By John Seal
February 13, 2012
9:25 AM Starz in Black
Ill Gotten Gains (1998 USA): I’m not sure why this searing and at times surreal drama of Middle Passage horror doesn’t get more love than it does, but I recommend it highly. Djimon Hounsou made his big screen debut here as Fyah, a West African man sold into slavery and preparing for a new life in the New World within the belly of a slave ship. The action takes place almost entirely aboard the slaver Argon Miss (a character itself, inhabited by the unseen presence of Eartha Kitt), where Fyah and his compatriots await the arrival of a final shipment of cargo: 60 additional men and women intended for bondage across the ocean. Though filmed on a very low budget, Ill Gotten Gains was shot on the same replica cutter used in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad, lending it a verisimilitude it otherwise couldn’t have afforded.
7:30 PM Turner Classic Movies
The Desert Rats (1953 USA): Richard Burton headlines this exciting and well-made war flick directed by the legendary Robert Wise. Burton plays the fictional Tammy McRoberts, a Scotsman commanding a mixed bag of ANZAC (Australia, New Zealand and Canadian) troops tasked with the defense of the besieged city of Tobruk (a burg back in the news again during last year’s Libyan Revolution). Can his troops see off the Nazi threat, or will the crack troops of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel (James Mason, reprising his role in 1951’s The Desert Fox) sweep all before them? Don’t be too certain you know the answer in advance, as Tobruk changed hands several times during World War II’s North African campaign!
1:10 AM Starz
Attack the Block (2011 GB): One of the best horror flicks of the last few years makes its American television debut this morning. Written and directed by newcomer Joe Cornish, the story revolves around a youthful group of South London hoodies who find themselves the last line of defense during an alien invasion of Planet Earth - but there’s a deeper, darker secret being concealed by the invasion, as our youthful if somewhat uncouth heroes will soon discover. Set in and around a fictional sink estate, Attack the Block allows Cornish to display his deep knowledge of and love for genre flicks whilst avoiding the excesses of Tarantino. Also airs at 4:10 AM.
4:10 AM Cinemax
The Prisoner of Zenda (1979 USA): This isn’t a particularly good version of the classic Anthony Hope novel, but it rarely appears on television and was until very recently unavailable on home video, so I’ll give it a mention. Peter Sellers - only months away from his Oscar nominated performance in Being There - is triple cast as two men of noble birth and a working joe named Syd Frewin. London cabbie Syd bears a striking resemblance to King Rudolf of Ruritania, and when Rudolf is kidnapped his subjects convince the taxi man to masquerade as their monarch whilst negotiations and rescue plans proceed on the downlow. Mild and saucy hilarity ensues when Syd falls for Princess Flavia (Lynne Frederick, aka Mrs. Sellers). Amongst the stellar supporting cast are Elke Sommer, Lionel Jeffries, Gregory Sierra, and Norman Rossington. Too bad Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ screenplay isn’t up to their usual high standard. Also airs at 7:10 AM.
12:00 PM Cinemax
Terror Tract (2000 USA): Are you ready for a double bill of terror films with the word "terror" in their titles? Start off with Terror Tract, an enjoyable horror anthology similar in many ways to Amicus’ Tales From the Crypt features. Instead of The Cryptkeeper, however, there’s real estate agent Bob Carter (John Ritter), who in the course of closing sales relates bonechilling tales of previous householders’ spooky encounters. Quite why he thinks that’s going to help him earn his commission, I’m not sure, but it makes for a fun, old-fashioned thrill ride. Also airs at 3:00 PM, and later in the day you can enjoy...
6:00 PM The Movie Channel
Terror Trap (2010 USA): ...a somewhat less successful story of an unfortunate automobile accident and the goings on at a creepy motel. It’s predictable and unoriginal material (Vacancy, anyone?) but benefits from a better cast than it deserves, including Michael Madsen and Jeff Fahey. Also airs at 9:00 PM.
10:15 PM The Movie Channel
Mala Noche (1986 USA): Gus Van Sant’s first feature length film, Mala Noche heralded the arrival of a significant new talent. Shot in gritty black and white, the film tells the story of a down and out city dweller (Tim Streeter) who’s struggling to come to terms with his passionate lust for a Mexican immigrant (Ray Monge) who doesn’t really know how to cope with the advances of the gay gringo. The film feels like an early ‘50s noir with a post-Stonewall sensibility, and though the dramatic developments are few and far between is never less than compelling. Also airs at 1:15 AM.