Tuesday, March 22, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for March 23-31

March 23-March 31


THE GENERAL (March 26, 8:00 pm): There has never been a more physical actor in the history of cinema than Buster Keaton. If you consider his slender build and the dangerous life-threatening stunts he did for the sake of his craft, it's amazing he wasn't killed making a movie. There were some close calls, and he lived with a lot of pain. He was more than a glorified stuntman. Keaton was also incredibly funny with a talent for knowing how to entertain the movie-going public. While The General wasn't a hit when it was released in 1926, it's now considered one of the best silent films ever made. Keaton is a railroad engineer who wants to fight for the Confederacy, but his skills are considered too valuable to the cause for him to be a soldier. The story moves along fast and there are some amazing sight gags such as Keaton doing a perfect imitation of a railroad wheel and a stunt that has him sit on a coupling rod of a moving train. We get a lot of action and a love story wrapped up nicely in about 75 minutes. For those who aren't silent film fans, this is an excellent place to start.

WILD STRAWBERRIES (March 30, 10:30 am): How wonderful of TCM to air a number of Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa films this week. They're two of the finest directors in the history of cinema. Among the selections is Bergman's Wild Strawberries, one of my all-time favorite films. Bergman isn't for the casual watcher. His films demand your undivided attention and it's well worth the effort. Bergman's insights into humanity can be breathtaking. This film is about a 78-year-old professor (Victor Sjostrom) who is traveling across Sweden to receive an honor from the university of which he earned his doctorate. Accompanied by his daughter-in-law (Ingrid Thulin), he picks up young hitchhikers and through nightmares, flashbacks and reflections as well as observing his fellow travelers, he learns about his life. It's so brilliant and moving that the viewer also learns about himself/herself if that person allows it. 


STRAY DOG (March 23, 8:00 am): Excellent early work from Akira Kurosawa about a rookie homicide detective who has his gun lifted by a pickpocket on a bus. He embarks on an quest to retrieve the stolen weapon, especially as evidence is gathered of it being used in other crimes. Although the story is too thin to sustain the film’s running time, it is nonetheless an excellent look at Japanese culture. Whereas the loss of a gun might be regarded as bad luck in the West, in Japan it is a matter of shame and dishonor, compounded by the fact that the detective is a rookie. Kurosawa makes great use of the weather – it is hot throughout the film with occasional tropical downpours, and we see the effect on the characters, who are also racing against the clock before the weapon is used for another crime. Toshiro Mifune as the rookie homicide detective, and Takashi Shimura as the older, experienced detective who takes the rookie under his wing make a wonderful team.

WATERSHIP DOWN (March 25, 6:00 pm): A first rate animated adaptation of Richard Adams’ novel about a colony of rabbits that must find a new home after their existing one is destroyed by human developers and the problems they encounter along the way. This is no mere Disney version with cute, fluffy bunnies, but a thoughtful and spiritual rumination on the meaning of life, and the avoidance and acceptance of death. The way in which the film tackles these issues makes it stand apart as one of the best animated films ever made.

WE AGREE ON ... THE BAD SLEEP WELL (March 23, 2:15 pm)

ED: A+. Director Akira Kurosawa’s take of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in contemporary corporate Japan. Many fans praise Kurosawa’s epics, but I find his urban dramas even more interesting, especially in this instance as he takes on the problem of deep-rooted corruption in Japanese business culture in which lower level people feel obligated literally to die rather than allow their superiors' activities to be discovered. Toshiro Mifune once again gives us a excellent performance as the Hamlet character, Nishi, who marries into the household of the company’s vice president – who is responsible for the death of Nishi’s father. Watching this film, we can clearly how deep Kurosawa’s appreciation was for Shakespeare, especially his knack of linking the private and the political, relating a story of corruption and revenge through the lens of blood ties. Those expecting a direct remake of Hamlet will be disappointed, as Kurosawa’s genius is to tell the stories through the filter of Japanese culture. But rest assured, this is not only one of Kurosawa’s best films, but one of the best films to come from Japan, period.

DAVID: A+. Besides Ikiru, this is my favorite Akria Kurosawa film  and that's saying a lot because he has at least eight films in my top 100. Well, that is if I created a top 100 list. I'm with Ed on finding his urban dramas – such as IkiruStray DogHigh and LowDrunken Angel and this film  more compelling than his epics. Don't get me wrong. Films like Kagemusha and Ran are brilliant and tells fantastic stories. Overall, I prefer Kurosawa's films on life in the big city. One of the best parts of The Bad Sleep Well is how the pack of reporters act like a Greek chorus filling in the viewers on the players, the backstory, the hierarchy of the corrupt company Toshiro Mifune's character is trying to destroy, and commenting on not only stuff we don't see, but explaining what we see. As Ed mentions, it's Kurosawa's then-modern-day take on Hamlet, but that's really only a small element of this film from 1960. It's an insightful look at the culture of Japanese business with Masayuki Mori absolutely spectacular as the villain. And the name of the company in question – the Unexploited Land Development Corporation – is deliciously evil. I can't stress enough how good this film is. The ending is startling the first time you see it. It loses very little of its punch upon multiple viewings.

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

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