TCM TiVo ALERT
February 23–February 28
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (February 26, 9:00 am): In a three-year span, director John Frankenheimer was on an incredible role: The Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate both in 1962, Seven Days in May in 1964, and The Train in 1965. Burt Lancaster stars in all except The Manchurian Candidate, and is great in the three films. In Seven Days in May, he teams up with Kirk Douglas (the two co-starred in seven movies during their cinematic careers) to make a memorable and outstanding film. Lancaster is the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and is leading several of its members in a conspiracy to remove the president (Fredric March) from office because he signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union. Douglas is a Marine Corps colonel and military adviser who finds out about the proposed military coup and tells the president. It's among the best political thrillers ever made. An interesting end note: the shots taken outside the White House were done with the permission of President John F. Kennedy (those scenes were done in 1963 before his assassination on Nov. 22 of that year), but Pentagon officials weren't cooperative, refusing to permit Douglas to be filmed walking into that building. The movie premiered in Washington, D.C., on February 12, 1964, less than three months after JFK's murder.
THE FISHER KING (February 28, 4:00 am): This is an excellent film that masterfully blends comedy and tragedy thanks to superb acting from Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams, a creative screenplay by Richard LaGravenese, and Terry Gillam, who doesn't get the praise he deserves for his talents, as its director. Bridges is a former shock jock whose on-air comments leads a listener to commit a mass murder at a restaurant. Unable to get over the tragedy, he attempts suicide only to be mistaken for a homeless guy by a group of thugs who assault him. He's saved by Robin Williams, who is homeless and apparently deranged. Bridges finds out that Williams' condition was caused by the death of his wife at the hands of the guy who opened fire at the restaurant years earlier. Williams is so lost and shaken by his wife's death that his life's mission find the Holy Grail and in his mind he is tormented by a red knight trying to stop his quest. It's a beautiful film with a great ending.
ED’S BEST BETS:
BEING THERE (February 24, 10:00 pm): It’s one of the great political satires with Peter Sellers as Chance, an illiterate gardener who knows nothing except what he sees on television. Dispossessed when the master of the house dies he wanders the streets until picked up by Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine), who is the wife of influential industrialist Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas). Ben Rand and his circle take Chance’s simple utterances as profound wisdom, and he rises to become an influential pundit in Washington. Sellers is brilliant as Chance and it is sort of refreshing to see him assay only one role at a time. But the real bravura performance comes from MacLaine, who plays the sex-starved wife. She excels in several difficult scenes that, if not handled right, would bring the film down. That she wasn’t nominated for an Academy is surprising, and yet expected.
THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (February 25, 2:00 pm): An excellent black comedy from writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Arthur Hiller starring James Garner as Charlie Madison, a WWII “dog robber,” one who procures various goodies for his superiors in the Navy. Part personal assistant and part black marketeer, he procures whatever scatterbrained Admiral William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas) desires, from restocks of his liquor cabinet to personal massages. When he runs into prim and proper war widow Emily Barham (Julie Andrews), his life changes - and hers as well. She is totally entranced by Charlie, whose proclamation of cowardice appeals to a woman who lost a husband, father, and brother in the war. Just when things couldn’t be better, Charlie and “love ‘em and leave ‘em” roommate “Bus” Cummings (James Coburn) are assigned to land at Omaha Beach on D-Day to film the landing for public relations purposes. A great plot and a great cast makes this film one to catch.
WE DISAGREE ON . . . THE ENGLISH PATIENT (February 28, 1:00 am)
ED: C. The English Patient is a long (though it seems even longer), intensely involving, but rather emotionally shallow movie. It is the perfect example of what happens when filmmakers attempt to adapt an extremely dense and layered novel: they can only capture the superficial, intellectual aspects of the plot while the inner life of the book remains beyond their reach. I’ve read the novel by Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize-winning novel. It is a wonderful story about how the pressures of war shake up conventional notions of personal betrayal, loyalty, integrity, and even identity, none of which is adequately captured in the film to the depth required in the novel. Instead, we get a fairly conventional romantic melodrama spiced up with adultery that was filmed amidst the sumptuous backgrounds of pre-war North Africa and the end of the war in Italy. Ralph Finnes is the title character, the survivor of a fiery plane crash, who is being attended to by nurse Juliette Binoche, who lost her closest friends in the war and is concentrating on Fiennes, possibly as a way to some sort of solace. It later turns out that “the English patient” is really a Hungarian count and mapmaker who fell in love with a married woman. There sub-plots concerning Willem Dafoe, a wounded Canadian who may have been sold out to the Nazis by Finnes, and two British bomb-disposal experts, one of whom has a fling with Binoche. Even at 162 minutes, there’s not enough time to fully elaborate the plot and the film seems rushed as a result, and some of the secondary characters do not get the attention they need to get the movie over. This, combined with the fact that much of the novel takes place within the characters allows for only a superficial reading. This is the sort of novel that demands the multi-part mini-series approach Masterpiece Theater is famous for bringing forth. As for the movie, sit back and enjoy the scenery.
DAVID: A-. For years I avoided seeing this 1996 film. While it won nine Oscars, including Best Picture, I was apprehensive to watch as it's 162 minutes long and people I know who saw it, not just limited to Ed, didn't think that highly of the movie. But I had a free month of Amazon Prime in December and noticed it was available at no cost so I took the plunge. Yes, it's really long – like many epic movies – so I saw it over two viewings. Unlike Ed, I've never read the book so I don't know what I missed. You have to pay close attention to the film or you could get confused at times. But overall, I found The English Patient to be an exceptional film for the storyline, the acting and the amazing cinematography. It's told in a series of flashbacks that are flawlessly linked together. I can't stress how exceptional the actors are in this film. Ralph Finnes as the title character, who's actually a Hungarian count, is great and is able to tell a lot just by the expression on his face; a face that is scarred from burns he suffered in a plane crash. Juliette Binoche as his loyal nurse, who latches onto the dying patient, is fantastic as is Kristin Scott Thomas as the married woman who falls in love with Finnes' character. Perhaps the best performance comes from Naveen Andrews, who plays a Sikh who is a bomb diffusing expert and Binoche's love interest. The desperate attempt by Finnes to get back to the dying Thomas is absolutely heartbreaking and extraordinary moving. The length of the film kept me from watching it for 18 years, but I was very pleased that I gave it a chance as it's a memorable movie.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.