Thursday, January 21, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for January 23-31

January 23–January 31


THE DEER HUNTER (January 29, 2:45 am):  Ever since I first saw The Deer Hunter in the theater when I was 11 years old, I have been captivated by this impressive film. To this day, it remains one of my favorite movies, and is one of the top three best films of the 1970s. Mike (Robert DeNiro), Steve (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken) are three western Pennsylvania steelworkers who goes to fight in the Vietnam War. The movie, a shade over three hours long, takes its time showing us what life is like for the three leads, their friends and families. Their worlds are centered on working at the mills (which were closing around the time of this film's release at a staggering level, destroying the economies of towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia) and escaping reality by hunting deer. The three are gung-ho to fight in Vietnam, but quickly learn the horrors of the war. The film is shocking, hard-hitting, tragic and captivating. The actors are fantastic and the film captures the authenticity of living in a steel town and attempting to survive a war. It's a film you must see – as it's airing at 2:45 am, you should probably tape it – and one that is so good that you'll want to watch it again and again.

RED RIVER (January 30, 2:30 pm): I'm not a John Wayne fan, but this film – with Montgomery Clift in a brilliant turn as his adopted son – is outstanding. Wayne is great as a "bad guy" whose tyrannical ways cause a mutiny among those working for him on the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas along the Chisholm Trail. Director Howard Hawks brings out the best in Wayne, who should get credit for not only agreeing to take on the role of the "heavy," but for doing it so well. Clift was one of Hollywood's brightest stars and was already an elite actor in this - only his second film.


WEST OF ZANZIBAR (January 25, 10:45 am): Lon Chaney was never better or more terrifying than in this film for Tod Browning. Chaney is Dead-Legs Flint, a revenge-filled human monster of unspeakable cruelty. Before he was a wheelchair-bound monster he was the friendly Phroso, a music-hall magician who performs his act with wife Anna (Jacqueline Gadsen). But when Anna runs away with wealthy ivory trader Crane (Lionel Barrymore), Phroso falls from a balcony and injures his spine, leaving him unable to walk and incapable of any thought that does not contain unspeakable cruelty. He takes Anna and Crane’s love child, Maizie (Mary Nolan), and has her raised in the lowest brothel in Zanzibar while setting up his own kingdom in the jungle where he uses his magic tricks to deceive the natives. When Maizie turns 18, he has a real surprise cooked up for her, but the joke is on him as he later discovers to his horror. The film was remade in 1932 as Kongo, with Walter Huston in the role, and it is no less frightening.

DIABOLIQUE (January 31, 4:00 am): Frankly, I cannot recommend this picture enough. Think of a perfect Hitchcock film without Hitchcock. That’s Diabolique, which is directed by Henri-Georges Cluzot. To no one’s surprise, he’s known as “the French Hitchcock,” and Hitchcock himself was influenced by this film. This is a masterful psychological horror film that builds slowly to a final 15 minutes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Although the twist ending murder plot has been done many times since, it’s never been done better. Diabolique takes place at a school where Simone Signoret helps her friend Vera Clouzot (real life wife of the director) drown her ogre of a husband (Paul Meurisse), who “returns to life” in a really terrifying scene. It’s a taut, beautifully woven thriller with a climax that will truly shock you. Fans of Hitchcock will love this, as will anyone that loves a well-written thriller with the emphasis on character rather than going for the cheap thrill.

WE DISAGREE ON ... SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT (January 26, 1:00 am)

ED: B. It’s always interesting to see a director’s first film, and this effort from Spike Lee is quite good. Using his friends from NYU Film School, he wrote and directed a marvelous look at promiscuity from a female point of view. Instead of being the villain of the piece, star Tracy Camilla Johns, is the heroine, as she juggles her lovers while refusing to make a commitment to any one of them, as they all appear to be somehow incomplete. Although somewhat derivative of Woody Allen, it’s a heady mix of amateur and professionalism that we come to expect from a first effort of a good director. By the way, look for S. Epatha Merkerson in as small role as a doctor.

DAVID: C-. This is definitely one of Spike Lee's best films. As you can probably figure out from my grade, I don't think much of his skills as a writer or director, and he's an awful actor. Yes, I've seen about a half dozen of his films, and I was born in Brooklyn! While Lee is heavily inspired by Woody Allen, as Ed observes, the difference is Allen understands film-making while Lee kept trying to get to that level, failed and ended up directing and writing some truly awful movies. The concept is a nice twist with Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns) have sexual relationships with three men who all want her for their own, and she's celebrated for being a strong woman. However, there's a reason Johns' acting career never took off: she's bad. The film's biggest problem is she's probably the strongest actor in the cast. There's minimal character development, and Lee's directing and writing are at an amateur-plus level – though to be fair, that's what he was at the time. What's his excuse today?

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

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