August 27, 2014

Weekend 'star turns' to watch at home

What’s on your family’s movie menu this week? 

Choosing what films to offer is a lot like planning what meals to serve. And all the choices on television make it easy to savor something at the same time you nourish the mind and heart. 

This week, cable offers a range of nutritious movies. Here are a few choices.

As we wait for the weather to warm up for good, check out these star vehicles that never fail to generate heat.

Robert Redford is a CIA agent having a bad afternoon in Sydney Pollack’s classic thriller from 1974, Three Days of the Condor, to be broadcast at 8 p.m. Friday, May 10, on Sundance. By day, Redford reads books for the agency, searching for clues of espionage, identifying potential threates. When he accidentally stumbles on a secret operation, he and his coworkers become immediate targets. Told in a consistent rhythm that never lets up, with Redford at his most engaging, Condor stands the test of time by focusing on its characters and story, reminding us that a film doesn’t need special effects to create real suspense. Look for Max von Sydow in one of his most interesting film roles as a sinister killer for hire.

Faye Dunaway, who shares the screen with Redford in Condor, captures all the attention as the legendary Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, airing Sunday, May 12, at 12 noon on IFC. Based on the autobiography by Crawford’s daughter Christina, the film supposedly recreates the turbulent relationship between the famous actress and her adopted child. But Dunaway chews so much scenery, and director Frank Perry exaggerates the characters and situations beyond authenticity, that the film becomes a camp comedy rather than the serious drama the creators may have been intended. But it’s a lot of fun.

Rosalind Russell is the ultimate stage mother in Gypsy, the film adaptation of the Broadway hit. Playing the mother of future burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee, in a role created on stage by Ethel Merman, Russell brings her cinema force to a portrayal of a woman so focused on herself that she fails to give her daughters what they really need. And, while Russell relies upon an unseen Lisa Kirk to do most of her vocals, the passion she brings to the role makes us believe in this woman. Natalie Wood costars in one of her most natural, least affected performances. And she does sing her own songs! Look for Gypsy at 2:30 p.m. Sunday on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

Lana Turner is a mother with a heart of steel in the soap opera Peyton Place, broadcast on TCM at 5:15 p.m. Sunday. As a woman “with a past” determined to raise a daughter with a wholesome reputation, Turner demonstrates why she was a major star for more than three decades. Few other stars could suggest so much by doing so little; what her performances lack in depth they delight with suggestion. Savor Turner in her only Oscar-nominated role in this adaptation of the Grace Metalious best seller.

Jack Nicholson delivers his first Oscar-winning performance in the Best Picture of 1975, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, showing at 1 p.m., Saturday, May 11, on ION. The film introduces us to McMurphy, a psychiatric patient who dares to challenge a hospital’s authority. By focusing on one man’s struggle with control and discipline, the film challenges social conventions of respect and tolerance. Nicholson brings such spontaneity to the character that he makes the film feel improvised rather than rehearsed. And Louise Fletcher is chilling as a nurse trying to do her job. Or not.

Serving nutritious movies can be as easy as turning on the television. And be sure, as you watch together, to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching movies together can prompt valuable family discussions.