Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TCM TiVo Alert for November 23-30

TCM TiVo Alert
November 23-November 30


(November 28, 6:00 pm): There are few films that can touch the originality and the clever one-liners of 1979's The Muppet Movie. This third Muppet movie from 1984 doesn't, but it has some great moments and is worth seeing. The songs are not as catchy as the original Muppet film, but there are some good ones and the storyline in this 1984 movie is excellent. The gang graduates from college and are eager to take their campus variety show to Broadway. Things don't go well and the Muppets have to go their separate ways when they run out of money while Kermit, who works at a Manhattan dinner, figures out how to sell the show. (That the Muppet gang all graduated college at the same time and none can find white-collar jobs makes me wonder the true value of their education.) Kermit finally succeeds in finding a backer for his play only to miss a "Don't Walk" sign and get hit by a car causing him to lose his memory. I suppose a frog getting hit by a car could have more dire consequences. The best part of the film is Kermit, who can't remember his name after the accident, become Phil and working for a Madison Avenue advertising agency with fellow frogs, Phil, Jill and Gil. In one scene, the frogs are looking for a tagline for a soap product. Bill says, "How about this? Ocean Breeze Soap, it's just like talking an ocean cruise, only there's no boat and you don't actually go anywhere." Kermit says, "Why don't you try something like, Ocean Breeze Soap will get you clean." The others look at him confused. "You mean just say what the product does?" Jill asks. "No one's ever tried that before," says Gil. Kermit gets his memory back in time for opening night of the play, which, of course, is a huge hit. Also, Miss Piggy substitutes Gonzo with a real minister in the marriage scene at the end, tricking Kermit into marrying her. I doubt it's legal. Also, it's the first appearance of the Muppets as babies, which proved to be so popular that it resulted in a cartoon series that aired for eight seasons.

(November 29, 11:00 am): Fresh off his "Man with No Name" trilogy, Clint Eastwood stars in...a Western. This could easily have been a disaster, but Eastwood is excellent as Jed Cooper, wrongly accused by a posse of killing a man and stealing his cattle. The posse hangs Cooper, who survives it and is left with a scar on his neck. Cooper, a lawman in the past, become a federal marshal and exacts his revenge against the members of the posse, which includes Bruce Dern, Ed Begley Sr., and Alan Hale Jr. When he tries to arrest members of the posse, they realize things won't work out well for them so they try to kill Cooper. Apparently they don't realize this is Eastwood and there's no way that's going to work. An excellent action film.


RIFIFI (November 27, 7:30 am): Leave it to a master craftsman like Jules Dassin to make one of the great Heist-Gone-Wrong films. Four cronies plan the perfect crime and have everything figured out to the letter – except for each other, and this proves to be the fatal mistake. Because it was a low-budget film, Dassin couldn’t afford a star like Jean Gabin, but he does quite fine with the hand he’s dealt. In his review for the French newspaper Arts, Francois Truffaut wrote: “Jules Dassin made the best ‘noir’ film I have ever see from the worst roman noir I have ever read.” The novel’s author, Auguste LeBreton, co-wrote the screenplay and later wrote Bob The Gambler, another top-notch crime thriller, for Jean-Paul Melville. It seems LeBreton translated better into film than he did into print.

GUN CRAZY (November 27, 2:30 pm): Director Joseph H. Lewis’s ahead-of-its-time noir about two lovers (Peggy Cummins, John Dall) that go on a crime spree. Low-budget specialists Frank and Maurice King, whose only caveat to director Lewis was not to go over budget, produced it. Lewis, as I‘ve noted earlier, was a specialist at saving a penny, as his career was spent in Poverty Row. It also takes a load off when one is working from a terrific script from blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (fronted by Millard Kaufman) and MacKinlay Kantor, who wrote the original story. While it was just another low-budget film here in America, over in France it was discovered by the Cahiers crowd and lionized as one of the great films from America. Such was its power that directors Truffaut, Godard, Melville, and Chabrot all stole from it. Its always great viewing and a Must See.

WE DISAGREE ON ... FUNNY GAMES (November 25, 3:15 am)

ED: A. That we should disagree about this film is only natural, given that, ever since its release, critics on both sides of the Atlantic have been arguing vociferously over its merits. I was both repulsed and fascinated by this film when I first saw it over 10 years ago. It’s a clever psychological horror that manages to press all the emotional buttons. The danger with such a film as this is that it can easily turn into either a splatterfest or a laff riot. To its credit, the film does neither, thanks to a screenplay that emphasizes all the right notes of terror while refusing to play the note for too long. One excellent touch was having one of the terrorists, Paul, break the fourth wall to remark on the action and, in essence, join the audience. It’s almost as if director Michael Haneke saw that, unless he lightened the tension a bit, his film would become unwatchable to its audience. I also laud him for his approach by having the overtone of terror build gradually: By acting less like terrorists, pretending to act more like invited dinner guests that are doing nothing wrong (while throwing in a good dose of politeness and cordiality), the perpetrators subtly ratchet up the sense of fear in the family. Adding to our unease is the fact that this film is superbly acted, with a rather unconventional ending. I can see its influence of later films, especially Saw and Hostel. One further note: the director later helmed an English remake, almost shot for shot, in 2007.

DAVID: D-. There is little to like about this film. Actually that too polite. I hate this film. Two regular-looking younger guys impose themselves on a German family on vacation to the point of being annoying. But they're also dangerous. Their true nature emerges as they torture the parents, their young son and the family's dog. They eventually kill all of them for their enjoyment. If the goal is to make the audience uncomfortable and bored then mission accomplished. There's nothing entertaining or interesting here. Worst of all, the movie, like the killers, overstays its welcome. At nearly two hours, the torturing of the family gets dull. I kept thinking, "Kill them already and let's get this done." One gimmick is to have Paul, one of the murderers/torturers, talk to the audience, asking what do they expect to happen. At one point, the wife grabs a gun and kills Paul's partner, Peter. Paul grabs a remote control and rewinds the scene. The film ends with Paul and Peter dumping the tied-up wife into the water to drown after murdering her son and husband. The two then move on to another house to do the same thing to the family there. Like A Clockwork OrangeFunny Games is disturbing with people killing for a laugh. But unlike the former, there's nothing compelling or interesting in Funny Games.

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

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