Monday, September 21, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for September 23-30

September 23–September 30


PICKPOCKET (September 25, 3:30 pm): A brilliant and truly original film from director Robert Bresson about Michel (Martin LaSalle in his debut role), an amateur pickpocket who learns the tricks of the trade from a group of professionals after nearly getting busted at a horse racetrack. Along the way, he is patiently pursued by a police inspector (Jean Pelegri). It's a great case study as Michel is a poor wanna-be writer who turns to a life of petty crime out of necessity and boredom. Once he's in the business, he is hooked and can't escape it. Bresson's ability to develop the characters in this 1959 film is fascinating. As he often did, Bresson cast nonactors though LaSalle went on to have a lengthy career in movies though never anything as good as Pickpocket. LaSalle is able to show the emotions of Michel through his eyes rather than his words. The movie is only 75 minutes long, which turns out to be an ideal amount of time for the film. It is well-paced, full of intrigue and tense-filled scenes.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (September 26, 10:15 pm): One of the most beautiful and touching films I've ever seen. Yeah, it's about a criminal who ends up in a mental institution to avoid hard labor, and how he impacts the tragic and sad lives of the mentally-unstable people in the psych ward. Jack Nicholson's portrayal of "Mac" McMurphy is his greatest performance. Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched is so memorable as his foil that even though the film was released in 1975, you can call someone Nurse Ratched today and people – even those who've never seen this movie – know what you're talking about. She gives the performance of her life playing the cold and calculating nurse. The subtle and not-so-subtle battle of wills between McMurphy and Ratched are the highlights of the film. McMurphy has a plan to escape and would succeed except he wants to treat the friends he made in the ward to a memorable night. The ending is tragic yet inspirational and has me in tears every time I see it. The supporting cast is solid, particularly Brad Dourif (who later was the voice of Chucky, the killer doll in all those horrible films) as Billy, and Will Sampson as the Chief.


HAUSU (September 26, 3:00 am): One of the most surreal films ever to come from Japan, Hausu can best be described as a teens-meet-demon-killers-in-a-haunted-house movie filmed as a surreal fairy tale and decked out in bright candy colors. The girls, who have names such as Gorgeous, Melody, Prof, Fantasy, Kung Fu, Sweet, and Mac, go with Gorgeous to meet her benign spinster aunt. But once they arrive, they discover that nothing is as it seems and the girls disappear one by one until the horrible secret is revealed. When I first saw this I had to see it again because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. You may have the same experience. It’s part Mario Bava and part Looney Tunes. At any rate, it’s one helluva ride.

THE QUIET MAN (September 26, 1:30 pm): Director John Ford’s love letter to his native Ireland is a film for the ages. John Wayne is perfect as an American boxer who returns to his native soil, falls in love with a beautiful Irish lass (Maureen O’Hara), but is almost defeated by the local customs and the way the Irish view things. O’Hara gives a first-rate performance as Mary Kate, a woman who proves to be no shrinking violet, and Victor McLaglen is wonderful as her obstreperous brother, who bullies and bullies Wayne until the Duke has no choice but to fight. And don’t forget Barry Fitzgerald as the matchmaker. It’s wonderful slice of blarney, beautifully filmed in Technicolor by Winton C. Hoch with great music by Victor Young.

WE DISAGREE ON ... AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (September 25, 6:15 pm)

ED: A++. The literal translation is “At Random, Balthazar,” and is a perfect description of what plays out as the film progresses. What the late Roger Ebert described as director Robert Bresson’s “most heartbreaking tale” is a simple story of a donkey’s life, told with no Disney-like cutesy embellishments or false melodrama, as the donkey, named Balthazar, passes through a series of owners, some good, others cruel, but all of them, in Nietzsche’s phrase, “human, all too human.” Bresson, whose films reflect on the nature of grace and redemption, has chosen a donkey, seen as a sign of humility, as his centerpiece, and the world is seen through the sufferings of the animal, who was “baptized” by a group of young children and therefore has a soul. Especially interesting is the life of Marie, whose family is the first to adopt Balthazar. Her life plays out in eerie parallel to that of the donkey: She is unaccountably passive, unable to stand up for herself, later turning down a marriage proposal from a young man who loves her unconditionally to be with the thug Gerard, attracted by his leather jacket and moped. Gerard, for his part, resents the donkey and takes every opportunity to mistreat him. And yet Gerard is capable of redemption – witness the scene where he sings in church. This is an amazingly deep and gentle piece of work by a director whose interest in the phenomenological guides his films. In my opinion, not only is this his greatest film, it is one of the greatest films ever made.

DAVID: C+. As of late, when able, I'm revisiting films that are the subjects of our "We Disagree" segment. For the most part, I haven't seen the movies in question for at least a year, sometimes longer. For Au Hasard Balthazar, it had been about two years. So I watched it on Hulu from start to finish last week. After seeing it the first time, I remember thinking that the film had some interesting and compelling moments, but it was nothing special. To consider it a classic, which many film critics do, I thought was a ridiculous notion. After my recent viewing, my opinion hasn't changed. It's pretentious and lacks subtlety. Robert Bresson was an excellent director, and while I don't love every film he's made, I greatly respect his work. Diary of a Country PriestA Man Escaped, and Pickpocket (see above as the latter is one of my Best Bets), which are also airing on TCM on September 25, are great Bresson movies. I understand the plot of Au Hasard Balthazar and the parallel horrific lives of its two leads: Balthazar, a donkey, and Marie, a poor girl who loves him. Both are used and abused throughout their lives. I get that there's a Christ-like characteristic to the donkey. What is hard to comprehend is the poor choices Marie makes in her life. It results in her being so unsympathetic that I really didn't care what happened to her. The film gets too bogged down in its symbolism, there is no motivation for most of the characters to behave as they do, and the acting is poor. Bresson liked to use nonactors or inexperienced ones for authenticity; sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. This isn't a movie that the viewer is supposed to enjoy, but it's supposed to say something about human nature. What it says isn't good, but Bresson fails to give us even an inkling as to why.

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

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