Coming Soon in 2015…

Hello again, everyone.

In my first post of the year, I mentioned that I wasn’t going to be supplying a list of movies I’ll be watching for Cinema Shame. However, it soon proved hard to look at the stacks and stacks of unwatched DVDs I have hanging around and not start making a watchlist. A number of titles immediately leaped into my head, and I soon found the number growing to 12 and beyond. I figured that I needed to at least keep a record of the titles as a reminder, so why not here? I don’t have a schedule for the flms; these are just the ones that I want to watch this year. So, in no particular order, here are my 2015 titles:

1. The Eiger Sanction (1975)

2. Play Misty For Me (1971)

3. The Beguiled (1971)

4. Notorious (1946)

5. Rebecca (1940)

6. Spellbound (1945)

7. The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

8. Safety Last! (1923)

9. The Uninvited (1944)

10. Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964)

11. In Harm’s Way (1965)

12. Island in the Sky (1953)

13. The High and the Mighty (1954)

14. Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)

15. The Ipcress File (1965)

16. Funeral in Berlin (1966)

17. Billion Dollar Brain (1967)

These are the ones that first came to mind. Other unwatched films I have in my collection are:

The Falcon and The Snowman (1985)

The Game (1997)

Suddenly! (1954)

Miller’s Crossing (1990)

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

The Dain Curse (1978 TV mini-series)

Ed Wood (1994)

These films are just the tip of the iceberg. I confess that I’m a movie hoarder: I’d much rather buy a film I might be interested in on the off chance I’d watch it than leave it. This year, though, I want to better myself and move from being a movie hoarder to a movie collector.

I love film. Now, I want to learn to enjoy it.

January 2015 – Devil In A Blue Dress (1995)

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I’ve long been a fan of crime fiction.  Most of the books I read growing up were the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming, & Agatha Christie, to name a few.  It was a decidedly English upbringing, with works from Stephen King and Robert Ludlum to add some American flavour. As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve been drawn to the hardboiled world of the American pulps.  I’ve amassed quite a collection of them over the years, and I’ve discovered American writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. This broadening exposure has, in turn, influenced my movie watching.  I recently picked up Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, and it absolutely blew me away.

Devil in a Blue Dress, written in 1990, was the first book in his series about Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins, a Black ex-soldier in LA in 1948.  Fired from his job at an airplane factory, Easy needs money to pay the mortgage on his house.  A friend introduces him to a man looking for a woman.  The woman, Daphne Monet,  is the girlfriend of a politician, and she’s disappeared. She’s a white woman, and has been known to frequent some of the black clubs of LA, so the man needs someone to search for her in the clubs white men can’t, or won’t, get into. Easy reluctantly agrees, and he soon finds himself mixed up in some very serious murders. Things go from bad to worse when an old friend of Easy’s appears, a sociopathic killer from Houston by the name of Mouse.  The book pulls no punches in showing the racism of LA in the era, and the result is one of the best mysteries of all time.  The book was optioned and, in 1995, was released as a film of the same name, starring Denzel Washington, Jennifer Beals and Don Cheadle.

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The film, while keeping the basic premise of the book, goes its own way with the story, delivering a solid, hardboiled film. The story in the film is a lot less complicated as the one in the book, but still manages to pack a punch. Denzel Washington as Easy is very much the Easy of the book: he owns his own home, and he’s desperate to hold onto it. Searching for Daphne seems simple enough, but events quickly escalate, and his desperation turns into a determination to come out with something more.  Jennifer Beals is very appealing as Daphne Monet, and recalls the era of vintage femme fatales very nicely. As Mouse, Don Cheadle brings in a very cool performance. Rounding out the cast are Tom Sizemore as Albright Easy’s client (and a man almost as dangerous as Mouse), and Maury Chaykin as mayoral candidate Matthew Terell.

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 Like the book, the film is told from the perspective of Easy, using narration to move the story along. If it has a drawback, it’s writer/director Carl Franklin’s more stylized expressions of Easy’s thoughts.  On a couple of occasions, Easy’s narration is overshadowed by flashbacks or visions.  I assume they’re there to add poignancy to his words, but for me, they were just a distraction and unnecessary. The film works as a hardboiled look at racism in post-WW II LA, and the flashbacks really add nothing to the story. Nitpick aside, though, this was a great modern take on a classic genre.

Dirty Dozen – July Mission – It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

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As a pop culture addict, there are a few movies which I know only by the way they’re portrayed in other media. Taxi Driver is one; It’s A Wonderful Life is another. I’ve never felt the need to watch IAWL before because I was sure that I already knew the story: salt of the earth George Bailey finds himself in a financial jam on Christmas Eve, tries to kill himself only to be saved both by his guardian angel and his friends. The whole group then goes down to Mr. Potter’s office and wreaks revenge on the miserly old bastard. As you can tell, my supposed understanding of IAWL mostly comes from the old SNL sketch about the film’s lost ending. I fully expected the film to be complete and utter schmaltz, and thus, to be avoided. After watching it over the weekend, though, I am happy to say that my expectations were wrong: It’s A Wonderful Life was endearing, and not as schmaltzy as I’d believed it to be.
What surprised me the most about It’s A Wonderful Life is that the guardian angel part of the story took up remarkably little screen time. It is there from the start, but doesn’t fully come into play with about half an hour left in the film. I was expecting something roughly akin to the flashbacks Ebenezer Scrooge experienced in A Christmas Carol. Instead, the film tells George Bailey’s life story in sequence, from his time as a young boy up to his adulthood. Jimmy Stewart is a wonderful actor, and George Bailey is certainly one of his most iconic roles. Stewart portrays him as good natured to a fault, a man who had plans for his life. Over the course of the movie, we watch him as his plans fall by the wayside one at a time, the result of events overtaking him. Stewart plays these moments incredibly well, showing the small cracks in his demeanour. It makes Bailey a much more relatable character to me than I would have expected.
Another part of the film that surprised me was the way George’s courtship with Mary (Donna Reed was portrayed. For a film that’s primarily known as a holiday classic, the courtship was remarkably more adult and flirtatious than I’d have expected. I’m thinking in particular of the walk home from the dance after they fell in the pool. They played the scene perfectly, with humour and endearment. Their whole relationship, in fact, is the chief reason I liked It’s A Wonderful Life so much. In lesser hands, the portrayals of Mary and George could have been your typical Hollywood romance. With Reed and Stewart, however, there is a grounding of the two that made them feel much more real to me. They acted like people, not characters, which was refreshing. I’d loved to have seen more of that kind of acting in the film.
One of the things I didn’t like about It’s A Wonderful Life was that, when you look past the immediate household of George and Mary, the movie is stocked with characters who are decidedly less grounded. For example, let’s look at Uncle Billy. His forgetfulness was pushed to the extreme, and there was the oddity of his having a raven as a pet. I understand that the Baileys were supposed to be non-businessmen, but his quirks made him a decidedly one-note character. The same can also be said for Mr. Potter. He is the archetype Hollywood villain, the bitter old millionaire. We know everything about George Bailey, but nothing about Potter other than what we see on screen. It would have been nice to learn something else about him, but we don’t. We don’t even get proper closure at the end. I’m not saying I’d have wanted to see a SNL-type ending, but I’d have hoped for something. But, in the end, It’s A Wonderful Life succeeds because of Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, who are certainly one of the most watchable couples in movies history

2001: A Space Odyssey. I See Why People Admire It. Really, I Do.

It’s taken me a while to write about 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ll confess — this movie makes me tired. As I said in my title, I can recognize the things that make it an interesting and significant film, even an awe-inspiring one, but its slow, deliberate pace and somewhat downbeat tone make it rather long and weary haul for me. Another confession — French cinema, however challenging I may find it, is an open book to me compared to the films of Stanley Kubrick. (Though I’ve only seen two others — Lolita and The Shining).  This despite the fact the interweb tells me that no other filmmaker has been as extensively quoted by The Simpsons (see my post on The 400 Blows).

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I’m very glad I went back and listened to the commentary track by the movie’s stars, Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, whose enthusiasm for the project is still strong after all these years. I love Lockwood’s story about how he told his football coaches at UCLA he had a traffic court appearance in another city so he could ditch practice and go see Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957) instead. I like his stories about sci-fi conventioneers bringing in models of things from the movie they’ve painstakingly reconstructed via freeze frame. I should also say I’m puzzled by his reference to the number of people who’ve told him they went into computer science because of this film (though, looked at another way, that explains a lot about people in IT…)

So, what’s it about? There’s a big, black rectangle (or maybe multiple rectangles). One of them lands on prehistoric earth, panicking the local proto-humans but also somehow inspiring them to figure out tool use. (Which goes badly for the local tapir population — I thought the tapirs were adorable. There should be more tapirs in cinema).

Then, in the year 2001, humans find another rectangle on the moon. This rectangle sends out a piercing high-pitched tone (which sent the cat running from the room on my first viewing). In the movie’s version of 2001, you get to the moon via Pan Am, which is a nicely anachronistic touch. Also, people seem to care passionately about the design of their chairs, but to have lost interest in food, apparently being content with mushy ersatz stuff in TV-dinner trays.Image

A few months later, a space mission sets off for Jupiter (apparently where the signal came from), manned by Gary Lockwood, Keir Dullea, and the famous computer HAL, who becomes paranoid and homicidal once they’re in space. Eventually Dullea makes it to Jupiter on his own, there’s a long sound-and-light sequence, and then Dullea spends the rest of his life in a Louis-XVI style suite with an illuminated floor. When he dies the rectangle visits him, and then he turns into a giant embryo in the sky.

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I realize this summary probably sounds a bit dismissive, but the power of the movie is in its sounds and images, not in the narrative. Or to put it another way, that story one of my English teachers told about hippies dropping acid and then lying down at the base of the screen for yet another viewing back in the day make more sense now.

Certainly, the movie was constantly quoted in the visual culture of my childhood — especially the monolith (as the rectangle is properly referred called) landing among the apemen as Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra plays. You can now recreate that and other scenes with this monolith action figure, if you’re so inclined: Image

Apparently, the monolith represents an infinitely more advanced extraterrestrial intelligence; supposedly Kubrick went in this more abstract direction after Carl Sagan warned him off bug-eyed aliens. Kubrick’s collaborator on the script was Arthur C. Clarke, based on a short story, “The Sentinel” Clarke had written in 1948 (and which Keir Dullea remembered reading as a sci-fi-obsessed teen).

It’s a truly impressive film. Yet I can also sympathize with those critics who, at the time of its release, had no idea what to make of it. (Pauline Kael hated it — no surprise there). I can see how and why it became a cultural touchstone, but I’m probably not going to watch it from beginning to end again very soon.

Fairly random postscript: While I understand Kubrick got there first with the “Dawn of Man” section of 20012001_0002[1]

… I still have a great fondness for the desert-primeval opening sequence of Paul Schrader’s much-maligned 1982 remake of Cat People (whose no-holds-barred looniness deserves to be more widely appreciated).

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Thanks for the Invitation, Sorry I’m a Bit…Late by @ArrayJackson

So I’m late getting to the party. Hopefully I’m still fashionably late without being embarrassingly late. But isn’t that the point of Cinema Shame? We’re all a little late getting to a party that we believe is worth attending for some particular reason, and the embarrassment of our tardiness has evolved to…shame.

I’m thankful my hosts were gracious enough to not only extend the invitation, but to open the door about a month after the party started, and to allow me to enter, shamed, but with style.

The parties I’d like to attend (yes, I made it to the January and February bashes, and they were swell):

January: To Catch a Thief – 1955 (Saw this on Cary Grant’s Birthday)
February: The Great Race – 1965
March: Midnight – 1939 (Highly recommended by my host @007hertrumble)
April: Lawrence of Arabia – 1962
May: City Lights – 1931
June: Breakfast at Tiffany’s – 1961
July: Birth of a Nation – 1915
August: Rififi – 1955
September: Cabaret – 1972
October: Blade Runner – 1982
November: Sunset Boulevard – 1950
December: Dr. Strangelove – 1964

Naming and Shaming @MrRumsey

Having just sat down to compile this list I have been somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer amount of highly regarded films which I really ought to have seen by now. I already feel well and truly shamed. Do I have to publish this online? Oh well, there’s a mixture of time periods and styles in there which should keep things varied, I am embarrassed to admit one of these as I’m a huge Sergio Leone fan, and I’m pretty certain that I’ve saved the worst until last. Enjoy my embarrassment!

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Nosferatu (1922)

Goodfellas (1990)

City Lights (1931)

The Apartment (1960)

Chinatown (1974)

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Seven Samurai (1954)

The Great Dictator (1940)

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971)

Rebecca (1940)

Apocalypse Now (1979)

And so there they all are, judge me as freely as you like!