Tuesday, December 22, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for December 23-31

December 23–December 31


2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (December 26, 2:15 pm): It's one of the most visually-stunning and fascinating films every made. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the story of man from pre-evolution to a trip to Jupiter, and how superior beings on that mysterious planet made it all possible. It's unfortunate that this spectacular 1968 film, brilliantly directed by Stanley Kubrick, can't be seen on the largest screen imaginable because watching it on your television – or even worse, on your phone – doesn't do it justice. I've seen the movie at least 50 times, including once in a theater when it was re-released. The storyline is fascinating and the ending is very much open to interpretation, which makes the film even more compelling. The interaction between astronaut David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and the HAL 9000 computer that controls the spaceship and has a mind of its own reflects how mankind has experienced gains and losses through the use of advanced technology. The cinematography, special effects and music take this film to a special level. It is a masterpiece of cinema.

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (December 30, 9:15 am): When he wanted, Frank Sinatra was an excellent actor. My favorite Sinatra films are The Manchurian CandidateSuddenly (one of my Best Bets from earlier this month) and this 1955 film. In The Man With the Golden Arm, directed by Otto Preminger, Sinatra's character, Frankie Machine, is a hardcore heroin (the drug is heavily implied, but never spoken) addict who just got out of jail. Through circumstances all too familiar to addicts, he gets hooked again, largely thanks to a drug dealer who wants Frankie to return to his profession as an expert card dealer in high-stakes illegal games. The movie is dark, authentic and gripping. This one pulls no punches leading it to not get a rating from the Motion Picture Association of America because it violates the Hays Code. For a film that is 60 years old, it holds up remarkably well.


HORSE FEATHERS (December 31, 5:30 pm): It doesn’t get much better, or funnier than this, unless one counts Duck Soup. The only thing in the film funnier than Chico and Harpo passing themselves off as football players is Groucho as the president of the university. Add the drop-dead gorgeous Thelma Todd as the “college widow,” and we have a near perfect comedy. There are many great scenes in the picture: Groucho’s installment as college president, The Marxs in the speakeasy, where Groucho mistakenly recruits Chico and Harpo as “student-athletes,” the classroom scene, Groucho and Todd in the boat on the lake, and, of course, the football game. The only glitch in the film is that Zeppo has practically nothing to do but show up to remind us that there are four Marx Brothers. Just tune in and be prepared to laugh.

DUCK SOUP (December 31, 6:45 pm): There are very few comedic masterpieces in film history. This is one of the best and probably the best antiwar movie ever made. Imagine - Groucho becomes dictator of Fredonia at the whim of Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont), to whom the government owes large sums of money. Chico and Harpo work as spies for Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of neighboring Sylvania, which has its eyes on Fredonia. Trentino hopes to marry Mrs. Teasdale and take over Fredonia, but Groucho stands in his way. Eventually their rivalry leads to war. And what a war! Every vestige of nationalism is lampooned, from Paul Revere’s ride to the draft. It has great dialogue and sight gags galore, each managing to top the previous one. Today it’s a classic of the genre. With the gorgeous Raquel Torres and the hysterical Edgar Kennedy, whose encounters with Chico and Harpo are truly side-splitting.

WE DISAGREE ON ... ANNIE (December 25, 8:00 pm)

ED: B. A pillar of American popular culture since its introduction as a comic strip drawn by Harold Gray in 1924, Little Orphan Annie had died down in the American pantheon until 1977, when it took the country by storm following its incarnation as a Broadway musical. Hollywood, desperate for anything that would seem profitable, adapted the play for the screen, with Albert Finney and Carol Burnett as the leads. (It could have been a lot worse, as Jack Nicholson and Bette Midler were originally offered the parts.) But then Ray Stark decided in his wisdom to offer the role of director to septuagenarian John Huston, hardly an obvious choice for a musical. Besides Aileen Quinn as Annie, the film has a marvelous supporting cast, including Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry, Geoffrey Holder, and Ann Reinking. In general, Annie is enjoyable, with lots of movement and lots of color, with the dancing and the music going well together. On the other side is Huston’s leaden direction (for which he received a well-deserved Golden Raspberry) and a formula script that seems churned out on an assembly line. However, there are two main factors for my grade: Finney and Burnett, who are sensational. Burnett, who is good in just about anything she does, brings life to the villain role of orphanage director Miss Hannigan. And Finney has the most thankless role in the film, that of portraying Daddy Warbucks as a self-centered wealthy man who has everything except love, and who learns to love through the example of young Annie. As Roger Ebert said: “This is the role actors kill over – to avoid playing.” As Annie, Aileen Quinn is satisfactory, she can dance and sing well enough, but must deal with the fact that the musical has been shamefully overexposed to the point of parody. Without the power of Finney and Burnett, though, Annie has about as much chance of entertaining than Leo Gorcey had of playing Hamlet at the Royal Shakespearian Company, especially with Huston holding the directorial reins.

DAVID: D. If you're looking for an example of Hollywood gone wrong, here you go. Annie really, really sucks. I can't decide what I hate more: the overacting, the overproduction, the silly plot or the annoying songs. The movie is a horrible time for the whole family. It's sickeningly sweet to the point of complete annoyance – and it's more than two hours long. It deserves an F, but I'm a softy for "It's the Hard Knock Life." There is nothing else positive to say about this lifeless 1982 movie. I strongly disagree with Ed on the casting. Carol Burnett, who I think is passable to terrible in everything she ever did, is a cartoon character here as the evil Miss Hannigan. She runs an orphanage with the girls used as slave labor. Aileen Quinn is the spunky Annie, and as Lou Grant told Mary Richards, "I hate spunk!" I can't tell if she was a lousy actress or the part was terrible. Oh, let's give (dis)credit for both. While it received critical acclaim on Broadway, Annie's thin plot and terrible songs are exposed on the big screen. It's impossible not to laugh at the ridiculous scenario that has Annie, Daddy Warbucks and the "mysterious" Punjab flying to the White House to hear President Franklin Delano Roosevelt explain his welfare program (it takes place in 1933) and ask Annie to help him. She "rewards" the president by singing "Tomorrow." I'm a huge fan of John Huston, but this was a tremendous misfire on his part. I'm thankful this wasn't his last film as it would have been awful for him to go out like this. 

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

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