Sunday, November 13, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for November 15-22

November 15–November 22


WOODSTOCK (November 16, 12:45 am): The only problem with this documentary of the three-day-plus concert that attracted more than 500,000 to a small Upstate New York farm is at 184 minutes, it's too short. Iconic performances from Joe Cocker, Jimi Hendrix, the Who and countless others are captured on this Academy-Award-winning documentary. But other musicians, including The Band, Paul Butterfield and Blood, Sweat & Tears, don't make the cut. And even those who are in the film are there for only a song or two. Obviously, it's impossible to get everything that happened at the concert, but the film does an excellent job of not only showcasing the music, but others who were there. The stage announcements from Chip Monck warning people about the "brown acid" to Wavy Gravy being overwhelmed by the crowd and exclaiming, "We must be in heaven, man!" are priceless, as are the interviews with the hippies, townies, cops and my personal favorite with the portable toilet cleaning man. 

HARLAN COUNTY U.S.A. (November 21, 8:00 pm): A powerful advocacy documentary about southeastern Kentucky mine workers who go on a lengthy strike in part because the proposed labor contract from a subsidiary of the Duke Power Co. includes a provision banning union strikes. The documentary team, led by Barbara Kopple, the director and producer, spent a couple of years filming the strikers. There are some extraordinarily intimate scenes about the struggles of the strikers and their families during the lengthy work stoppage. There is no narration to the film – but there are a few key pieces of information that are shown on the screen – with the strikers and their families telling their stories. After a while, the national union representatives depart leaving the local workers to fight one of the nation's largest energy companies, and still one to this day, on their own. One of the film's flaws is it's told almost entirely from the side of the workers. But that was because the company had no interest in participating. Even with that, the movie is exceptional. It won the 1977 Oscar for Best Documentary.


TROUBLE IN PARADISE (November 17, 12:45 am): Ernst Lubitsch was best known for what was called “the Lubitsch touch,” a style of sophisticated comedy unmatched by anyone else. And this film represents Lubitsch at his best. Jewel thieves Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins fall in love in one of the most riotous scenes of one-upmanship in the movies, but now find their newly minted relationship threatened when Herbert turns on the charm to their newest victim, rich Paris widow Kay Francis. Their mastery of their characters is helped along with a witty script full of sparkling dialogue, clever plotting, great sexual gamesmanship, and brilliant visuals. Critic Dwight MacDonald described the film “as close to perfection as anything I have ever seen in the movies.” All I can say is to watch for yourselves.

JAWS (November 19, 3:30 pm): Anyone who has seen this amazing movie remembers it always, not only for the plenitude of good shocks along the way, but for the acting, writing and direction, all of which were top notch. Author Peter Benchley partially based his novel on the 1916 shark attacks along the Jersey Shore and the 1964 exploits of a shark hunter. Director Spielberg captures perfectly the spirit and character of the novel using the outstanding performances of its ensemble cast of actors to create a story that stays with us to this day. Even the shark attack score by John Williams has become part of our lives. Who among us has not heard someone humming it or hummed it themselves? Though it spawned three weak sequels and a host of lame imitations, the original has passed from being a mere film into part and parcel of American pop culture.

WE AGREE ON ... HEAD (November 19, 4:00 am)

ED: B+. Though I was never a fan of the Monkees, I am a fan of this offbeat piece of psychotronica. It’s a surreal collection of vignettes displaying what the group could never attempt on television and pretty much ended that phase of their lives. Written by director Bob Rafelson (who directed their TV show) and Jack Nicholson, it’s a non-stop ramble through the maze of pop culture nonsense that is as riveting as it is funny. Never stopping to collect its breath, it begins with the group’s public admission of their own manufactured image and – literally – runs with the football, creating a stream-of-consciousness motif in which we don’t know what is intended or unintended.  My favorite scenes were those with “Big Victor,” a 50-foot Victor Mature. Talk about horrifying. There was enough ham there to feed the country of Lichtenstein for an entire year. In its own way it anticipates the later absurd stylings of Terry Gilliam. And that it flopped when first shown is a given, but this little film has turned out to be a masterpiece of sorts.

DAVID: A-. This confusing but entertaining film features manufactured pop band The Monkees doing their best to break their "Pre-Fab" mold. The four jump off a bridge symbolically killing themselves, but they learn even that does nothing to change their image. The trouble for the group is when this film was released in late 1968, The Monkees' popularity was low. The group desperately wanted to leave behind their teen-pop image and appeal to a cooler hippie audience. The problem is the band's core audience is dismissed and ridiculed in the film, and because The Monkees were squares with the in-crowd (despite some excellent songs), no one went to see this movie. It made an astonishing $16,111 at the box office on a $750,000 expense. And that's a shame. While the plot is simple enough, how it is handled is rather sophisticated even though the viewer has no idea at times what's happening – something that was intentionally done. The band members helped Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, the latter directed the film, write the film though they don't get any formal credit. That led to a one-day walkout strike by three of the four band members which strained their relationship with Rafelson. There are plenty of interesting cameos including Frank Zappa, Sonny Liston, Toni Basil, Dennis Hopper, Victor Mature and Ray Nitschke. The song's title track, The Porpoise (Theme from Head), is quite good. The band didn't last long after this film, and didn't get another song into the Top 20 until 1986 when the band reunited (sans Mike Nesmith). The band, Nicholson and Rafelson were confident the movie would be a hit and already had a marketing promo for the sequel. "From the people who gave you Head..."

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


  1. I really never thought I had to see "Head". Now I do. Thanks gentlemen for your continuing thoughtful reviews!

    1. Thanks for reading, John. When you watch it, you'll wonder what's going on, but you should be strangely entertained.