Saturday, August 22, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for August 23-31

August 23–August 31


BADLANDS (Aug. 24, 8:00 pm): Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek show their incredible talents in this 1973 film, loosely based on a serial killer and his girlfriend on a cross-country killing spree during 1958. The two become more detached to reality as the film progresses. The film focuses on the alienation and hopelessness felt by the two doomed young criminals. Despite their horrific actions, you can't help feel somewhat sorry for them. An excellent script, a remarkable job by Terrence Malick in his directorial debut, and outstanding acting from Sheen and Spacek, who would go on to be major film stars. It's an exceptional film that shouldn't be missed.

GRAND HOTEL (August 26, 11:45 pm): This 1932 film, with one of cinema's greatest casts, seamlessly weaves multiple stories about those staying at the Grand Hotel in Berlin. Not only are the actors outstanding, but the casting is brilliant with each playing a role that seems written specifically for him/her. The leads are Greta Garbo as an aging Russian ballerina – this is the film in which she famously says, "I want to be alone" – and John Barrymore as a charming yet poor baron who lives off his name, playing cards and as a jewel thief. How strong is this cast? Lionel Barrymore gets only fifth billing in a fantastic role as a dying man living out his final days in luxury at the magnificent hotel. Also of note are Wallace Beery as a successful industrialist with a mean streak and Joan Crawford as his secretary.


KONGO (August 25, 6:30 pm): There’s always a danger in remaking a film, especially if it starred someone on the level of Lon Chaney, but MGM managed to fit Walter Huston right in and never missed a beat. Granted, West of Zanzibar was a silent and one can do much more with sound, but still, this is Chaney we’re talking about, and his performance still holds up well today. Kongo tends to be overlooked by a lot of film fans, and this is understandable as Warner Brothers almost had a stranglehold on lurid Pre-Code films, MGM was known for gloss, and the film’s director, William Cowen, is not exactly a household name when it comes to directors. But give this one a chance. Huston hits every right note as Flint, a paralyzed, deranged megalomaniac out for revenge against his wife’s lover, who he blames for paralyzing him. There’s no stopping his rule by degradation: he has turned the new village doctor (Conrad Nagel) into a drug addict, and he inflicts constant humiliations upon the woman who loves him (Lupe Velez in a fine performance). When a woman named Ann (Virginia Bruce), whom he believes to be the daughter of his enemy, pays a visit, he pulls out all the stops. This is an extremely grubby film, featuring almost every element the Hays Code would ban only a few years later: rape, drug addiction, sado-masochism, and lots of alcoholism. Cowan directs in the same overheated style as the silent original, and it’s a toss-up as to which is the most depraved.

CASABLANCA (August 28, 8:00 pm): When recommending movies I usually look for the interesting, but not so well known. Not in this case - this is a no-brainer if ever one existed. It’s one of the greatest romances ever made and turned Humphrey Bogart into a most unlikely romantic hero. It’s easy, however, to be romantic when Ingrid Bergman is the object of one’s affections. I don’t think Bergman has looked any more beautiful than in this film, and the way she was photographed only added to her beauty. We all know the story and the fact it’s a metaphor for America becoming involved in the war. But what has always amazed me is the number of lines from the movie that have found their way into pop culture, like “Round up the usual suspects,” “I’m shocked . . . shocked to discover gambling is going on here,” and “I’m just a poor corrupt official.” Behind Bogart and Bergman is one of the greatest supporting casts ever assembled, with several European refugees, such as Marcel Dalio, in the mix. I watch this just about every time it airs. I’m hooked.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE HUSTLER (August 29, 8:00 pm)

ED: A+.  This is one of the few lionized classics of the medium that actually lives up to its billing. It’s a sharply made take on the American Dream and the pursuit of such. Bert (George C. Scott) believes there is nothing more important than worldly success. That is the American Dream. Sarah (Piper Laurie), on the other hand, believes the American Dream consists of other things than mere success. Both characters are fighting for the soul of young Eddie Felson (Paul Newman). Bert is winning, until the end, when Eddie comes to realize the price for that success is more than the success is worth. Unfortunately, by the time he realizes this, it’s too late, and therein lays the tragedy. This film became so much of the popular culture that people actually believe it was based on real characters. It wasn’t – it was entirely fictional. The fact that famous pool player Minnesota Fats picked up his nickname from the film’s character only helped solidify that fact. The performances are all first-rate, especially Jackie Gleason, yet another case of the so-called “amateur” beating the Method Guys at their own game. And Robert Rossen’s direction s almost perfect, a case where a good director only makes a good film even better.

DAVID: B-. I saw this again on Netflix a few days ago as it had been a couple of years since I last viewed it. It's the story of Eddie Felson (Paul Newman), a hot-headed but excellent pool player and how he wants to prove he's the best. To do so, he feels he must defeat the best: Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). My gut reaction when rating this film was to give it a B-. After watching it again, I saw no reason to change it. It's a good movie, but not even close to being a classic. First, the bright spots. George C. Scott as Bert Gordon, a sleazy gambler who wields a lot of influence and power, delivers an incredible performance. I've never been a Gleason fan, but his portrayal of Fats, a fictional pool champ (and later adopted as the name of a real legendary pool player) is amazing. He's in only two scenes, but he owns both of them while speaking very little dialogue. The cinematography is top-notch making viewers feel as though they're inside a pool hall. It's filmed so well that you think you can smell the cigarette smoke and the bottom of your shoes are sticky from stepping on floors covered in spilled beer. However, the bad is really bad. At the top of that list is Newman. He's a lousy a Method actor, almost as bad as James Dean. During this era of his career – starring in films such as Cat on a Hot Tin RoofHudCool Hand Luke, and The Long, Hot Summer – Newman played the same character with a bit of a different backstory. He's typically a tormented, confused, hard-drinker who is troubled (sometimes for no explainable reason), in a bad relationship and unable to gain control of his life. In this film, he falls in love with a lonely, slutty alcoholic (Piper Laurie, who can't stop overacting here too). He meets her after losing nearly all his money in a lengthy pool match-up with Fats. The first scene with Fats is extraordinary and while long, it's worth watching. However, the second scene with Fats that concludes the movie is short and rushed. It builds up to that climax and we get the payoff, but I felt cheated. The film is also way too long at 134 minutes. They could have cut some of the poorly-acted drinking scenes with Newman and Laurie, and focused more on the rematch between Eddie and Fats. Despite its glaring problems and length, it's a good film for the reasons mentioned above. But its poor use of time, given how long it is, and Newman's acting keeps it from being a classic.

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

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