Thursday, October 22, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for October 23-31

October 23–October 31


THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (October 23, 10:30 pm): Of the numerous Hunchback films, including two animated versions, this is clearly the best. Charles Laughton is brilliant as Quasimodo, the hunchback bell-ringer at the Notre Dame cathedral, in this 1939 adaption of the classic book. The story is familiar yet Laughton is so exceptional that despite knowing what's going to happen, you can't help but enjoy a master at his craft. Laughton gave cinephiles many wonderful performances and this role ranks among his finest. Also of note is Maureen O'Hara's Esmeralda, the free-spirited gypsy who is loved by Quasimondo, and Cedric Hardwicke as the deliciously-evil Frollo. Quasimondo's rescue of Esmeralda from the gallows and screaming "sanctuary" as he protects her in the church is one of the most iconic moment in cinematic history.

JAILHOUSE ROCK (October 25, 6:00 pm): This 1957 film is easily one of Elvis' best. He’s in prison on a manslaughter conviction. His cellmate, a former country-and-western singer played by Mickey Shaughnessy, recognizes Vince Everett (Presley) has musical talent after hearing him sing, and serves as a mentor. When Everett is released after 20 months in prison, he looks for work as a singer. He becomes a success thanks to a producer and his love interest, played by Judy Tyler (she and her husband died shortly after the film wrapped up production). Presley does a solid job, showing that with the right material, he was a good actor. Unfortunately, roles like this rarely came along for Elvis. The film is critical of the music industry with Vince, tired of getting ripped off, creates his own record label with Judy. The film's highlight is the iconic “Jailhouse Rock” performance Everett does for a television special. It doesn’t get much better than this. 


THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (October 23, 4:00 am): This was Hammer Studios’ first attempt at the reimaging of the classic Universal horror films of the ‘30s. And to an audience that was starved of good horror films, it was a box office hit. Much of the credit for the success of the film must go to Peter Cushing for his portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein. Cushing hits all the right notes, brilliantly conveying the underlying decadence beneath the aristocratic façade. Though it’s not as good as James Whale’s 1931 original, Cushing should be commended for playing Frank as a cad rather than an idealist, as Colin Clive portrayed him. Christopher Lee, as the Monster, has a thankless role, with little to do but act scary. However, he does manage to get the point across, looking murderous rather than just plain silly. The success of the film begat a series of Frankenstein films with Cushing in the center of the action. And, with the success of Frankenstein, a remake of Dracula was just around the corner.

THE GOLD RUSH (October 26, 9:45 am): A beautifully whimsical film by Chaplin that rates with his best. The Tramp decides to prospect for gold in Alaska, and Chaplin uses every stunt, every trick, to bring out the underlying comedy, with some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen in any film.  Caught in a storm he heads for the only shelter he can find, a wooden cabin in the middle of nowhere. But it turns out the cabin is already inhabited by a big criminal named Black Larson, no less. The scene where Charlie and Big Jim, another miner, tell Larson they’re going to stay is one of the best in the film, as is the scene where Larson has drawn the lot to go out in the storm for food and Charlie is stuck having to eat his shoe. Later, after Charlie has struck it rich, there is a memorable scene on the boat where he tries to win over the fair Georgia. This is where he does his famous “dance of the dinner rolls.” The amazing thing about it is that it still remains fresh; one of the most stirring depictions of man’s battle against the elements and nature, and Chaplin’s genius was to milk every joke he could from every situation without taking away any of the suspense. It’s a film that may seem familiar even to those new to it because the gags have been so played up over the years, but it’s also one worth watching time and again.

WE DISAGREE ON ... THE HURT LOCKER (October 29, 11:45 pm)

ED. AThe Hurt Locker goes beyond most other films in its genre by being both a serious character study and a suspenseful thriller. Director Kathryn Bigelow squeezes every drop of tension inherent in its premise as the film progresses, never letting up or giving us a rest in the process. One other point I enjoyed about the film was the fact it was apolitical, using Iraq as a backdrop for the human drama rather than as a pulpit to reach. This drama could have played out in any war. Jeremy Renner is magnificent as a bomb technician who becomes hooked on his own adrenaline stemming from his everyday duty, resulting in an arrogance that clashes with his otherwise peaceful and compassionate nature. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd uses the camera as a way of heightening the tension and keeping us on the edge of our seats. Best of all is Bigelow’s staging of the interaction between Renner and mates Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty as she throws stereotypes to the wind, substituting interactions that are instead unpredictable. This is a film whose impact will remain long after the final credits roll and one that will stick in the memory.

DAVID: B-. I saw this film for the first time a few months ago on Netflix. It's a fascinating look into what makes a bomb technician tick (pardon the pun even though it's a good one). But I expected a lot more based on the widespread critical acclaim and six Oscar wins, including Best Picture and Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow. Maybe that's unfair as I was anticipating seeing something really special and spectacular, and instead I got a pretty good movie. One aspect that works and fails is there's not a story arc as the film goes from one scene to the next. The snippets are interesting and maddening at the same time. Also, many of the scenes are repetitive though there's one with an Iraqi civilian with a bomb locked to his body that is incredible. The character study of Sergeant First Class William James (Jeremy Renner) is compelling. He is an adrenaline-rush bomb technician who is very talented at what he does. But he often takes unnecessary risks that put his life and the lives of the two soldiers on his team at risk during the Iraq War. He comes across as suicidal and reckless, and as the film progresses, it's obvious he's lost touch with everyday life. Again, it's good, but the movie seems to just kind of be there with little to show for it except a nearly crazy guy doing a very crazy job that impacts him far greater than he knows.

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

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