"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
There are 15 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
Despite a rather familiar premise, the supremely talented creators of this melodrama were able to deliver a storyline that is mature, sophisticated and genuinely heartfelt. Previously reviewed here, Now, Voyager will set sail Friday, February 2 at 3pm PST.
One of the most intelligent and illuminating documentaries ever produced is Robert Epstein's 1984 feature The Times of Harvey Milk.
Like the title suggests, this is an in-depth exploration of a time (the late '70s) and place (San Francisco) both of which were at sociological and political crossroads. Milk, after having run three times unsuccessfully, finally won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man to be elected. His hard fought success and subsequent campaign triumph in helping to defeat Proposition 6 (which would have banned gays and lesbians from working in public schools) are given careful attention and culminate in a jubilant celebration of communal will. These events contrast appreciably with the slow but acutely observed decline of Supervisor Dan White, making even more tragic the horrible events that follow.
What makes this documentary so special is its highly charged but never embellished emotional subtext. In fact, Epstein hasn't sentimentalised his subject in the least. Instead he admirably allows viewers the chance to extract the topic's inherent wealth of sensitivity. The Times of Harvey Milk chronicles a community's metamorphosis and the enormous inspiration taken from the leader who helped bring it about: progressive support for the common good, fight for equality, trauma at having their civic representatives so violently taken from them, incredulity and rage toward a shocking verdict, to a final resting place of healing and reconciliation. This documentary offers a rare, unflinching and impassioned perspective on human capability both good and bad, and in so doing, transcends sexual preferences, geographical location and time. The Times of Harvey Milk, especially relevant to our times and so eloquently voiced by the universal language of cinema, will air Monday, February 5 at 6:45pm PST.
It was British film director Peter Yates' brilliantly authentic heist film Robbery (more specifically the film's realistic opening car chase) that caused actor Steve McQueen to insist that the talented Brit be the one hired to direct the mega-star's unorthodox police procedural Bullitt.
This was the first film produced by Steve McQueen's company, Solar Productions and Peter Yates' very next directorial assignment (his first in the U.S.) after Robbery (1967). In fact, Peter Yates was a professional race car driver prior to his film work and here directed the justifiably famous car chase himself, normally a duty left for the "second-unit" director. McQueen also strongly petitioned actor Robert Vaughn for the crucial part of his character's nemesis, Senator Walter Chalmers. After having read the script, Vaughn rejected the part in a film he felt had no sensible plot. McQueen's persistence beat Vaughn's resistance when the studio offered the actor so much money, he couldn't refuse. Much later, Vaughn justifiably felt that his performance in Bullitt was his best.
These anecdotes just help to confirm the supreme dedication of those responsible for the proficient storytelling viewers can easily see for themselves in the finished product. This is one helluva' tightly organised crime thriller, with genuinely understated performances. Foremost, there's McQueen's appropriately named cop Frank Bullitt, who's straight to the point and always keeping his cool no matter how out of hand his predicaments become... (and they get hairier than a grown gorilla). Robert Vaughn's convincingly slimy politician Chalmers is another standout. There's Jacqueline Bisset as Bullitt's appropriately concerned girlfriend Cathy, Don Gordon as Bullitt's no-nonsense partner Delgetti, Simon Oakland as his by-the-book boss Captain Bennet, even a small but perfectly suited part for Robert Duvall as a helpful cabbie. **(Spoiler Alert)** In the film's shadowy opening, pay close attention to actor Pat Renella as the underworld figure Johnny Ross who takes it on the lam from the mob. This will help alleviate confusion when later, Ross is supposed to turn Government informant for Chalmers but is in fact being "impersonated" by another strong lookalike, actor Felice Orlandi as Albert Renick. The entire cast here are expertly guided by Peter Yates whose masterful accomplishments in the crime genre (Robbery, Bullitt and especially his masterpiece The Friends of Eddie Coyle) are without peer. As far as the plot goes, there definitely is one, deceptively simple at first but which later may seem hopelessly confusing unless viewers pay close attention to what the characters say almost under their breath as they uncover the truth about what's really going down. It all makes sense (barely) but you'll have to stay alert. The intricate screenplay was adapted by Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner from Robert L. Pike's novel "Mute Witness" and photographed by one of cinema's best "on location" cinematographer's William A. Fraker. Credit producer Philip D'Antoni and his ideas for the San Francisco locales and car chase as neither were part of the novel or original script.
It's the post-production contributors who really put the pedal to the metal starting with Frank P. Keller's inspired (and Academy Award winning) editing. Matched with John K. Kean's exceptional Academy Award nominated sound design and Lalo Schifrin's dazzling score, this crew drives their film to the winner's circle faster than a speeding 'Bullitt'. Bullitt will zoom past TCM Tuesday, February 6 at 3pm PST.
The caper film first laid its roots in The Asphalt Jungle previously reviewed here. The depth of its characters and their fascinating interactions as the drama builds to a cathartic resolution, is why this film has become one of America's finest cinematic achievements. The 'planning' will start on TCM the morning of Sunday, February 11 at 4am PST.
Another classic John Huston directed motion picture, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is indeed an unforgettable American treasure and a prior TCM recommendation here. Its cinematic storytelling riches can be uncovered on TCM Monday, February 12 at 10:45pm PST.
A true romance film and of the highest artistic calibre has been reviewed in Opening Up a Treasure: Brief Encounter. Director David Lean's emotionally stirring "encounter" will begin on Wednesday, February 14 at 8am PST.
One of David Lean's more ambitious projects may have turned out less artistically accomplished than its director intended. Still, it has many attributes making Doctor Zhivago well worth seeing. Afterwards, I'd be truly appreciative if readers had a look at my review here. This epic scale romance will begin Wednesday, February 14 at 9:30pm PST.
Recently in a Facebook film chat room someone asked which film was better, Casablanca or Citizen Kane. This caused me to think about their differences, more specifically their varied approach to dramatic storytelling, to which I responded:
"I think Casablanca for many, has a far more instantly recognisable appeal, including its characters some of whom possess highly emulative qualities. Its emotional pleas are up front and easy to assimilate. Citizen Kane has more complexity, flawed characters who are invested in the past, relationships that are changing and developing, mostly in a tragic way. Casablanca ends with heroic sacrifice and optimism. Kane is dire and ultimately about loss. Casablanca's highlights remind one of its pleasures, immediate and gratifying. Kane is a deeply contemplative journey, requiring a significant investment of thoughtful consideration on the viewer's part in order to uncover its enormous wealth of profound insight into human relations."
Both films are showing on TCM this month, Casablanca on Wednesday, February 28 at (late evening) 1:15am and Citizen Kane, previously recommended here, Thursday, February 15 at (late evening) 1am PST.
There are a couple of film noirs showing back to back that are both well worth seeing. First is director John Sturges' Mystery Street reviewed here. This CSI noir with a 'Hitchcockian' twist can be checked out Friday, February 16 at 10:30am PST.
Following Mystery Street is star Jimmy Cagney's foray into noir, White Heat. A criminal's mother-fixated pathology and the undercover cop trying to catch him are the topics of this previous recommendation here. TCM's screen will heat up Friday, February 16 at 12:30pm PST.
Bonnie and Clyde is a watershed gangster saga, re-imagined as the mythical romantic exploits of an impossibly gorgeous but infamous couple in crime. A prior review here includes a special contribution from Bob DiMucci who informatively reports on some of the film's critical responses at the time of its release. Following that, are my personal recollections at the tender age of 12 upon seeing this radically-new expeditious approach to American cinematic storytelling. The Barrow Gang will strike on TCM Saturday, February 17 at 11pm PST.
My next TCM recommendation is 1955's modern-day take on the American Western, Bad Day at Black Rock, previously reviewed here. This exceptional suspense-thriller's day will begin Saturday, February 24 at 11:15am PST.
After World War II, many returning servicemen were disillusioned to find jobs were scarce and their wives’ (or girlfriends’) faithfulness even scarcer. The Best Years of Our Lives addresses this reality head on when the Dana Andrews character finds it impossible to please either his previous employer or trophy wife upon his return to civilian life. Perhaps for this narrative distinction, authors Borde and Chaumeton in the filmography of their highly respected book Panorama of American Film Noir 1941 - 1953, and the first to be published on the subject, included The Best Years of Our Lives as film noir.
The film portrays no crime, the focus is not on Andrews’ experiences alone, and he comes out better off at the end without his superficial but admittedly gorgeous wife, which for myself, collectively place this film well outside of noir’s dark and gloomy world of illegal activity. Previously, I highly praised The Best Years of Our Lives for its exceptional musical score composed by Hugo Friedhofer in the first part of a series entitled Top Ten: Motion Picture Music Treasures. This emotionally powerful tour de force will commence on TCM Monday, February 26 at 5pm PST.
Anatomy of a Murder is one of the most authentic and enthralling courtroom dramas of all time. Previously reviewed here, the trial will begin Tuesday, February 27 at 12:00pm PST.
Casablanca is a film I've often recommended in the past. Sometimes, however, I catch some flack for not being as enamoured with this adored classic as the vast majority of viewers. For those who consider Casablanca to be one of the finest motion pictures ever made, just the inclusion in my series entitled Top Ten Fool's Gold: The Overrated can be objectionable enough to completely ignore my critique. In my defence, "Fool's Gold" only refers to the mineral pyrite, not to those who hold the film dear, and there are many qualities attributed to the motion picture contained in my review. In any event, please have a look at both the film and my write-up to see for yourself if my appraisal has merit. Casablanca is on TCM's itinerary for Wednesday, February 28 at (late evening) 1:15am PST.
TCM's current monthly schedule can be confirmed by clicking on the above image. For those who live in parts of the U.S. other than the western region, the time zone can be adjusted in the upper right-hand corner of TCM's programme.
This month's Happy Birthday shout-out goes to actor/director/writer John Turturro, who turns 61 on February 28th.
He's mostly know for his vividly portrayed, typically eccentric supporting characters in a wide variety of films including To Live and Die in L.A., Hannah and Her Sisters, The Color of Money, Do the Right Thing, State of Grace, Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, Quiz Show (for which he should have received an Academy Award nomination), O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Romance & Cigarettes (which he also wrote and directed), The Good Shepard, and The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009).
February's Soundtrack recommendation is The Silence of the Lambs composed by Howard Shore.
Quartet Records, MGM and Universal Music Group have released a remastered and expanded soundtrack of Howard Shore's (The Lord of the Rings, Ed Wood, Se7en, Eastern Promises, The Fly, etc.) incredibly atmospheric and haunting score to The Silence of the Lambs. Although for myself, the film has numerous deficiencies, the music is not one of them, quite the contrary: delivering the horror genre's prerequisite dread and uneasiness but in a lyrically sublime and sophisticated manner. This limited edition CD (only 1000 produced) has been supervised by Howard Shore and mastered by Doug Schwartz from the original two-track stereo session tapes, courtesy of MGM. It is available for pre-order from Screen Archives Entertainment. More information, including international ordering is available by clicking on the image.
This month's Blu-ray selection is the prior TCM recommendation Bullitt. Click on the image for more information on this Warner Bros. Region Free release that can be ordered from Amazon.com.