Tuesday, February 24, 2015

For the love of Turner Classic Movies

Now that I’m on a sojourn to wait out the northern winter in the sunshine environs of central Florida one of the charms of vacation rentals is having access to a whole slew of cable channels. And while Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is available to Canadian audiences I don’t feel like shelling out the big bucks back home to get it. So it’s always a treat when I come stateside and am able to watch this amazing channel for its cornucopia of classic movies from the Turner vault…..Here are some of the movies I’ve indulged in over the past few weeks: Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937). Considered one of the greatest films ever made it’s a delight as a character study about a group of French POWs but underwhelms on the bigger scale. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946). This almost perfect telling of three American vets who return from World War II features flawless performances from the likes of Fredrich March, Dana Andrews and Myrna Loy. But the standout is Teresa Wright, whose portrayal of a small town bright young woman is incandescent. The Harder They Fall (Mark Robson, 1956) is Humphrey Bogart’s last movie. He plays a rather contradictory character to the noble moralistic types we associate with him. He’s a former sports writer hired as a press agent to promote a corrupt boxing scheme. But Bogie, in the end, does the right thing - phew! The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957) was dramatic enough, I guess. But, afterwards, reading about the film, took a lot of my respect away from it. Its portrayal of British POWs enraged military vets and its plot - a British officer (Alec Guinness as Nicholson) collaborating with the Japanese, was considered unthinkable. Yet Guinness as always is a standout. Pillow Talk (Michael Gordon, 1959) is a Doris Day - Rick Hudson classic, an utterly hilarious romantic comedy whose laughs come from a variety of misunderstandings. Why don’t they make movies like this anymore? There was the double bill of Steve McQueen movies: The Thomas Crown Affair (Norman Jewison, 1968) and Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968). The Thomas Crown Affair is the story of a sophisticated millionaire who has it all and arranges a bank heist for kicks. But the most interesting thing about this picture is the multiscreen imagery, using the technology that premiered the year before at Montreal’s Expo 67 including in the Ontario pavilion film A Place to Stand. Meanwhile the Bullitt chase seen through the streets of San Fran wasn’t as dramatic as I expected (or remembered) and McQueen only did a small fraction of the Mustang’s driving. But his portrayal of the steely taciturn cop Frank Bullitt always has us in his corner. To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962) shows Gregory Peck in one of his best and most iconic roles as lawyer Atticus Finch whose moral toughness is matched by his personal gentleness. What was the point of Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1962)? And since the novelist Vladimir Nabokov, whose book the movie is based on, co-wrote the screenplay, what was he trying to say in this most famous of American novels? Beats me. The story of course is about a middle aged man’s infatuation with a pre-teen beauty Lolita (though actress Sue Lyon was 14). There is no sex (thank God) nor even, unlike the novel, much prurience (thank God). Due to among other things, political correctness, the film wouldn’t be made today and almost wasn’t at the time. Subject matter alone why is this novel considered among the best of 20th century literature? Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977) seems as fresh today as it did the year Star Wars came out, minus some bad period sartorial styles (excepting Diane Keaton’s quirky Annie’s wardrobe, as much a hit as the picture) and clunky cars. Allen’s wit shines again and again in such classic scenes as gathering escaped lobsters (above left), swatting spiders, or sneezing into a box of cocaine. The movie established Woody as the modern king of comedy and morals. Finally The Goodbye Girl (Herbert Ross, 1977). It’s easy to see why Richard Dreyfuss as Elliot Garfield won best actor at the next year’s Oscars. I never understood his character’s attraction to Paula McFadden (Marsha Mason). But it is what it is and the story written by Neil Simon has gone into the annals of best known theatrical plays.

Academy disconnect. Not surprisingly there was a major drop in audience for Sunday night’s Oscar telecast. That’s because most of the films nominated for best picture were ones the mass audience has never seen, much less heard about. The New York Times today has an article about this major gap between Hollywood - which now seems fully captured by the art house crowd - and the average moviegoer. Check it out at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/24/movies/awardsseason/oscars-show-growing-gap-between-moviegoers-and-academy.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=0

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