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Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 12:21 am

Chuck's Classic Movie Picks 8/25 - 8/31

Classic Pick of the Week - The Magnificent Ambersons  (1942)

Orson Welles was more than up to the task of following up Citizen Kane (1941) as he planned to make a sweeping, familial saga set at the turn of the century by adapting Booth Tarkington’s novel The Magnificent Ambersons.  Unfortunately, the studio heads at RKO didn’t share his vision as they butchered the film – excising some 40 minutes without his approval -  while he was working on his next project in South America.  And yet, despite its truncated form, Welles’ genius is still evident in this tale of a rich family who suddenly finds its fortunes fading when they prove incapable of changing with the times. Tim Holt and Agnes Moorehead deliver poignant performances as the two family members who are ultimately left with nothing but the director’s innovations shine.  Watch for his sweeping camera moves, a conversation that takes place over the course of three floors in the Amberson house, all in one unbroken take and the distinctive lighting that conveys all that the characters are not.  Just ignore the happy ending – that was not Welles’ idea. TCM – 4:00 PM – Sunday

Tuesday – August 26thDirector Peter Bogdanovich first came to prominence as a film critic who championed the great filmmakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age. With Paper Moon (1973), airing at 5:40am on the Retroplex Channel, he emulates and pays homage to John Ford and Howard Hawks while making a name for himself in this Depression-era tale about Moses Pray, a conman (a never-better Ryan O’Neal) who is suddenly saddled with Addie (Oscar-winner Tatum O’Neal) a precocious young girl who may be his daughter.  Their odyssey throughout the Midwestern states has them selling Bibles to vulnerable widows as well as aiming for higher marks when the opportunity presents itself.  Madeline Kahn gives a wonderful supporting performance as a desperate woman they travel with for a time while the relationship the develops between Moses and Addie is never forced, making it all the more poignant as the film reaches its moving climax. Laszlo Kovacs’ evocative black-and-white cinematography is beautiful to behold, providing a nostalgic lens through which we see this more innocent time.

Wednesday – August 27th – One of Paul Newman’s finest performances is featured in The Verdict (1982), showing at 12:00pm on the Retroplex Channel.  As down-and-out Boston attorney Frank Galvin, the actor pulls out all the stops to deliver a moving performance of a man seeking one last chance to realize his potential and it falls into his lap in the form of a medical malpractice suit, which the hospital responsible wishes to settle quietly out of court.  The lawyer has other plans and takes the case to trial, hoping to put the institution’s negligence in the spotlight while extracting an even bigger payday.  James Mason provides able support as the opposing council while Jack Warden is on hand as Galvin’s one remaining ally.  More than anything, this proves that Newman was far more than just another handsome face, able to dig deep to bring forth this man’s sense of despair… Another great performance drives White Heat (1949) airing at 5:00 pm on TCM.  James Cagney gives a career-defining turn as the psychotic gangster Cody Jarrett, a small-time crook looking for a big time score.  However, the only thing standing in his way is his own temper and the fact that he has debilitating migraine headaches.  That he and his mother (Margaret Wycherly) have an Oedipal relationship certainly doesn’t help.  The force of Cagney’s personality drives this film as he fully embraces Jarrett’s faults proving bigger than life in a prison scene in which he reacts to some very bad news and the unforgettable climax when he finally makes it to the top of the world. Not to be missed…William Wyler won the Oscar for Best Director in 1959 for his work on Ben-Hur.  However, I would argue that the film he made the year before, The Big Country (1958) showing at 5:00 pm on the MGM-HD Channel is just as good if not better than that Biblical epic. Gregory Peck is James McKay, an Easterner who comes to the West only to find himself involved in a feud between two families over a valuable piece of property.  There’s a visual sweep to this film that’s astounding as Wyler’s intention was to see that the movie lived up to its title, ultimately showing that the conflict waged by the little men fighting over it is of little consequence.  This is driven home expertly during a fight scene between Peck and Charlton Heston that’s quietly executed as Wyler’s camera moves back in a series of shots to emphasize how puny their concerns are.  Burl Ives won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance and deservedly so, as he dominates each scene he’s in as Rufus Hannassey, a driven man who’ll stop at nothing to get what he thinks he deserves. 

Thursday – August 28th – While Crimes and Misdemeanors, showing at 4:25 am on Encore Suspense may not be Woody Allen’s best film, it remains my favorite because its his only work that combines his bitter sense of humor with an examination of the existential questions that dog him.  Following two storylines that brilliantly converge in the end, the viewer’s initial focus is on ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal (a great Martin Landau) who fears his life and reputation will be ruined if his unstable mistress (Angelica Huston) follows through on telling his wife about their affair.  Meanwhile, unemployed filmmaker Cliff Stern (Allen) is, as a favor, given a job to make a documentary about his insufferable brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda), a comedic genius whose career is at its height.  Both men make decisions that come back to haunt them while the ultimate irony that arises in both tales as they come together will have you doing exactly what Allen has tried often to do but rarely succeeded fully in achieving, namely contemplating our purpose and the impact of our actions…There’s no question that Moonstruck (1987) airing at 11:00 pm on the MGM-HD Channel is one of the great screen love stories and that as improbable as they seem as a couple, Cher and Nicolas Cage do light up the screen. However, what’s often forgotten about the film are the wonderful supporting characters it contains and the great cast assembled to bring them to life.  As Loretta and Ronny try to come to terms with their romance and figure out a way to break the news to his brother Johnny (Danny Aiello), her father Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) is engaged in an affair, while his neglected wife Rose (Olympia Dukakis) contemplates stepping out on her own with a cynical university professor (John Mahoney).  It’s no wonder the film garnered six Oscar nominations, three of them for acting with Cher and Dukakis taking home their respective trophies.  However, the whip-smart writing from John Patrick Shanley, also an Academy Award winner, is what separates this from other love stories as he deftly combines the story’s pathos, passion and humor in equal measure.

Friday – August 29th – It’s too bad that Nicolas Cage has become a bit of a joke in some circles.  While he is less than discriminating at times where choosing intelligent scripts is concerned, he never gives less than 100% in each and every performance he gives.  One of his very best can be found in Adaptation (2002) showing at 5:35 am on the Indieplex Channel. Cage takes on the dual role of twins Charlie and Donald Kaufman, one a floundering screenwriter, the other a rather directionless, likable sort who always lands on his feet. The complex narrative also delves into the life of author Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep), whose book The Orchid Thief Charlie is trying to adapt, as well as the subject of her narrative John Laroche (Oscar-winner Chris Cooper), whose life took on meaning once he began to cultivate orchids.  Wryly funny, the movie’s theme, about our need to change as our life throws us curveballs is driven home by Cage in the dual role as each of the characters he portrays comes to a different end due to their differing point of view where this theory is concerned.



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