00 pm): The movie that changed the cinematic career 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. Allen plays Alvy Singer, a neurotic intellectual comedian who falls in love with the movie's title character (Diane Keaton). Hall is fun-loving, carefree and a bit naive. 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.”
ED’S BEST BETS:
MINISTRY OF FEAR (January 10, 10:45 pm): Fritz Lang, along with Alfred Hitchcock, was a master of the espionage thriller. And this film is a prime example of what Lang could do when given the right source material (Graham Greene’s novel of the same name), the right screenplay (by Seton I. Miller), and the right cast, led by a superb Ray Milland. And yet, Lang thought the film was not up to par; he didn’t like the finished product. Well, Herr Lang, I did - I loved it. Milland is superb as a recently released mental patient, sent there after being wrongly convicted of killing his wife. He gets caught up in a web of espionage, and we begin to wonder if the mad house is the asylum or what passes for the real world outside the asylum’s walls. It’s a film that pulls us in, whether we want to enter or not, and one which builds to a great finish, Lang style. Lang rarely lets me down.
THE MALTESE FALCON (January 11, noon): Yeah, I know, this is a no-brainer. But, believe it or not, there are some out there who have never laid eyes on this masterpiece. And it’s time they should. Humphrey Bogart was born to play Sam Spade, and he’s aided and abetted by a stellar supporting cast, including Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Mary Astor, and Lee Patrick. It’s hard to believe that this was John Huston’s directorial debut; it's handled with the polish of a 30-year veteran. Huston also wrote the screenplay, being judicious to stick as closely to the Dashiell Hammett’s novel as was possible. It all makes for one of the most unforgettable - and best - movies ever to come out of Hollywood. This Best Bet commentary is aimed at those who have not yet seen this wonderful noir, and an invitation to you to tune in. You’ll love it.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . CALIFORNIA SUITE (January 9, 1:30 am)
ED: A-. For me, this is what I would describe as a “desert movie,” an enjoyable piece of fluff whose main purpose is to entertain. And that it does, a wonderful quartet of stories whose only connection is the venue - the Beverly Hills Hotel - where each vignette takes place. It boasts a terrific cast, with such players as Maggie Smith (who won the Oscar for her performance), Michael Caine, Walter Matthau, Elaine May, Jane Fonda, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, and Alan Alda. Director Herbert Ross does a great job intercutting between the vignettes, unlike the Broadway production, which featured each story in its entirety. And if I were to choose one special reason for viewers to watch, it would be the segment with Maggie Smith and Michael Caine. Smith is absolutely brilliant as a distinguished British stage actress who “slummed,” playing a supporting role in a film. To her surprise, she’s nominated for an Oscar. The segment revolves around her pre-ceremony anxiety, and after she loses, her drunken despair. The writing here is possibly Neil Simon’s best, with Smith and Caine, playing her homosexual husband, exchanging cutting one-liners while coming to face the hard truths in their relationship. As noted by author Roger Fristoe in TCM’s article on the movie, Maggie Smith became the only person to win an Academy Award for playing a person who loses an Academy Award. Although I‘m not the biggest Simon fan, I find some of his works minor masterpieces of comedy. This is one of them.
DAVID: C-. The terrific cast – including Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Bill Cosby, Walter Matthau, Richard Pryor and Jane Fonda – is the sole reason this film gets a passing grade. The 1978 film adaption of this tired Neil Simon play doesn't have anything else going for it. By this time, Simon had run out of creativity and ideas. This is a recycled version of Plaza Suite, a good 1971 film and a play before that, which is also about people at a luxury hotel and the misadventures they have there. Simon had a very good 10-year run of writing movies, mostly from his plays, such as The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, The Heartbreak Kid, Murder by Death and The Goodbye Girl. The last one on that list would be his final excellent movie. Instead of quality, moviegoers got garbage such as Seems Like Old Times, I Ought to Be in Pictures, Max Dugan Returns and a lot of sappy Simon semi-biographical films. As for California Suite, it tells four separate stories of people staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel and the problems they experience. The movie is badly edited going from slapstick comedy to really depressing scenes. The film is stale with one-dimension characters and poor directing. While Pryor and Cosby were in more than their share of film flops, you can't deny they are two of the funniest comedians of their time. So what is done with their story of two competitive doctors who end up waging war during an intense mixed-doubles tennis game with their wives? It's an after-thought, sliced and diced into small sections throughout the movie. Yes, the story of Smith as the older actress and Caine as her gay husband in a marriage of convenience is the best of the four. Despite some strong acting, the film's plot and storylines are weak.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.