Thursday, November 13, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for November 15-22

November 15–November 22


SOYLENT GREEN (November 15, 6:00 pm): This is one of my "go-to" movies. I can watch it dozens of times (and have) and never grow tired of it. Charlton Heston plays tough New York City Police Detective Robert Thorn in the year 2022. Something awful has happened that has resulted in almost no fresh food or water (only the very wealthy and/or politically-connected are able to obtain some). There are serious problems with the death of most animals and plant-life, overpopulation, poverty, pollution and people surviving on wafers provided by the Soylent Corp., which comes out with a new "high-energy plankton" called Soylent Green. It's supposed to be better than Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow, though they all look like plastic. As a cop, Thorn has some perks, primarily a tiny apartment that he shares with Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson), an elderly scholar who remembers what life was like before the environmental disasters (likely caused by mankind). Thorn is investigating the murder of a high-level Soylent executive (Joseph Cotten in a far too small role). Thorn immediately suspects a conspiracy is the cause of the murder. While at the murder scene, an expensive apartment complex, Heston lifts fresh food, including a small steak and some fruit. One of the most joyous moments in the film has Thorn and Roth eating the food with the latter talking about the old days. Eddie G.'s performance, sadly his last, is one of his finest. It's beautifully tragic with the scene in which Eddie G. goes to a place called "Home," a government-assisted suicide facility that looks like Madison Square Garden, is one of the most touching I've seen. And the ending is one of cinema's most memorable with an injured and possibly dying Thorn screaming, "Soylent Green is people! We gotta stop them somehow!"

SUNRISE (November 17, 10:00 pm): This 1927 film, directed by German Expressionist F.W. Murnau, is one of my favorite silent dramas. It's the story of a farmer (played by George O'Brien) who falls in love with a temptress from the city (Margaret Livingston) visiting his small town. She manipulates the man into killing his wife (Janet Gaynor), but he has second thoughts. The scene on the boat with O'Brien and Gaynor runs the gamut from suspense to terror to tragedy. The film is impressively stylized with the characters showing a wide range of emotions and wonderful cinematography, particularly in how scenes are filmed in the city and the country. Also of note is the use of multiple exposures. Ahead of its time, it's one of the first silent films to use sound effects, paving the way for talkies.


THEM! (November 22, 4:00 pm): Not only is this the best of the “big bug” films that came out in the 1950’s, but it also has elements of a noir mystery. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s also one of the best “Red Scare” films of the period. The cast is terrific: James Whitmore, pre-Gunsmoke James Arness, veteran supporting actor Onslow Stevens, promising actress Joan Weldon, a young Fess Parker, and the great Edmund Gwenn. And look sharp for a very young Leonard Nimoy in a small role. It’s proof that when a sci-fi film is made intelligently, it’s a legitimate classic.

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (November 22, 6:00 pm): While their Gothic horrors could oft times be hit-or-miss affairs, Hammer Studios always managed to hit a home run with their science-fiction films. And it’s no different here: Hammer took a BBC serial from the ‘50s called Quartermass and the Pit, added a little, subtracted a little, but on the whole remaining faithful to the original story. Hammer and director Roy Ward Baker capture the intelligence and the mystery of the original not by throwing special effects at the viewer, but in telling the story through the characters. What begins as the discovery of a Nazi bomb in an Underground tunnel being dug up for repairs, soon leads to the finding of ape-like skulls surrounding it, which leads to the realization that this is a not a Nazi weapon, but a spacecraft not of this Earth, but from Mars, complete with arthropod corpses stored inside. In the end we are wrestling with the philosophical issues of history and evolution before reaching a climax by recalling the Collective Unconscious and, especially, its archetype of the Devil. And despite all these weighty subjects, the film is an excellent piece of suspense and terror, supplying some pretty good jolts along the way.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . MAFIOSO (November 16, 4:00 am)

ED: C. This is a film that, for me, started out wonderfully as a social satire, then drifted into the world of Could Cuckoo Land. Alberto Sordi, one of my favorite actors, is a man from Sicily who has migrated north to Milan and now has a fine position as an efficiency expert with Fiat Motors. He’s given a package to deliver to the Don in Sicily by his boss at Fiat and, along with his family, visits his old village. But is this a satire of the North/South cultural divide in Italian society, a buffoonish comedy of manners, or what? The Don asks him to deliver a letter to New York, and so Sordi is placed in a crate and shipped to New York, where he’s told he has to whack someone for the Don, which he does, knowing that his family may themselves be whacked if he doesn’t do what he’s told. The latter part of the film loses me completely and reminds me of The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, a mob “comedy” that wasn’t funny, either. If director Alberto Lattuada had simply stuck to the North/South cultural divide, he would have had a satire for the ages. But as it is, Mafioso fails to impress.

DAVID: A-. Alberto Sordi is incredibly funny in this Mafia spoof as Antonio, a straight-laced Fiat car factory manager who takes his wife and kids to where he was born and raised – a small mobbed-up Sicilian village, in this 1962 Italian dark comedy. The opening scene inside the factory is essentially a tribute to Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times with very humorous bits about assembly lines and the silliness of structured work. Antonio, called Nino, has made it big in Northern Italy, the part of the country that is much more sophisticated and advanced than the South, where he grew up. Heading back to his birthplace with his sophisticated Northern wife and their kids is hysterical as his family is horribly out of place. One of the funniest scenes has his wife Marta (Norma Bengell) begging off eating after the food keeps coming. It turns out the massive amount of food is just the appetizer. The contrast shown between the two cultures is highly amusing and done with great satire. Nino's sister has a unibrow and a mustache with Marta finally getting in good with the family when she waxes the mustache and the middle of the unibrow to make two eyebrows. "You better get married before they grow back again," Nino's father says when seeing his daughter's new look. Mafioso takes an unexpected twist going from a satirical comedy to a dark movie with Nino, a crack shot, asked to perform a hit for the local Mafia boss, who he's known his entire life. Using a hunting trip as a cover, he comes in a crate to New York City to kill an old mobster in Trenton, New Jersey. After the hit, he is brought back to Italy. Yes, the hit isn't nearly as funny as the scenes in Sicily. Actually it's quite disturbing, but very compelling. When he returns, Nino isn't as nostalgic for his hometown and acts like nothing happened though his personality has certainly changed. Sordi definitely carries the film though the strange characters he reunites with in the Sicilian village are highly entertaining. It's a quirky film, and one of the first that deals bluntly about the Mob. It's fascinating throughout.

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

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