January #1-The Grifters or How Have I Not Seen This Before? by @echidnabot

The Grifters - Annette Bening

I love films about crime and confidence tricksters so I’m not sure why this one slipped through the cracks.  Oh well, here goes.

Based on a pulp novel by Jim Thompson and adapted for the screen by Donald Westlake, The Grifters tells the story of three con artists, their ways of getting on in the world, and the often tragic ways their lives intersect.  Lilly (Anjelica Huston) works for a mob guy back east decreasing the odds on long shots at the race track in La Jolla.  Whenever she sees long odds on a horse, she puts money down on it thus decreasing the odds and therefore the pay out.  Lilly decides to visit her son Roy (John Cusack) in Los Angeles just in time to save him from a life threatening injury and put her in danger of one from her boss, Bobo Justus (Pat Hingle in a scary and effective role).  Lilly and Roy have an odd, hinted at relationship so when Lilly meets Roy’s love interest, Myra (Annette Bening) sparks, albeit understated ones, fly.  Roy keeps his livelihood a secret from the two women, but the audience knows he’s on the grift as well.  He makes his living nickel and diming bartenders while presenting himself as a good citizen.  Mom knows he’s no salesman and Myra suspects, but neither can prove it until Roy and Myra, who’s no saint herself, take a trip to La Jolla and Myra sees Roy in action.  She confronts Roy who admits he’s a con man and then asks him to go in with her on a big con.  Myra recounts her experience with major league grifting and thinks Roy would make a great partner.  Myra’s description of her former life stars the always fantastic J.T. Walsh and is easily the best part of the film.  Roy won’t bite though claiming the fact that he’s small-time and has no partners has kept him alive and out of jail.  Myra is convinced that Lilly’s dislike of her keeps Roy from the big con so she sets out to take Lilly out of the picture.  What happens next pits the three opportunists against each other in a fight for survival.

Set in late 1980s California, The Grifters could easily take place in the 1940s or even in ancient Greece with its Oedipal twinges and tragic events.  The characters are world weary and tough and exist in boarding houses, race tracks, and bars.  Despite their living outside the law, they live within the law of their own society and know the penalties of transgressing there.  A host of tremendous character actors including Eddie Jones, Charles Napier, and Henry Jones gives this film the atmosphere of a classic noir despite its setting.  Directed by Stephen Frears and produced by Martin Scorsese, the film’s glossy look contrasts starkly with the dark lives the main characters live.  The Grifters is a well done neo-noir which combines the intricacy of a good con artist film with the brutality of a more modern crime drama.  The only fault I find with the film is that it didn’t delve deeply enough into the lives and crimes of its characters.  Perhaps giving us only a glimpse into these lives was the point though because it made me wonder about what happened before and after this episode.  I enjoyed The Grifters overall and I’m glad I finally got around to seeing it.

@Peaceman630, a lifelong procrastinator, ready to face my Cinema Shame

I was a premature baby.

I decided I just had to be born a few weeks early despite the fact that I hadn’t yet finished cooking. Aside from that it’s hard to recall too many things in my life that I haven’t waited until the last possible minute to address or creative projects that I haven’t stretched long past the due date. Case-in-point, here I am writing my first post to this wonderful blog on February 1st. I’m late to the party but happy to be here.

I’ll give you another example: @MisterGreggles, who is my best friend, gave me a DVD of the John C. Reilly film “Hard Eight” back in 2007 for my birthday. I wanted to watch it. I had the time to watch it. But perhaps not the will. Each time we’d hang out he’d ask me if I’d watched the film hoping to engage in a lively discussion on its merits. “Nope, not yet. I’ll get to it eventually though, I promise” was the common refrain. It got to the point where I resolved to watch the film and made a semi-serious, mostly-jokey ultimatum. Something to the effect of: “If I don’t watch this film by the end of the week I will renounce our friendship, that’s how much watching this means to me because I consider you my dearest friend.”

Technically speaking we haven’t been friends since 2007.

In any case, you get the extent to which I need to change my evil ways and I think this blog will be a great opportunity to do so while also meeting you fantastic people and sharing in your stories as well. Thank you to @campbelldropout and @007hertzrumble for allowing me to contribute, and thank you to @mistergreggles for encouraging me to get with the program.

And now the list:

January (oops, already off to a late start) –  The Artist

February – The Stunt Man

March- Smokey and the Bandit

April – Lawrence of Arabia

May – The Man with the Movie Camera

June – Chinatown

July – Jaws

August – High Noon

September – Animal House

October – Rope

November – Breakfast at Tiffanys

December – Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

You’ll notice Hard Eight didn’t make the cut for this year, but don’t worry Greg I’ll get to it eventually.
I promise.

My Cinematic Hall of Shame by @hollye_h

So here they are — the movies I really should have seen by now, or at least I feel I should have seen. There are still gaps. Really, there should be at least one Tarantino film on here, and some Fellini. Should I have added Tod Browning’s Freaks? The original Halloween? And if it stars Tom Cruise, should it bother me that I can’t feel much shame over not having seen it?

Note: These are not necessarily listed in order of Maximum Shame.

1. Network

Probably not a lot of people are walking around saying “I can’t believe you haven’t seen Network!” But I’ve come across enough references I feel like I should have seen it a long time ago. William Holden tells people to yell out the window, right?

2. Dracula (1931)

As a classic horror fan, I should’ve seen this by now.

3. Psycho

Probably the one I’m most embarrassed about. I sat through Torn Curtain. I own Shadow of a Doubt on DVD. But I haven’t seen Psycho?

4. Taxi Driver

Almost as embarrassing as Psycho.

5. Aliens

With an “s”. I’ve seen the first, but everyone keep referencing the second. Plus, I like Bill Paxton.

6. Godfather & Godfather Part II

I don’t know how it happened either.

7. Breathless

All the cool kids have already seen it.

8. Fight Club

Ah, references!

9. 2001: A Space Odyssey

Like Network, it was in the air when I was growing up. And if I don’t watch it now, I probably never will.

10. Repulsion

Rosemary’s Baby has been in my personal top five since I was in my teens. And I loved Knife in the Water when I finally saw it.  So why haven’t I seen Repulsion?

11. The 400 Blows

See #7

12. The Rules of the Game

See #7 & #11

Optional 13th: Last Year at Marienbad. So I can finally justify referencing it on Twitter.

January Walk of Shame – Rio Bravo (1959)

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For certain, there are films that, due to nostalgia and the way they’ve seeped into the grout of my mind, are given a wide latitude when it comes to their inherent flaws. I’m always reminded of this when I force myself to remember giant logistical and plot holes in movies such as Halloween and a Clockwork Orange when I cite them as far more sophisticated to whatever likeminded movie is being discussed. Perhaps Halloween’s myriad of logical missteps are just because the broader picture was so compelling that I thought it unnecessary to sweat the details such as the mysteriously slow police response time to the hardware store robbery (Michael Myers is wearing the mask that he stole at least six hours before the alarm is shown as blaring) and the fact that Donald Pleasance is standing next to the stolen car for hours before he realizes it.

Therein lies the danger of watching crowd-pleasers late in life; when cynicism, snark and irony have twisted your heart and soul even in the most minimal way. This is why I can almost guarantee you that a 40 year-old who sees John G. Avilden’s Rocky for the first time in 2014 will likely become the least popular guy in his movie club discussion circle. And this leads me to Rio Bravo, a movie I neglected to watch time after time throughout the years. I even resisted it in college when I took an undergraduate class that was specifically about the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks. I suppose it’s a positive in that I didn’t dislike Rio Bravo and, in fact, liked many elements of it very much. But I can’t shake the feeling that this is a movie I would have loved had I just watched the damn thing between the ages of 18-24 which is exactly the same time I was moping around and extolling the brilliance of Bob Fosse’s cinematic output.

I should probably preface all of this by saying that, along with war pictures, big-budget musicals and romantic comedies, the American Western remains one of my least favorite genres. To be sure, there are exceptions. My time as a film student helped me love movies like Stagecoach and kind of appreciate the Searchers and Red River. I’ve also enjoyed off-kilter American westerns such as Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man and Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller and, finally,  I remain a stalwart fan of every movie Sam Peckinpah made, western or “coked-up non-western”. But I remain blissfully ignorant of stuff like 3:10 to Yuma, True Grit, the Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance and High Noon (which will be covered on this here blog in December). Like most of my least favorite genres, the American Western relies on such an idealized foundation that there doesn’t seem to be much to work with. As a sidenote, this is the direct opposite of the Italian Western (which is one of my favorite genres) which is just the American Western filtered through a drunken nightmare which is exactly what seems to give it more room to fudge and play with the archetypes and distort the broad strokes.

Rio Bravo is most definitely an archetypal American Western the parts of which are much better than the whole. It spins the yarn of Sherriff John T. Chance (John Wayne at his most John Wayne-iest), head lawman of the titular border town. In his employ is Walter Brennan as Walter Brennan… I mean, Stumpy, the crippled, toothless codger who nags everyone and speaks in adorable frontier witticisms. Also hanging around is Dean Martin as Dude, a man coming off what seems to be a years-long bender who was once Chance’s deputy before his life fell into a vat of alcohol. The setup: Oily, cold hearted Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) kills a man and is quickly taken to the hoosegow. As he is part of a family with pockets deep enough to hire every gunslinger in the territory, Chance and Company have their work cut out for them ensuring that Nathan Burdette (John Russell) doesn’t pull out all the stops to spring his brother Joe from jail before the Feds come and extradite him. Assisting Chance in his endeavor will be young gunslinger Colorado (Ricky Nelson) and Feathers (Angie Dickinson), the saloon harlot and card sharp who, not surprisingly, has a heart of gold.

What works best about Rio Bravo is its setting. The film never leaves the confines of the main street of Rio Bravo and deals in minimal interiors (the jail, the saloon, the other saloon and the hotel). Like a space station, the town of Rio Bravo seems to exist in the middle of a vast nothingness and to travel one step outside of it means gambling with your life. Unlike the implausible settlement in the middle of nowhere at the beginning of John Ford’s the Searchers, Rio Bravo is a believable collection of Hollywood Western buildings and homes which also seems to occupy a real sense of place and time. The film’s classic Hollywood look helps keep things in check as the vibrant colors and impeccable framing reflect just what a visual filmmaker Howard Hawks was.

On an actual critical level, there were a few things about Rio Bravo that nagged at me. Despite his run on Ozzie and Harriet, Ricky Nelson seems little more than stunt casting. His performance is most definitely the weak link here. And regardless as to why he was inserted into the production, it seems too calculated by half and is mostly a distraction. He’s not terrible. In fact, he pulls off a couple of moments quite well. But he sticks out like a sore thumb and seems to exist only to have an inexplicable musical duet with Dean Martin during the latter part of the film’s saggy middle act (and that guitar he strums looks so ridiculously anachronistic, he might as well have been wearing a Nudie suit while playing it). Also, despite looking great and turning in a fine performance, Angie Dickinson’s entire part is unnecessary. She adds nothing, does nothing (except throw a flower pot) and grinds the movie to a halt when performing the tender moments with John Wayne. Whoever acquiesced to the insistence that the movie needed to have a love story as one of its many subplots should have slept on it and done everything in their power to resist it the following morning.

For me, the biggest revelation was Dean Martin. Relatively new to dramatic acting when the movie was made, Martin’s DT-plagued Dude is the most believable and has the most heartfelt character arc in the entire endeavor. In fact, I wish the movie would have been just about him. Dean displays some real acting lumber in all of his scenes and I bought every moment that was graced with his presence (except, of course, for the plot-stopping duet with Ricky Nelson which is probably the most tedious and dull musical number this side of “Beauty School Dropout”). By the end of Rio Bravo, I almost mourned the fact that, despite a couple of other well-received roles, Dean Martin didn’t go full speed ahead into dramatic acting and, instead, decided to hang back into the profitable, if limited, role of lovable drunk for the remainder of his career.

The rest of my issues with Rio Bravo are mostly personal and lack any real critical weight. First and foremost, I mostly dislike John Wayne. For a long time, I couldn’t be certain if I disliked him because of the way his image has been appropriated, his debatable skill as an actor or his steadfast adherence to backwards politics. In the end, it’s probably a combination of all three. I simply cannot separate the man from what I see on the screen because there’s not enough raw talent to differentiate the two. I feel like I’m constantly watching John Wayne, the man, stumble through set pieces tailor-made for him and his certain brand of machismo (and, in my defense, Wayne would take or turn down projects based on his politics… the Green Berets, anyone?). And, Rio Bravo, itself, was something of a political response to what Wayne felt was anti-American values in High Noon. Lest I be accused of being no better than those who stay away from Sean Penn or George Clooney due to their politics, I don’t feel the same way towards Jon Voight who has political views, like John Wayne, diametrically opposed to my own (and has espoused some truly loony things) but still manages to win me over with his performances because of his immense gifts as an actor. And this is also in contrast to someone like Vin Diesel who, while no great thespian, cuts a Wayne-esque presence in his movies that I enjoy and buy a lot quicker than those offered up by the Duke whose presence seemed more of a case of a reputation preceding it and less physically deserved. And whatever I can say for John Wayne, I can doubly say for Walter Brennan who I’ve seen in many a movie and can attest that he does not deserve to be on the same shortlist of actors who have won three competitive Oscars (the other two on the list are Daniel Day-Lewis and Jack Nicholson). The only thing I can say that’s amazing about Walter Brennan is that he always seemed to look ancient, no matter what age he actually was when filming whatever project.

Secondly, again, is my dislike for the American Western. So steeped in broad “good and evil” tales and corny macho sentiments like they were Silver Age comic books, the American Western has so few elements to mix and match to create something compelling. How many cowhands, young guns, weary sheriffs, misunderstood floozies, drunks, stereotypical minorities and dusty townscapes can you disassemble and reassemble into something that’s fresh? And there was my major issue with Rio Bravo; there was absolutely nothing surprising in it for me. I watched it lazily unfurl its unjustifiable 140 minute running time, dealing with one overdone trope after the other, knowing full well there were fistfuls of movie that could have just been cut or rewritten and tightened up (John Carpenter, a massive fan of Rio Bravo, could arguably have done Hawks one better by boiling the major points of the plot down to exploitation film levels for his incredible and enormously entertaining Assault on Precinct 13). Sure, Leigh Brackett’s script is very Hawksian and the characters definitely have both Brackett and Hawks’s stamp all over them but I sometimes felt many of them would have worked better in another movie altogether. As good as the (mostly) wordless opening sequence is, the final eight minutes of the movie, occurring after the climactic showdown, simply drag while tidying up the myriad subplots that, as stated, would have been better suited somewhere else.

And, again, none of this should make it sound as if I disliked Rio Bravo. I liked it despite my misgivings about it. Howard Hawks was a master filmmaker and it’s easy to see why Rio Bravo is considered an example of his greatness. Despite its length, many subplots and casting decisions, the movie was heavily enjoyable and I was never bored. Much of it made me smile and the chemistry between the males worked surprisingly well. However, at its heart, Rio Bravo is a story of redemption; a story about a drunk who regains face at a time of crisis. Sadly, due to the powers that be that dictated such things, its strongest element is relegated to the backseat so John Wayne and Angie Dickinson can kiss and have an uninteresting cinematic romance.

Get a room, you two. And an editor.

@Andrew_Cybulska’s first film off the list… Dr. Strangelove!

Viewed at the Alamo Drafthouse for their Alamo 100 series, I even got a cool little pin with Dr. Strangelove’s face on it! It was projected in 4K, and my wife got a pizza while I got a burger. It was a perfect evening with a perfect movie. It really doesn’t get any better than classic cinema at the Drafthouse.

I don’t know what took me so long to see this film, but I’m glad I finally did. Take two parts hilarity, one part ‘straight from the headlines,’ and one part ‘snap-shot of a time and place in our history’ and that’s Dr. Strangelove. Yeah that’s a lot of varied parts but it’s that kind of film.

Endlessly watchable and constantly surprising, it’s a classic film with a modern mentality, with a subversive sense of humor that I’m sure must’ve been quite shocking for it’s time. I really enjoyed this and it gives me great hope for the rest of my CinemaShame list.

Alright Already, I’ll Watch It – A CinemaShame list by @TRWilcox

Believe me, I’ve always wanted to see these movies (except The Shawshank Redemption).  It’s just the time, or the opportunity, never presented itself. (Except for the The Shawshank Redemption, which has been on TNT every g-ddamn day since it came out, right?)

1. Blood Simple

The only Coen brothers movie I haven’t seen. (With the exception of The Ladykillers remake, which I feel no shame over, and will get to eventually.) Being a noir fan in addition to a Coens fan = 2X the Shame for this one.

2.  Scarface (1983)

One of those ones that’s entered the cultural lexicon, but I never got around to. But I know there’s Pacino! And chainsaws! And cocaine!

3.  The Apartment

Double Indemnity is one of my favorite movies of all time. And weirdly, I’ve seen more obscure Wilder films like A Foreign Affair. But not this most famous of his, at least, not all the way through from start to finish.

4. All About Eve

I’m actually not surprised I haven’t seen this.  Bette Davis is a big meanie.

5.  Blue Velvet

I’ve experienced the twisted (does that word even do him justice?)  mind of David Lynch through Eraserhead and other later films, but this very notable one has escaped me.

6. The Philadelphia Story

See Jimmy Stewart comments on #12.

7. Stagecoach
Ford and Wayne. The grandaddy of all westerns, a genre I’m reasonably familiar with. Some of my favorite movies ever (Good the Bad and the Ugly, Rio Bravo) are westerns. OR SO I CLAIM. Shame.

8. The Rules of the Game

The entire nation of France has arrogantly insisted I watch.  I surrender.

9.  ??

This is either going to be Silence of the Lambs or The Goonies. Maybe they’d make a good double feature?

10. Dracula
I already know the original Dracula is creaky as hell but I still feel like I should have seen it, if only for Lugosi. Especially after all the times I’ve watched Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

11. The Shawshank Redemption

I’m not sure why I’ve had an irrational bias against this movie for so many years, but I do. I blame Ted Turner. For years it seemed like every time I turned on my TV, Tim Robbins was raising his hands to the rain…ugh.

12. It’s a Wonderful Life

I grew up watching Jimmy Stewart movies. My entire family loves him. I’ve seen A LOT of Jimmy Stewart movies. I’ve even seen Dear Brigitte, for God’s sake. Who else could pull off both Harvey and Vertigo? Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Naked Spur? But I’ve never seen two of his most famous films, and for that I must atone.