All in All, Another Couple of Bricks in my CinemaShame Wall

Hello again, everyone. I’ve just updated my list of @CinemaShame missions for this year with two titles: 1970’s Cotton Comes to Harlem for May, and 1952’s Room For One More for November.  Another entry I have planned, but with no confirmed month as yet, is an essay on the entire Harry Palmer trilogy of The Ipcress File (1965), Funeral in Berlin (1966), and Billion Dollar Brain (1967). Those are all the updates for now. More when I figure them out.

 

January – Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) – Mission Completed

February – Frozen (2013)

March – Safety Last! (1923)

April – Sister My Sister (1994)

May – Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)

June – TBD

July – TBD

August – TBD

September – TBD

October – Se7en (1995) (2014 catchup)/2015 TBD

November – Mean Streets (1973) (2014 catchup)/Room For One More (1952)

December – TBD

The Dirty Dozen’s New Missions – First Quarter of 2015

Hello again, everyone.

It’s been a hectic month of classic movie watching, and there will be more coming in the immediate future. I’m not sure if any of them will be ending up as essays for this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one or two of them do. In the meantime, here’s a partial list of this year’s movie watching missions:

January – Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) – Mission Completed

February – Frozen (2013)

March – Safety Last! (1923)

April – Sister My Sister (1994)

May – TBD

June – TBD

July – TBD

August – TBD

September – TBD

October – Se7en (1995) (2014 catchup)/2015 TBD

November – Mean Streets (1973) (2014 catchup)/2015 TBD

December – TBD

There are some very strong candidates that are going to go into the list; it’s just a question of where to put them. I shall also be filing essays for all the 2014 titles which I failed to write. So next month I’ll be including an essay for Taxi Driver.

See you in a few weeks with February’s essays!

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.

Cinema Shame – What was was, what will be will be

Hello, everyone.

Well, another year has gone by, which means it’s time to look back on what happened in 2014, and what’s coming for 2015.

When I put together my list of films for last year, I had no idea how hard it would be to do. Watching 12 films in 12 months seemed like a breeze. How wrong I was. Of the 12 films I put on the list, I only managed to watch 10 of them. Writing about them was even worse. As you can tell from looking at my meager blog, I only wrote about 2 of them. I don’t know why I had so much trouble putting two words together; I only know that I want to do better this year. To do so, I’m going to change things up a bit.

First off, I won’t be supplying a list. Part of my problem last year was, I think, giving myself visible goals. Personality-wise, I’m often my own worst enemy. I tell myself to do something and I’ll probably give up sooner or later. It’s sad but true. To counteract that fact, I’m going to simply watch movies, and write up reports on 12 of them. I have a potential framework for the movies I’ll talk about, but it’s not set in stone. I prefer to improvise, as that seems the best way for me to work. The next 12 movies I’ll write about will be surprises to both myself and you. I think it might be more fun that way.

Second, I will attempt to catch up to last year’s list, but obviously will have to go at my own pace. I don’t know how often I’ll post, but I will try to do it fairly often. I have my January movie for this year watched already, and plan to put something up here in the next week. Beyond that, we’ll just have to see how the year goes. I feel optimistic, though, that things will be a lot better this year.

See you in the movies, folks.

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