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The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

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The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

Edward M. Pio Roda

The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

Almost by definition, any festival dedicated exclusively to the treasures, glories, and the occasional folly of the past is likely to be visited by ghosts, and the spirits of the dead are practically a staple at the TCM Classic Film Festival, which held its eighth gathering in the heart of Hollywood this past weekend. The memory of the late Debbie Reynolds, who had made several in-person appearances at TCMFF over the past eight years, was invoked through yet another screening (the festival’s third) of the indisputable classic Singin’ in the Rain, in which Reynolds made her first big Hollywood splash back in 1952, and at a screening of Postcards from the Edge (classic status somewhat more disputable), before which Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher, were remembered fondly by Todd Fisher, Reynolds’s son.

Even though he wasn’t represented at the festival on screen, Don Rickles, who passed away on April 6, the festival’s opening day, couldn’t be ignored. Rickles’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located on Hollywood Boulevard across the street from the Chinese Theater complex, and as I made my way through the usual crush of tourists, desperadoes, and TCMFF pass holders toward my first screening on Thursday afternoon I wasn’t surprised to see the little square of sidewalk devoted to Rickles surrounded by flowers, curious bystanders, and entertainment reporters trolling for soundbites, and even adorned by one fan’s thoughtful memorial: a brand-new hockey puck.

The ghost that made its presence felt at almost every turn of this year’s festival belonged, of course, to TCM’s beloved host Robert Osborne, who died one month to the day before the launch of this year’s festival. Osborne began his Hollywood career in the early 1950s as an actor; his highest-profile moments were uncredited, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them appearances in Psycho and Spartacus. But his heart was never in it, and at the encouragement of Lucille Ball he abandoned acting and combined his love of movies and journalism to concentrate on writing and documenting Hollywood history, eventually becoming the genial, knowledgeable, silver-haired host who won the allegiance of TCM fans worldwide.

Review: Avatar

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Review: <em>Avatar</em>
Review: <em>Avatar</em>

James Cameron’s Avatar is through and through his baby—it promises a lot and, though it has very little in the way of stamina, it initially delivers in a big way. In the first hour, Cameron lets loose a barrage of technical wizardry that makes the film’s world one of the most dazzling and consistently engrossing cinematic fantasy lands of recent memory. Avatar doesn’t try to break any new ground with its generic story of a group of corporate commandos who seek to steal an indigenous alien population’s natural resources. At its core, the film is a cookie-cutter story of a soldier who switches sides once he finds out, as a lanky nude smurf, how green the grass is. Cameron is all too happy to be so conventional. He has the technology and knows he only has to use it to build a better jungle world of noble alien savages. He’s not the genre messiah, but clearly it doesn’t hurt to hype him up as such.

Cameron knows the viewer will recognize Avatar’s story from elsewhere, whether as the love affair between John Smith and Pocahontas or almost all of Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (don’t judge me) and so tries to dazzle the viewer with “shock and awe,” as one scientist-cum-soldier puts it, laying bare both the film’s political context and aesthetic strategy. From there, once it’s successfully dazzled the viewer with enough technological firepower to keep Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay busy for several lifetimes, it’s mission should be, ahem, accomplished.