TCM TiVo ALERT
January 8–January 14
DAVID’S BEST BETS:
ANNIE HALL (January 8, 8:00 pm): The movie that changed it all for Woody Allen, its lead actor, director, and co-writer – and his fans. While Allen's previous films weren't conventional comedies, the main focus was on being funny; and so many of them were. There are still great comedic scenes in Annie Hall, but this 1977 film is far more serious than anything Allen ever made to that point. Allen plays Alvy Singer, a neurotic intellectual comedian who falls in love with the movie's title character (Diane Keaton). Hall is fun-loving, carefree and a bit naive. Singer wants to change Hall – including buying her books about death – and make her smarter. The love affair falls apart, but the film delivers some great laughs and an insightful analysis of relationships. The characters break the "fourth wall" to deliver some of the movie's best lines, including the opening with Singer saying, “There’s an old joke. Two elderly women are at a Catskill Mountain resort, and one of them says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know, and such small portions.’ Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.”
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (January 14, 8:00 pm): 1967 is a landmark year in cinema. While the Hays Code was lifted before that year, it took a while for Hollywood to push the envelope, be more daring and take on serious subject matter without soft-selling it. Among the films released in 1967 were The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, Point Blank and the best of the bunch, In the Heat of the Night. The latter pairs one of cinema's most under-appreciated actors, Rod Steiger, with one of film's most respected (and rightfully so) actors, Sidney Poitier. (Poitier also starred in 1967 in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a film I don't hold in high regard as it fails to match the intensity of the films I mentioned above.) In the Heat of the Night gives the viewers an authentic view of racism in the South during the era of the Civil Rights movement. Steiger is the sheriff of a racist town working with Poitier, a police detective from Philadelphia, to solve a murder while overcoming significant challenges. The film won five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor for Steiger.
ED’S BEST BETS:
FEMALE (January 9, 8:00 pm): Ruth Chatterton is the head of a major automobile manufacturer. She runs the company with an iron hand, and expects the same of her love life, until she runs into the headstrong and hunky George Brent. The two were married in real life. This s a nice role-reversal story – stories like this with a strong female lead character wouldn’t be seen again until Sex and the City. A Pre-Code must see.
THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD) (January 11, 10:00 am): It’s the scientists (led by Robert Cornthwaite) versus the military (led by Kenneth Tobey) in this sci-fi classic about the discovery of a flying saucer and its occupant near the North Pole. The occupant is alive and represents a wealth of knowledge from an advanced society. One problem: he lives on blood and regards humans as only necessary for his subsistence. Also, he’s busy breeding more of him. Written by Charles Lederer, produced by Howard Hawks, and directed by Christian Nyby (though many film historians assert that it was Hawks who actually directed the movie and giving Nyby, his film editor by trade, a director’s credit), it combines horror and thrills with dark comedy, utilizing its setting well to give the film a claustrophobic feeling. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again. And if you haven’t – this is one film you can’t afford to miss. Also of note is composer Dimitri Tiomkin’s haunting score, achieved with a theremin.
WE DISAGREE ON ... ROLLERBALL (January 8, 5:45 pm)
ED: C. I remember seeing this in the theater, being sucked in by the terrific commercials. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered this "action" film actually moved at a snail's pace with its sub-plot of corporate totalitarianism. What it really needed to be was just a simple film about how one man rebels against the corporate status quo. What we get instead is a ponderous, pretentious attempt at a "thinking man's film" without much thinking going into it, the rest being covered with heavy-handed symbolism. James Caan delivers "impassioned" lines as if he was hit over the head with a mallet, and Maud Adams sounds if she studied at the school of cardboard acting. The movie needs an impassioned hero, someone like Mel Gibson or Al Pacino. What it gets is an actor who is best suited to a supporting role and needs to be killed off halfway through the picture. John Houseman is ... well, John Houseman, and he is the only good things about the film besides the game of Rollerball itself, which is a great concept, but poorly executed. And that is precisely the problem with this film: it's one thing to let your audience figure out the plot from clues and actions, but quite another to present a half-baked story that in the end really doesn't make any sense. Finally, the movie doesn't age well. We're supposed to think it's 2018, but everything in the film screams 1975. Along with Logan's Run, it's the worst of the 70's sci-fi movies.
DAVID: B+. From 1975, Rollerball is about the not-to-distant future of 2018 in which corporations control the world. They certainly got that one correct. In 2018, Rollerball, a version of roller derby with considerably more violence, is the king of sports. It's also society's replacement for war – a nice gesture. The biggest problem is it's also replaced individualism. And that's the problem facing Jonathan E (played by James Caan). He is the greatest Rollerball player of all-time with fans chanting his name. To corporate executives (the key executive is magnificently played by John Houseman), this is a huge problem as the game is designed to stifle individualism (do I sound like Ayn Rand?), and Jonathan is making that difficult. Jonathan won't retire so the corporations make the game more violent, including having the title game be a battle to the death. The action in the film is top-notch, particularly the championship match. Rollerball is much more than a futuristic action film. It's a movie that captures the challenges of being your own person in a structured world that frowns on standing out, especially if it upsets or disturbs society and its norms.
For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.