From Art-House Obscurity To Grindhouse Schlock - With A Special Focus On '1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die'

Viddy Well Brothers... Viddy Well



Thursday, July 24th, 2013

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As for that aforementioned club, the web-address is super simple:

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Fargo (1996)
Most Recent Reviews and Commentary:

Fargo (1996)

 

Far as Fargo may be, it's film that feels like coming home...
Far as Fargo may be, it's film that feels like coming home...

Genre: Drama Crime Thriller

Starring: Frances McDormand (Raising ArizonaBurn After Reading), Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs • Living in Oblivion), William H. Macy (Magnolia“Shameless”)

Directed By: The Coen Brothers (Barton FinkThe Big Lebowski)

Overview: When a kidnapping turns bad in North Dakota, a very pregnant police officer seeks out the escaping murderers.

No Overview could properly come close to capturing the essence that is Fargo. It’s not nearly as naïvely quirky as the Coen BrothersThe Hudsucker Proxy. It’s not as stern as No Country for Old Men. It’s not pure buffoonery like Raising Arizona. The joy that is Fargo comes from having bits of all these things while still carving its own path in the Coens’ oeuvre. In my humble opinion, it’s one of the Coen Brothers’ best offerings, and definitive of their style.

We open – and remain – in a snow-buffeted landscape where two men (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) are unhappily waiting for their contact Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy). Jerry wants them to kidnap his wife and hold her hostage until Jerry’s rich father-in-law pays the ransom. The goons agree and begin their rampage while Jerry does what he can to keep his head above the overflowing debt and fraud he’s gotten himself into long ago. When the kidnapping and its aftermath ends in murder, the seven-months pregnant Sheriff Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is on the case to find the men leaving a trail of mayhem and chaos. You know me: I’m not much one for spoilers so hopefully that does enough to tease those of you who don’t know what this wonderful movie is about.

Off to a bad start...
Off to a bad start...

As ever, the Coen Brothers’ script is as tight and brilliant as it could be. The mood of that particular North Dakotan accent, the look of the tertiary characters all exuding a blankness as white as the snowscapes that are a prevalent cinematographic theme; it’s all wonderful entertainment. And the story, wrought with fraud, poorly-planned ploys and extreme consequences, sings with a wild tension that keeps you on the edge of your seat until you laugh along at the occasional sprinkle of the strange.

Some of the wonderful cherries that top Fargo include the characters of Marge’s husband (John Carroll Lynch) and Shep Proudfoot (Steve Reevis) - a stoic Indian reminiscent of Chief Bromden from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest - and the subplot that comes from Marge’s reacquainted old friend from high school, Mike (Steve Park).

With a hint of Raising Arizona's wackiness and The Big Lebowski's over-the-top characters, yet with a serious profound depth and occasional frightening edge that I loved in Barton Fink and Miller’s Crossing, Fargo blends sweet and sour in equal parts to make the perfect movie cocktail. The Coen Brothers show us a story that’s less predictable than standard Hollywood, while still being Crime-Thriller-fun enough for the laymen to sing its bloody-murder praises.

Fargo is fun and light. Fargo is serious and dark. Fargo is wacky and weird. And above all, Fargo works to leave you wanting more. The Coens’ sixth film, made between Hudsucker Proxy and The Big Lebowski, is not one to be missed.

 Oh Jerry...
Oh Jerry...

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 8 Script: 9 Plot: 9 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 88% (Not to be Fargotten)
Aftertaste:

Just before I settled in for an evening with Fargo, I let a like-minded friend in on it: Fargo and an extra-large dram of GlenDronach? Yes I do believe I will.

His answer was not a surprise: Damn fine combo.

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Fight Club (1999)

 

Jesus Christ this movie... IS
Jesus Christ this movie... IS

Genre: Drama

Starring: Ed Norton (American History XMoonrise Kingdom), Brad Pitt (KaliforniaThe Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)

Directed By: David Fincher (Alien 3The Social Network)

Overview: When an everyday consumer meets an anarchistic rebel, they begin an underground fight club that grows into an underground revolution.

The Overview I’ve written could never do Fight Club justice. Those of you who have seen Fight Club (and if you haven’t: “You haven’t seen Fight Club!?!?! What is WRONG with you?!” – Yeah, you deserved that, just like you deserve that if you haven’t seen Blade Runner) know that it’s not a movie about two guys who meet and start boxing. It’s not about making soap, it’s not even about anarchy… Wait, let’s not get ahead of things…

Slide

Our hero (Ed Norton) is an everyday guy who’s an insomniac. When he works, he’s a button-down worker bee who travels from city to city investigating mechanical problems for a major car manufacturer. When he’s home, he buys clever Ikea furniture and doesn’t sleep. He begs his doctor for sleeping pills, and explains how much he’s suffering. The doctor tells him that if he really wanted to see suffering, he’d go to a testicular cancer support group meeting. Well, he ends up going. And he finds solace in the tears of others, and cries with them. Finally he sleeps. He goes to more meetings and cries more and sleeps more and his life is beginning to look up. Then Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) shows up to all his meetings, faking like he’s faking. He stops crying and he stops sleeping and he’s back to living life in misery. On a business trip, he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Tyler sells soap. When our hero gets back home, well, his apartment seems to have blown up. Stranded he calls Tyler, they drink, they have a friendly fist fight, and they move into Tyler’s dilapidated abandoned house together. They fight some more, they start a boxing club, and Tyler imparts his nuggets of wisdom as that club grows into something that can’t be contained in tavern basements. I guess that’s a good spoiler-free start…

So as I was saying, Fight Club isn’t about a man who becomes an anarchist, it’s not about a couple of people who become friends and change one another’s lives, it’s not about testicular cancer, and it’s definitely not about boxing. Without overstating it with halo’d fanfare, Fight Club is nothing less than a marker of my generation, of this generation. It’s one of – if not the – best films of the decade. It’s profound while being relatable. It’s a film that taps into the pulse of Generation X / Generation Y, and tells us loudly, with its brilliant script, what is wrong with this world. Yes it’s preachy, but it preaches a counter-culture sentiment that we all know and need to be reminded of from time to time. Part of what makes it so brilliant is how well-made it is. David Fincher paints with a bleak palate of sickly fluorescent greens and cold blues atop of greys, browns and blacks. The soundtrack is one of my personal Top 3 favourites, with the Dust Brothers electronica still current today, 15 years later. It’s Brad Pitt’s finest role, Meatloaf’s finest role, and one of Ed Norton’s best – American History X and The 25th Hour make it too hard to decide.

Stop being so AWESOME

And then, when you think it’s told its message, there’s something else. There’s a brilliant twist - a beautifully original, mind-blowing cherry to top off the whole story, and it’s this awesome MOREness to Fight Club that makes it stand head and shoulders above the rest. It’s anti-consumer anarchist wisdom wrapped up in a hipster bow that consumer masses actually bought and loved and ate up. Hopefully it managed to make people actually think about the ‘less’ that we need.

There’s no hiding my bias for this one. It’s been my second favourite film since the day I saw it. My computer wallpaper is the 'This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time' quote. Fight Club is the only movie that I saw in theaters on a Friday night, and returned the next Monday to re-watch. The only one. 15 years later it holds up. It holds up like Atlas. But don’t just take my word for it. Today it sits at #10 of IMDb’s top 250 films ever made, between Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Yeah. I’d say it’s about that important. Seriously, what are you waiting for?

Argh! I just want to watch this again now!
Argh! I just want to watch this again now!

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 10 Script: 9 Plot: 9 Mood: 10

Overall Rating: 94% (Join Up)
Aftertaste:
The only problem I have with Fight Club is a beef I’ve grown to hear from many people. Without spoiling the end, the end has some issues. In fact the whole concluding premise demands a big hunk of suspension of disbelief. Since watching Fight Club, I’ve learned that Chuck Palahniuk’s source novel of the same name has a different ending - an ending that makes a lot more logical sense. Otherwise, I’d have given the plot a perfect score of 10 too…
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Do The Right Thing (1989)

 

Spike Lee, WHY MUST YOU?!
Spike Lee, WHY MUST YOU?!

 

Genre: Drama

Starring: Spike Lee (Jungle FeverSchool Daze), Danny Aiello (Léon: The ProfessionalOnce Upon a Time in America)

Directed By: Spike Lee (Malcolm XInside Man)

Overview: On a sweltering-hot day in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, racial tension heats up at an Italian pizzeria.

I have a history with Do The Right Thing. It wasn’t good to me the first time around – back when it was still current. And now, as is plentiful in my 1001 tome, I need to re-watch it so that I can complete my quest of writing a review for each of the films in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. Sometimes work feels like work. But I’ve aged, and I have far more cinematic knowledge and context to make Do The Right Thing work for me rather than against me. What’s more, I had an eager friend who wanted to host it for me – so again, something to look forward to. Let’s see how Do The Right Thing fared for me this time around…

On one of the hottest days of the year, in the Bedford-Stuyvessant neighborhood of Brooklyn where Mike Tyson grew up, Mookie (Spike Lee) is a deliveryman working at an Italian pizzeria run by Sal Fragione (Danny Aiello) and his two sons. Being in a mostly black neighborhood, the Italian-Americans running the pizzeria face some racial differences, including one customer who insists that Sal’s Wall of Fame - which features famous Italian-Americans – needs to include blacks. With the temperature rising in a neighborhood that’s becoming all too aware of the gentrification happening in their streets, doing the right thing is becoming increasingly difficult.

Here's some actors who decided to choreograph their STANDING.
Here's some actors who decided to choreograph their STANDING.

Let’s get the horrors out of the way first: of all the scenes I dreaded, the opening credit sequence was, by far, the one I recall being most traumatized by. It was even more brutal the second time around. It was four minutes of Rosie Perez dancing like a buffoon in different outfits, including one as a boxer complete with gloves. Get used to the opening song, Public Enemies’ “Fight The Power”, because it never lets up. It is a tiring omnipresence throughout the film. The fact that it’s intentionally annoying doesn’t make it sound any better. There’s Smiley, a mentally handicapped character who sells pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. This character was not originally in the script. The man who played that character, Roger Guenveur Smith, wanted to be in Spike Lee’s film. Well I guess Spike Lee felt bad enough for him that he let Roger’s Smiley character tip the scales to make sure that Lee’s film would become an embarrassing farce. I don’t know what it was like in ’89, but Smiley is almost downright plain offensive today.

Do The Right Things exposition is palpable. For as script written in two weeks, I’m not surprised. Aside from the three main characters, nearly everyone is a caricature. The worst offenders include Buggin’ Out, unpleasantly played by Giancarlo Esposito of “Breaking Bad” fame. His one dimension of blind racial outrage is already tiresome by the time he gets in a white guy’s face for getting his new sneakers stepped on – and that’s barely halfway through the film. There’s Radio Rahim (Bill Nunn), a big black man with a big black ghetto blaster playing the same damn big black song in every single scene he’s in – you guessed it, “Fight the Power”. His ‘cause’ is playing his music wherever he wants to and drowning out everyone else. Clearly, a wonderful purpose to have in life. Now I admit that having characters who are fallible makes for added nuance and dimension, but Spike, come on, way over the line, seriously.

I am ecstatic that Giancarlo has matured as an actor and doesn't go around FREAKING OUT at every little thing in "Breaking Bad"
I am ecstatic that Giancarlo has matured as an actor and doesn't go around FREAKING OUT at every little thing in "Breaking Bad"

I think that about covers the ‘wrong’ of Do The Right Thing. The ‘right’, well, would be the entire finale. It’s dramatic, it’s worthy, it’s poignant. Danny Aiello and John Tuturro played their parts brilliantly. They made the film something to enjoy. They made the pizzeria scenes something to look forward to. It may very well be the best role of Danny’s career. His character has dimension, has values we can understand and streak of compassion that makes him real. Drink in his role, it’s refreshing.

I’ve said that Do The Right Thing wasn’t good to me back when it was still current. Today it holds up even less. It’s dated. It’s fundamentally theatrical, feeling more like a play than a movie. Too often did the scenes look like they were busting out of a Broadway musical, with overstated acting and choreographed group reactions. Yet, though the racial message is loud, it’s not drilled into you constantly like in 2004’s Crash. Do The Right Thing is still entertaining thanks to the climactic third act, and thanks to the talent of Danny Aiello, John Turturro, and Ossie Davis.

Luckily, I saw this with a friend who was passionate about the film. Seeing it alone, well, that would surely have been a bitter pill to swallow.

Ah, Serenity.
Ah, Serenity.

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 7 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 7

Overall Rating: 70% (Aaaaand Done)
Aftertaste:

One thing I noted - and have been unable to decide if I should appreciate it as an homage or be downright upset at Spike’s blatant rip-off - is Radio Rahem’s speech about the rings he wears on his hands. On one, his fist sized ring reads LOVE, on the other, HATE:

Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand. It's a tale of good and evil. Hate: it was with this hand that Cain iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much ass. I mean, it looks like the right hand, Love, is finished. But hold on, stop the presses, the right hand is coming back. Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes, now, that's right. Ooh, it's a devastating right and Hate is hurt, he's down. Left-Hand Hate KOed by Love.

Those savvy cinephiles out there will recognize this as a paraphrasing of the same love/hate speech by the Reverend Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter (1955). In his case, his knuckles are tattooed with those words.

Ah, little lad, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends, the hand of love. Now watch, and I'll show you the story of life. Those fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warring and a-tugging, one agin t'other. Now watch 'em! Old brother left hand, left hand he's a fighting, and it looks like love's a goner. But wait a minute! Hot dog, love's a winning! Yessirree! It's love that's won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!

Yeah, I know it's an hommage, but I still feel robbed.
Yeah, I know it's an hommage, but I still feel robbed.

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Report (1967)

 

Report (1967)

Genre: Experimental Short

Starring: John F. Kennedy, Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis

Directed By: Bruce Conner (A MovieMarilyn Times Five)

Overview: The day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination is recounted through archive found video and radio footage experimentally edited.

Report opens with audio footage reporting live from a confused scene where, apparently, the president’s vehicle may have been attacked. The intensity places us firmly in the moment. The reporter’s barely-contained agitation makes for a dramatic entry into a time capsule of historic news. Throughout this introduction of Report - and for several minutes - what we see is either a black screen or a screen that flashes from black to white. This flashing wasn't pleasant. It was easier for me to turn my head and take down some notes for this review.

Leader

The editing style of the film repeats shots deliberately, like a broken record. It’s not usually annoying - in fact I found it unique - but there is one ‘scene’ that repeats too quickly. The shot of the motorcade is another one that is quite difficult to watch. It cuts too quickly, then skips back and repeats again. This also made me prefer to look away and take notes than to invite eyestrain.

The 15-minute avant-garde experimental film has a distinctive documentary feel. The narration is all; there’s no music or other noise aside from the reporting. The first half of Report doesn’t linger however. The film takes a dynamic, staccato turn, jumping from a gory bull flight to a commercial for a freezer to clips of JFK visiting with people and exiting planes, to a slow motion shorts of a bullet flying through a lightbulb. The Statue of Liberty is juxtaposed with an atomic explosion, shots fly in reverse, upside-down and in negative, set against the consumerism and the doomed motorcade all while the narration confirms the death of President John F. Kennedy.

Bullet

Maybe it was my mood; maybe it was the subject matter being audibly dynamic and interesting, but for all my doubts and the sum of its parts, I enjoyed Report quite a bit. In fact I’d say it was even too short. I expected a ‘third act’ of sorts, a conclusionary chapter. We experienced the confusion of the first few moments, we heard the report that the predident had been killed... I would've enjoyed another few minutes talking about the aftermath: the funeral or the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald. That would have helped wrap up everything nicely for me.

As complaints go, "I would have liked to have seen more," is a pretty good one.

Onassis

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 7 Script: 8 Plot: 7 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 76% (Concise and To The Point)
Aftertaste:

Yes, dear readers, this is not for the mainstream. This is the sort of study film that finds a home only among the pages of the cinephile’s study. Fellow clubber Thomas Ostrowski, in his own review, said that it was too hard a film to find, and that director Bruce Conner’s more available A Movie would have suited us 1001 Clubbers just as well. Personally I’m of the opinion that a book like 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die should indeed lean more towards giving completists a fighting chance in finding the items it contains. I've learned long ago that if it's impossible to find a film in this day and age, it's usually quite a terrible thing, worthy of being lost to the ages.

Lucky this one wasn't a stinker.

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Is "The Sting" The Best Gambling Film Ever Made?

The Sting
Despite the fact that many of the best individual films in the genre were made decades ago, gambling films have never quite escaped public attention. At least once every few years, a mainstream film is released that touches on gambling in one way or another, whether it revolves around gaming entirely, features casino settings, or, in the case of the more recent Runner Runner, even dabbles in the modern online gaming industry. There's just something about casino themes that seems to build intrigue and sex appeal no matter how many times we see it.
 
And as with any genre that experiences sustained popularity, it's always a lively debate when someone asks what the best film of the group is. Particularly in the casino and gambling genre, this debate is just about impossible to answer, because different titles will always appeal more to different generations. A current college student will likely choose Ocean's 11 (the 2001 version) as a favorite, while The Cincinnati Kid ight appeal more to a whole generation! But recently, we might have gotten the closest thing to a 'correct' answer on this topic as one can find. In a response to a Partypoker tweet asking for his favorite gambling films of all time, prominent screenwriter Brian Koppelman (who penned Rounders, Ocean's 13, and the aforementioned Runner Runner) mentioned The Sting as one of his all-time favorites. And as the writer behind arguably the most well-known poker film ever in Rounders, Koppelman can be regarded as a trusted authority!
 
So, is The Sting truly one of the top gambling films ever made? That's still a matter of personal opinion, but given that it's a great film largely lost on younger generations, here's a brief retro review!
 
Made in 1973 by director George Roy Hill and screenwriter David S. Ward, the film stars Robert Redford and Paul Newman, who at the time had already achieved on-screen glory together in the 1969 western Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. This time around, Redford plays the role of Johnny Hooker, a sort of con man who finds himself on the wrong side of Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), a ruthless mob boss who ultimately kills Hooker's partner and forces Hooker to flee to Chicago. Once in Chicago, Hooker seeks the help of legendary con man Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), who had been recommended to him as a partner by the same man Lonnegan has killed.
 
With Gondorff roped into the plan, Hooker begins an elaborate con designed not only to bank a fortune, but primarily to get back at Lonnegan. The con begins with Gondorff's posing as a major bookie buying into a high-stakes poker game run by Lonnegan. Yet, as is the case in any good con film, the original plan soon evolves into a complex web of trickery, backstabbing, and FBI involvement. And with poker, horse racing, and crooked financial dealings at the center of it all, Hooker's plot for vengeance ultimately amounts to a sort of every-man-for-himself scramble to avoid detection, capture, and even death at the hands of various parties.
 
In the end, what we're left with is one of the cleverest blends of crime and gambling ever depicted in film. Newman and Redford always had an undeniable chemistry on screen (even if they're less of a team in this than in Butch Cassidy), and this partnership, coupled with what still reads as a very sharp script, makes for a film that's surprisingly timeless. If you're in it purely for gambling, you may still prefer a film like The Hustler or Rounders. But if a gritty, well-rounded look at a world of crime revolving around casino culture, be sure to give The Sting a look.

Guest Post by William Sanders

Pink Flamingos (1972)

 

With new patented JITTERCAM
With new patented JITTERCAM

Genre: Crime Comedy

Starring: Divine (Hairspray (1988) • Polyester),  Mink Stole (Cry-BabySerial Mom)

Directed By: John Waters (Female TroublePecker)

Overview: An obscene rivalry becomes full-fledged war when a couple competes with infamous superstar Divine for the title of “The Filthiest Person Alive”.

As the deadline for the 1001 review assignment of Rome, Open City approached, I looked forward to watching some Art History in cinema with a like-minded friend. Halfway through Roberto Rossellini’s essential Neorealist piece I was sighing at the decision I made in choosing Rome, Open City over the trashy Pink Flamingos that was my second choice. When it was over I felt educated, but I didn’t feel sated. I reluctantly asked my host if he was up for more. When I suggested John Waters’s entry into the 1001 tome, my film-freak friend popped it in, happily granting me a double-feature. Now I get to tell you if it fulfilled my need for entertainment or if it just made my evening worse…

Pink Flamingos’s plot is laughably simple. Trailer-trash drag queen diva Divine (as herself), apparently holds the ‘official’ Baltimore title of The Filthiest Person Alive. Raymond Marble (David Lochary) and his wife Connie (Mink Stole) are completely put off by this because they think the title should be theirs. They begin a battle of gross with Divine, who naturally does her best to get more than even. From things like the Marbles sending a special feces delivery to Divine invading the Marbles’ home, the war goes back and forth until the end credits. I’ll stop there because the actual things they do to one another is what ‘makes’ the movie, so I’d rather not spoil your ‘fun’. Yes those quotes are sarcastic.

Oh Divine - why must you LIVE?
Oh Divine - why must you LIVE?

Christ, where do I begin? Let’s start with the technical, the filmmaking ‘skill’, if you will. Pink Flamingos was shot on 16mm film, so you’re bound to find the graininess either annoying or rustic. Often static shots are done handheld, for that I-wish-I-could-see-this-establishing-shot-wiggling-constantly effect. But let’s forgive these things, especially when compared to the laziness inherent in the lack of over the shoulder shots. What this means for us, dear reader, is that we are mired in whole single-shot scenes where we see one actor speaking and the other actor hiding their face from the camera, because they’re looking backwards at the first actor. In the first half hour, I had already begged three times to those in the television, “Can you please turn your head to the camera?”

I don’t know if I gave up or if it was just being overwhelmed with more brutal elements of Pink Flamingos, but I stopped caring about that niggling little detail. It was much easier to dwell on Divine herself, that morbid, hideous clown of an abhorrent thing. There’s montages that are downright boring, there’s popular music that doesn't mesh at all with the scenes we’re watching, there’s incest with full-on and graphic drag queen-on-man oral, there’s sexual assault that really doesn’t fly anymore, especially when done in a weird, disturbing way that really doesn’t work at all in the context. But most unfortunate and absolutely-definitely-not-cool-at-all-even-a-little-as-a-joke is the on-screen killing of a chicken in a most definitely inhumane way – that being in the middle of the aforementioned sexual assault scene. Not cool John - reprehensible in fact. Shame on you. You should have had a testicle ripped out for that one. Asshole.

There's the dead bird in question. John you're a petty horrible little man.
There's the dead bird in question. John you're a petty horrible little man.

But worse - ok not worse but let’s say it anyway – worse still is Miss Edie (Edith Massey) and her idiotic subplot that was obviously written just to take up running time on the film. That corpulent, boring, one-trick kink of a character, played by a hideous, corpulent, talentless one-glazed-over-expression ‘actress’ has a storyline where she sits in a crib - and later in a wheelbarrow – goofing on eggs. Everything she talks about is eggs eggs eggs. “Where is the eggman?” “Where do eggs come from?” “Oh, God I’m starving, where’s my eggs?” Holy Jesus shut up you suck, and not in a fun way. It goes on and on and on… then on some more. Those scenes were eggscruciating. Yeah, they hurt like that last sentence did, but 18,034 times worse.

Sweet Hell on a stick this was HORRIBLE.
Sweet Hell on a stick this was HORRIBLE.

Yet, dear reader, I actually finished watching Pink Flamingos. Oh yes. And that’s because your humble critic actually enjoyed himself. I laughed. I laughed a lot. Partly it was because of the company I was with: the only friend who could appreciate Pink Flamingos as I could, the only friend who could appreciate the ballistic ridiculousness that just couldn't be held back. There’s a ton of nudity, the baby-breeding slavery scenes were side-splittingly golden and honestly, Mink Stole, who played Connie Marble, was the upstaging best - in that way that diarrhea is the most talented of feces. There’s just something about Pink Flamingos. It's horrible but it's funny. The fact is I laughed; I laughed genuinely, I laugh frequently. The fact that I was laughing at it rather than with it half the time didn’t make my enjoyment of Pink Flamingos any less grand. Rather, there was an ironic sarcasm that came off of this John Waters film, and yeah, reluctantly, I’m a fan of many parts.

And there’s prolapsing. Did I mention the prolapsing? No I didn’t.

Though I could have done without the eating dogshit scene. Seriously?

The main character should have been played by Mink Stole and Divine should have been kicked off set.
The main character should have been played by Mink Stole and Divine should have been kicked off set.

Performance: 4 Cinematography: 3 Script: 6 Plot: 7 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 56% (More Dirty Than Divine - But In A Good Way)
Aftertaste:

Now there’s an element of comparison that comes with that score. This year I’ve seen more stinkers in a row than ever before, and after films like Flaming Creatures and Vinyl, it’s actually refreshing to see Divine and her disgusting display, mostly because there’s an actual storyline - thin as it may be. Pink Flamingos is definitely one of the films in the 1001 tome intended to give us a break from Serious Study. And you know what? I support it. Sometimes it’s good to have a genuine jaw-dropper in your brain. I have fond memories of my time with this film, and that, my friends, isn’t such a terrible thing.

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Ox-Bow Incident, The (1943), Or 28 Angry Men

 

An incident you need to get involved with
An incident you need to get involved with

Genre: Western Crime Drama

Starring: Henry Fonda (12 Angry Men • Once Upon a Time in the West), Dana Andrews (LauraThe Best Years of Our Lives)

Directed By: William A. Wellman (The Public EnemyA Star Is Born)

Overview: When a Deputy gathers a posse to find and hang the murderers of a cattle rancher, the question of justice versus vengeance causes strife among the group.

Feel free to click here to skip the spoiler bit at the beginning.

This paragraph is strictly for those who’ve seen the film, who never plan on seeing the film, or who don’t mind every hook, line and twister being ruined before they see it (you people are weird)...
Click here to skip the spoiler bit.

With a film is as tight as The Ox-Bow Incident, it’s easy to find the one (or two) niggling mistakes that would have kept it from being perfect. Firstly - and apparently a classic film flub moment - is the shot where Major Tetley (Frank Conroy), when confronted with his own particular brand of evil, steps into a room, closes the door and fires a shot, taking his own life. The door then opens before the shot cuts, as though he were still alive. A filmmaker friend of mine posited that when editing celluloid, a dissolve requires some extra frames of film at the end of the shot. It is then marked with a grease pencil showing which frames dissolve into which frames from the new shot. If this was simply a case of a missed dissolve in the editing room, it would explain why the shot went on almost exactly half a second too long.

But the real issue I had, or rather the only issue I had, was one little part of one little scene: once the posse has made the decision to hang the cattle-rustling murderers, they get on their horses to leave. Just then the sheriff arrives, a minute too late, to tell them that they have unlawfully hung innocent men. There, by the swinging bodies, the sheriff has his too-late-a-Deux-Ex-Machina lecture. Had this sheriff’s scene taken place once these false enforcers of justice had gotten to town, in front of the folks they live and work with; had it happened after the posse had had a day’s ride home, with a few lines to show how the pleasure of their justice had sunk in; had this happened in a more realistic time and place that was less theatrical, well I’d have been hard pressed to call The Ox-Bow Incident anything but perfect cinema.

Turns out the author of the novel actually wrote it that way, and the suicide played out a little differently as well.


just seeing these screencaps makes me want to see it again RIGHT NOW!
Just seeing these screencaps makes me want to see it again RIGHT NOW!

There can't be any such thing as civilization unless people have a conscience, because if people touch God anywhere, where is it except through their conscience?

I’ve seen my fair share of Westerns and plenty more Noir I suspect, but I dare say that The Ox-Bow Incident is a beautiful mix of the two. There is no doubt that a story about cattle-rustling in a dusty 1885 town where a murderer is chased by a posse plants The Ox-Bow Incident firmly in the Western genre. But The Ox-Bow Incident is rife with streaks of Noir, including frequent use of high-contrast, low-key lighting, symbolic expressionist cinematography, characters with a muddied sense of right and wrong, and a plot rich with darkness. With all that and a gloriously written little plot, how could I not love The Ox-Bow incident?

Let me tell you a little about it to inspire you to love it too: A couple of strangers (Henry Fonda, Harry Morgan) wander into town and catch wind that cattle-rustling is starting to become a real problem. The locals even suggest that the strangers might have a hand in it. After a quick and rousing fist-fight, an agitated young cowboy comes into the saloon talking about the murder of a local cattle rancher. A posse is quickly formed, but with the Sheriff out of town, it’s the deputy who unlawfully deputizes them. The Judge is quite clear that the posse has no lawful authority to hang anyone, or do any justice aside from bringing the suspects back for trail. Fearing further accusations, the strangers join up, and the posse of 28 head out to find the murderers.  

First he won't talk. Now he talks too much.

The performances by Henry Fonda is as expected, perfectly strong yet subtle. Seeing a young Harry Morgan - of Colonel Potter from “M*A*S*H” fame – was a pleasant surprise, as was the role of Anthony Quinn and William Eythe. Of course, without a doubt Dana Andrews in the role of Donald Martin, surrounded and accused cattle-rustler and murderer, might even have outperformed Fonda. I said earlier that one of the best aspects of The Ox-Bow Incident is the story, vague and with a muddied morality, but it’s the script that shines brightest. With believable yet poetic dialogue clearly taken from the Walter Van Tilburg Clark novel of the same name, The Ox-Bow Incident is brilliantly written, with rich characters who each have differently-sized crosses to bear.

At a curt 75 minutes, The Ox-Box Incident tells its story without dragging on, keeping a constant tension and vigilant focus until the credits – credits that let you know there’s War Bonds on sale at this theater.

Gorgeous

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 9 Script: 9 Plot: 9 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 88% (Let The Drama Happen)
Aftertaste:

If you haven’t seen 12 Angry Men yet, watch it soon after The Ox-Box Incident, or vice versa. You’ll find an interesting, even amusing parallel – that’s why I’ve been calling The Ox-Box Incident '28 Angry Men'.

Man, I need more Henry Fonda in my life.

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Rome, Open City (1945)

 

#192. Rome, Open City [Roma, Città Aperta] (1945)

Genre: War Drama (Italy)

Starring: Anna Magnani (The Golden Coach • The Fugitive Kind),  Aldo Fabrizi (The Flowers of St. Francis)

Directed By: Roberto Rossellini (PaisanGermany Year Zero)

Overview: A group of resistance fighters in 1944 Rome do their best to sabotage the state all while avoiding getting caught.

Sometimes the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book invites us to watch something that is iconic rather than ‘valuable’. John Waters’s Pink Flamingos is in the book because it is trash meant to disgust. James Bond is relevant to film society, so it’s good to know that at least one of these mostly campy, usually mediocre-yet-fun films make it to the list. I’d put these in the pile of ‘culturally noteworthy, meant to be fun’ movies, not really necessary for an education of Capital ‘C’ Cinema. Then there’s films like Les 400 coup (1959), a title that doubtless belongs to the study of Cinema history for being iconic to the incredibly influential French New Wave. There’s Citizen Kane, a film that for decades was officially considered ‘the best movie ever made’. And then there’s Roberto Rossellini’s Roma città aperta, a paramount example of neorealism: filmmaking marked with a documentary style, use of non-actors and real locations - as with French New Wave cinema - and to quote The Wikipedia, “a general atmosphere of authenticity” and “a sense of historical actuality and immediacy”.

Oh vile temptation!
Oh vile temptation!

Open City is the story of resistance fighters in a 1944 Rome occupied by Nazis. Their Communist leader, Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero) is hiding in the apartment of Francesco (Francesco Grandjaquet) and his wife Pina (Anna Magnani). There’s also Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizi), a priest who joins up with the cause. Their story of resistance is told through their manoeuverings and interpersonal relationships as they do their best to avoid the ranks of Nazis who are coming closer every day to closing in on them.

Much like my opinion of Open City, the film is split into two parts. The first half focusses mostly on the people and their secret manipulations, whereas the second half deals less with the interpersonal and a little more on the Nazi side of things. To rephrase: the first half deals more with the characters, and the second half deals more on action. To rephrase yet again: the first half is melodrama and the second half is actually entertaining. I didn’t find poetry in the dialogue, nor did I find most of the cinematography inspired. Sadly, this is the neorealist point of Open City, and I had a hard time enjoying it. Unfortunately I was asking myself, “why is this important?” rather than knowing it. I found most of the story, the drama and the Nazis all so common and unimaginative. In 1945, surely this was something fresh and new, but today it’s a stepping stone in film history that needed to be learned, but it wasn’t a fun lesson.

Wooden Nazis...
Wooden Nazis...

The highlights of Open City included the unfortunately under-focussed character of Don Pietro, and the radiant performances of the children. Somehow, the acting of the children was brilliant, with the lines delivered with a maturity and wisdom well beyond their years. I wish there had been more focus on their dichotomous roles, being both innocent and profound at the same time.

I found plenty more to enjoy in the second half of Roma città aperta. The pace, the plot and the focus changes. The melodrama fades. It sweetly takes its time in building and reaching a wonderful climax, and Open City leaves off with an enjoyable finish that almost made up for all the waiting.

#192. Rome, Open City [Roma, Città Aperta] (1945)More of THAT guy I say!

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 7 Script: 6 Plot: 6 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 66% (Open But Not Busy)
Aftertaste:

I hope Roberto Rossellini’s other 1001 book picks Paisan and Red Desert fare better than Open City. When Open City ended, I didn’t feel satisfied with my film of the evening. I asked my film companion if he had time to squeeze in something promising to be more fun. Lucky for me, he agreed, and we watched Pink Flamingos.

Also, for those of you who didn’t know the connection, Roberto is indeed Isabella Rossellini’s father. Her mother is Ingrid Bergman. Talk about fated for the screen.

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