From the obscure to the obscurest to the merely overlooked or underappreciated; they all have a home in the TiVoPlex! All times Pacific.
TiVoPlex for Tuesday through Monday
By John Seal
February 20, 2012
3:30 AM HBO Signature
Leo’s Room (2009 URU-ARG): A young Uruguayan comes to terms with his sexuality in this sensitive if not particularly groundbreaking drama. Martin Rodriguez plays Leo, a happy go lucky chappy who’s as gay as a jaybird but only just beginning to realize he’s a bit different from most of the other lads. Though ostensibly involved with a member of the opposite sex, Leo finds their relationship strangely unsatisfying, and spends far too much time watching gladiator movies, Greco-Roman wrestling, and makeover shows. An encounter with an old school chum (Cecilia Cosero) contending with serious problems of her own provides him the kick in the pants he needs to finally emerge from the closet, and a chance encounter with hunky Sebastian (Gerardo Begerez) doesn’t hurt, either. Rodriguez and Begerez deliver excellent performances, and director Enrique Bechichio’s screenplay intelligent if predictable.
5:00 PM Turner Classic Movies
The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954 MEX): Irish-born Dan O’Herlihy plays literature’s most famous castaway in Luis Bunuel’s excellent (if rather straightforward) adaptation of Daniel Defoe’s classic novel. Crusoe, of course, is a fictional 17th-century English sailor who survives the shipwreck of his vessel - a slave ship - by swimming to the shore of an uncharted desert isle. Living on the cheap and surviving off supplies salvaged from the wreck, Crusoe spends a lonely 18 years on the island - a sojourn that comes to an end when he makes not-so-common cause with Friday (Jaime Fernandez, brother of director Emilio), who’s escaped the malicious clutches of a pair of cannibals. The film is hugely enjoyable, and Bunuel still manages to work in a little of his trademark surreal cheekiness via some wacky dream sequences. The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe comes highly recommended, especially for O’Herlihy’s Oscar nominated lead performance.
1:00 AM Cinemax
Big Top Pee-Wee (1989 USA): Back in the day - when I was a wee bit more svelte than I am now - people would sometimes mistake me for Pee-Wee Herman. Well, they knew I wasn’t the real Pee-Wee, of course, but if I put on a vintage '60s suit there was a slight resemblance - and such was the ubiquity of Paul Reuben’s character at the time that the same folks who’d previously been shouting "Devo!" at me easily transferred their loyalties to the new pejorative. (Then there were the people who would yell "Mickey Mouse!" at me. I don’t even want to get into what that was about.) Which is my long, roundabout way of getting to Big Top Pee-Wee, to date the last big screen appearance of porn fan Reuben’s famous character. This time, our bow-tied hero has a career: farming land on the edge of a town populated by extremely grumpy people. Pee-Wee, of course, is the polar opposite, and with the help of pig companion Vance tends his flock of cattle and harvests the hot dog trees once the fruit ripens. In other words, it’s an idyllic existence - until a storm blows a circus onto Pee-Wee’s property, at which point you can figuratively hear Mickey Rooney yelling, ‘Hey kids! Let’s put on a show!’ The film lacks Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure’s spark of genius, but a good supporting cast - including Susan Tyrrell, Kris Kristofferson, and Benicio del Toro (in his film debut as Duke the Dog-Faced Boy) - cushions the blow. Also airs at 4:00 AM.
10:30 AM Showtime
Monsters (2010 USA): Here’s a shockingly good sci-fi movie from writer-director Gareth Edwards. Taking its cues from films such as Cloverfield (but avoiding that film’s shaky cam excesses), Monsters stars Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able as a pair of gringos stranded in Mexico during an alien invasion. McNairy plays Andrew Kaulder, a photo-journalist hired by a wealthy man to accompany his daughter (Able) back to the relative safety of the United States. The aliens, however, are seriously impeding travel, and the two encounter a series of perils in their journey home, including a money-grubbing travel agent who keeps changing his prices. This is not a goofy monster movie; it’s a serious story with a political sub-text, and was one of the nicest low budget surprises of 2010. Also airs at 1:30 AM.
12:20 AM HBO Signature
Secrets of the Tribe (2010 GB-BRA): The effect of modern civilization on Brazil’s isolated Yanomami aboriginal tribe is the subject of this outstanding documentary directed by Jose Padilha (Bus 174). "Discovered" by the outside world in the 1960s, the Yanomami became an instant hit on the anthropological circuit, attracting attention from academics both home and abroad. A slew of books and academic papers duly followed, but Secrets of the Tribe questions the wisdom and necessity of the scientific intrusion: warfare, disease, and discord were just some of the gifts given by anthropologists to the Yanomami. The film gives full vent to the still ongoing ethical debate, offering a no holds barred look at academic infighting.
5:40 AM HBO Signature
Sin Retorno (2010 ARG): Leonardo Sparaglia headlines this top-notch Argentinean meller about a man accused of a crime he didn’t commit - in this case, a fatal hit and run accident. Innocent driver Federico Samaniego (Sbaraglia) has taken the rap, but there’s a wrinkle: Federico initially did hit bicyclist Pablo (Agustin Vazquez) but a mysterious second driver finished the job. The victim’s father (Pan’s Labyrinth’s Federico Luppi), however, wants someone to take responsibility for his son’s death, and Federico is a convenient goat. An assured debut for director Miguel Cohan, Sin Retorno earned him the "Best First Work" prize at the Argentinean Oscars.
11:50 AM Showtime
Freakonomics (2011 USA): It didn’t get the best critical reception, but this documentary adaptation of the best-seller of the same name strikes me as being more than adequate. Some folks may have been put off by the anthology format, as the film consists of six stylistically similar but substantively different short subjects. The highlight for me is Morgan Spurlock’s A Roshanda By Any Other Name, which examines how names effect perception and treatment of individuals. Let’s just say calling your child "Temptress" is not going to do that child any favors once adulthood arrives. Alex Gibney’s entry, Pure Corruption, also offers fascinating and unexpected insight into the world of sumo wrestling. The conceit binding the shorts together may be an artificial one, but that doesn’t make Freakonomics any less interesting. Also airs at 2:50 PM.
3:00 PM Turner Classic Movies
Bless the Beasts and the Children (1971 USA): Though I’ve never seen this film, I am quite familiar with its Oscar-nominated, Carpenters-performed theme song. Even though it wasn’t a top ten hit, that thing seemed to be all over the radio back in 1971, and though I probably haven’t heard it in the 40 years since, it permanently imprinted itself on my impressionable little nine-year-old brain. I can still sing it today, and odds are it’ll be what I’m singing as I sink into an Alzheimer's-induced haze some 30 or 40 years hence. As for the film, it was directed by Stanley Kramer and stars Billy Mumy as a teenage boy partial to bison. No, neither in the sexual nor gustatory sense.
1:30 AM Turner Classic Movies
Pieces of Dreams (1970 USA): Pieces of Dreams plays like an afterschool special writ large or an overambitious TV movie of the week. Robert Forster is a hip young priest in Albuquerque, Lauren Hutton an attractive young social worker, and together they make beautiful if decidedly profane music. Forster tries to balance his love for Hutton with his love for the Church, but must come to terms with his pledge of celibacy (a rule that the Monsignor, played by Will Geer, confidently predicts will soon be changed or eliminated!). The film tries to be honest and earnest but is predictable every step of the way, complete with happy ending and cloying theme song (which somehow lucked into an Oscar nomination). There's even an acid head in granny glasses waiting to be saved by Forster. Overall, it’s a relatively painless but not terribly inspiring 90 minutes.
3:00 PM Turner Classic Movies
The House of the Seven Gables (1940 USA): Vincent Price stars in this excellent adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel. Price plays Clifford Pyncheon, a forward-looking young composer who wants to sell the gloomy old family pile he and his brother have inherited. Unfortunately for Clifford, elder brother Jaffray (George Sanders at his oily and malicious apex) wants to keep the house, and is willing to go to any lengths - including framing his brother for the murder of their father (Gilbert Emery) - to do so. And then there’s cousin Hepzibah (Margaret Lindsay), who has her own ideas about the real estate. Twenty years later, Clifford is freed from jail, but Jaffray isn’t done with him yet, and he schemes anew to send his sibling to an insane asylum. Directed by Austrian émigré Joe May (The Indian Tomb), this is a ripe and entertaining piece of American Gothic.