If basic cable channels continue to churn out original movies as diverting as a trio of films premiering this week, the premium movie channels (HBO/Cinemax, Showtime and The Movie Channel) have cause for worry.
Earlier this week, TNT's "Forgotten Prisoners: The Amnesty Files" featured Ron Silver in an absorbing based-on-truth story about the work of Amnesty International in fighting political torture around the world. (It gets weekend repeats at 10 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday.)
Now come "Running Against Time" on the USA Network at 9 tonight and "Storm and Sorrow" on Lifetime at 9 p.m. tomorrow. Here are capsule reviews:
* "Storm and Sorrow" tomorrow is the better film, a compelling, fact-based story set in the high-risk, big-ego world of international mountain climbing. Lori Singer stars as Molly Higgens, a rock climber who joined an American expedition in 1974 to climb the high peaks of the Pamir Range of the Soviet Union, near the border of China and Afghanistan. The expedition marked the first time the Soviets permitted outsiders in to climb.
Actually filmed at high altitude in Austria (and on a refrigerated set in Hungary), the movie persuasively evokes the macho-competitive atmosphere of outdoors expeditioning, as Higgens strives to win acceptance among her hotshot climbing counterparts. It also projects pretty well the dangerous pride of nationalism.
Even better, the climbing scenes seem chillingly authentic. Indeed, long sequences of glacial ascents are punctuated only by the wind and the gasping breath of parka-clad climbers, to the point that viewers may find themselves shivering and out of breath.
It would be unfair to reveal too much more, except to say that some of the climbing groups meet tragedy and that the dangers of avalanches and summit storms are presented with terrifying vividness. (The film repeats Nov. 24, 27 and 30 and Dec. 3.)
* "Running Against Time" is really something of a mess, but its central idea is intriguing and timely enough to overcome its flaws: What would the world have been like if President Kennedy had not been assassinated 27 years ago tomorrow?
Robert Hays stars as a history professor who lost a brother in the Vietnam War and is convinced that if JFK had lived he would have ended American involvement in the tragic conflict. He discovers that another professor (Sam Wanamaker) is tinkering with time travel, and it takes no great imagination to guess the rest: Hays, his TV-reporter girlfriend (Catherine Hicks) and the professor ultimately journey back to 1963 to try to change history.