Sunday, December 22, 2013

TCM TiVo Alert for December 23-31

December 23–December 31


BILLY LIAR (December 26, 10:00 pm): A funny and tremendously entertaining British "Kitchen Sink/Angry Young Man" film with Tom Courtenay in the title role. He's not really angry, but he certainly is restless. His real name is Billy Fisher, but he tells such outrageous stories that his friends call him Billy Liar. The 1963 film goes in and out of Billy's real life as a bored funeral parlor worker and his imaginary world as the leader of the kingdom of Ambrosia. In his pretend life, he's a lady killer. In his real life, he's not doing too bad, but he's lost. Billy is dating two girls, including the incredibly beautiful and talented Julie Christie. It's a comedy, but there are certainly tragic portions as Billy's imaginary life is more interesting and apparently more important to him than trying to improve his reality. 

KES (December 29, 3:30 am): Another excellent British film, Kes is about Billy Casper, (David Bradley), a lonely boy who is bullied, but finds happiness in training a kestral falcon, he names Kes. The bond between the two is incredibly touching, and it helps Billy become more self-confident and less lost and unsure the more time he spends with Kes. It would be easy for this film to become a cliche as the young bird is obviously just like Billy. But it never feels that way as the film makes you cheer for both of them as they experience personal growth and freedom. It's because of that attachment that your heart breaks at the end of the movie. It's a wonderful film that stays with you long after watching it. 


TOP HAT (December 25, 8:00 pm): Not only is this film the best of the Astaire-Rogers pairings, but it’s also one of the greatest musicals – if not the greatest – ever to come from Hollywood. Everything goes off perfectly in this movie: the score by none other than Irving Berlin, the dance numbers (especially “Top Hat,” and “Cheek to Cheek”), and even Fred’s pursuit of Ginger is fresh and funny. It’s the old formula – Fred meets Ginger, Fred loses Ginger, Fred gets Ginger – but in this film it has not yet run its course. Add to this a supporting cast featuring the always-reliable Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore, plus dependable Helen Broderick and Eric Rhodes, and the result is an engaging and charming 90 minutes. Look for Lucille Ball in an unbilled role as a flower clerk.

STAGECOACH (December 27, 8:00 am): This John Ford movie was not only a big hit with moviegoers at the time, but also marked a change in the maturing of the Western, emphasizing character development over mere bang-bang, shoot ‘em up action and bringing the Western out of the Bs and onto the top of the marquee. Oh yeah, there’s lots of action sequences in the film, but they’re nicely balanced by character with depth and about whom we actually care. Even John Wayne does a nice job here, though it took Ford lots of work to wrangle a good performance out of him. Watch for the Indian attack and keep your eye on the peerless stunt work by second unit director Yakima Canutt. In his Westerns, Ford always provided work for neighboring Navaho tribesmen, and even made sure they received union wages. They, in turn (as per his biography) named him “Natani Nez,” which means “Tall Leader.”


ED: A. MGM was on a roll in the early ‘50s with its Musicals Unit, cranking out classic after classic. And this film is no exception. In fact, it’s one of the few musicals that weaves the music, dancing and story together flawlessly and is totally entertaining from start to finish. If I were to expound on the virtues of Cinemascope, I would use this film as one of the prime examples, for although it was one of the earliest Cinemascope films for MGM, it’s technical virtuosity is astounding, as we have up to 14 characters (the seven brothers and seven brides) interacting on the screen at the same time in the musical numbers. For such a huge undertaking, the film works in almost every way, with outstanding performances from Jane Powell and Russ Tamblyn (whose acrobatic dancing is still a marvel to behold today), as well as a beautiful newcomer, Julie Newmeyer. She would later shorten her name to “Julie Newmar,” gaining everlasting fame as the original Catwoman on the Batman television series in 1966. For those who like musicals, this is an Essential, and for those interested in film history, this is an Essential. Heck, if you’re a film buff of any sort, this is an Essential.

DAVID: C-. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I'm not much of a musical movie fan. Ed, who is a huge fan of the genre, tends to give a pass to the plots of musicals because the singing – and in many cases, the dancing – is the main draw for these films. I disagree. Great musicals can have good plots with solid dialogue, such as Singin' in the Rain and the original Muppet Movie, that add to the film. The plot of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is among the most ridiculous and stupid in cinematic history. A woodsman comes into town looking for a wife and finds a woman who barely knows him but marries him. They return home and to her surprise, he's got six brothers who live with him. She teaches them manners and dancing – they pick up the latter a lot quicker than the former– so they can also find women to marry. They find women-folk and eventually kidnap them when things don't go well. Of course women in that situation not only fall in love with their captors, but dance with them. The acting is wooden at best, and the singing isn't memorable. I can't recall any songs from this movie and after looking up the titles, I don't remember the melody or lyrics to even one, and I saw this movie in the last year. The only reason this film doesn't get a D grade is because it is beautifully filmed, I was impressed with how they were able to get all 14 of them into single shots and the dancing is good. But even with those attributes, it's not a good movie.

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

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