Watching Bulworth in 2017 is Different Than Watching it in 1998…Probably

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Bulworth came out in 1998 when I was finishing up seventh grade and had this huge crush on a girl in my English class that I really wanted to ask out, but never did. What does that have to do with Bulworth? Not much of anything other than, it’s probably the reason I didn’t see it. I was more interested in this girl than politics at the time. And that was the way it went for a while, because I assumed that Bulworth was a political film and not a dark comedy.

I chose this as my first shame because it has often been referenced over the last year in relation to now-President Trump and the 2016 Election. It’s a valid comparison, a candidate that speaks his mind, says what he actually thinks, and in the end, wins people over. The film in retrospect, leaves me with an alarming take on President Trump making it perhaps a more noteworthy film from this point on.

In the film, Warren Beatty does a fantastic job of playing Senator Jay Bulworth who has reached the end of his limits. His campaign is seemingly dead in the water, he’s compromised his views and himself to stay in politics as long as he has. His marriage has been a fraud for years. He’s in a deep depression. When we join him, he has decided to commit suicide by hiring someone to assassinate him. The only problem is that he doesn’t know where or when it’ll happen, but that it will be sometime that weekend.

When he gets off a plan in California, he’s drunk (presumably in preparation to accept his fate), but now his natural survival instinct has kicked in and he’s running scared. He goes to a campaign stop at a church in an African-American community and begins to freely speak his mind. When it’s over, he realizes how good it felt to stop being a politician and continues a weekend of speaking his mind while continuing to avoid the assassin.

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The film goes from there and there’s no reason to go through it, but I recap all that to make this point: If Senator Jay Bulworth starts to speak his mind and not play into politics, because he has nothing to lose knowing he’ll be dead soon, then did Trump not play the political game in 2016 because he had nothing to lose? A man with nothing to lose is a dangerous thing.

Bulworth wasn’t revolutionary in filmmaking – it feels like a movie made in 1998. It was well-made. There was an almost farcical element to the assassination avoidance storyline and plenty of Warren Beatty rapping. Halle Berry gives a nice performance here as well as many of the great actors scattered throughout do. Bulworth didn’t shatter politics in any radical ways – while it has been reportedly reference by President Obama, I would argue The West Wing had a bigger impact on future politicos in America. Bulworth does explore issues of race, but it didn’t do much for that either. It’s a good movie, but there’s nothing that propels it into a great movie. Not yet at least.

In his book, But What If We’re Wrong?, Chuck Klosterman presents the idea that what is considered noteworthy or culturally important in the future is based on what the future values more so than what was happening at the time of publication. The 2016 Election will probably be the election where politics changed. President Trump gained a lot of supporters by not playing the political game and sounded different than everyone else out there. It’s hard to know for sure, but I imagine this will have an impact on how future candidates run for office. If that’s the case, then I can also imagine a future where Bulworth is of greater note than it is now by the general populace.

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Cinema Shame 2017

Why has my Shame failed so many times before is what I wondered while I was trying to come up with this year’s list. I came up with a couple reasons. First, I tried to be too hip. I went for all the classics that I know I should watch, but frankly have no interest in really watching. I tried to be “cool” in my selections. I tried to seem “hip” and say, “Yea, I know I’ve never seen this movie, but at least I know about it and now I’m going to watch it. Then I’ll be able to say this cool things.”

The second reason is that I specified the month I would watch each of these movies. So regardless of my mood, I HAD to watch that movie in that month. And then it became a project and homework, and I love avoid doing homework.

This year is different. These 12 movies are not necessarily all on the Top Movie Lists of Cinema, but they’re ones that I want to watch and feel I should have by now. Also, it’ll just be a list of 12 movies with no monthly expectation. Once a month, I’ll pick a movie depending on my mood and I’ll watch it. And hopefully by December, the final one doesn’t feel like homework.

The Shame List:

  1. A Few Good Men – I’m a huge fan of the work of Aaron Sorkin and his writing style, but somehow I’ve never actually watched this movie.
  2. Used Cars – Released at the same time as Airplane, it never got the same reception. I’ve heard a lot of comedians talk about how great this movie is, and as a comedy fan, I feel I should check it out.
  3. Bulworth – Also, often referenced and I feel it’s worth watching given our current political climate. Can’t remember the last movie I watched with Warren Beatty.
  4. Braveheart – I got this on Blu-Ray years ago. Someone gave it to me I think. It stares at me a lot from the shelf.
  5. Broadcast News – An often referenced movie by Aaron Sorkin that I’m not familiar with. And I like Albert Brooks.
  6. Network – I only know the famous scene. It’s also another movie referenced by Aaron Sorkin that I feel I should be familiar with.
  7. Barton Fink – With the exception of their latest, Hail, Ceaser!, and The Ladykillers, it’s the only film written and directed by the Coen Brothers that I haven’t seen.
  8. North by Northwest – Another movie that I’ve started to watch and know some of the highlights, but have never seen the whole thing.
  9. The Magnificent Seven – A classic western that’s been remade for some reason. Even with the talent that’s in it, I still haven’t seen it for some reason.
  10. The Conversation – So many nights I have thought about watching this, knowing how great it’s supposed to be, but always think: “I should watch this when I can actual focus on it.”
  11. Torn Curtain – Paul Newman and Alfred Hitchcock. How have I not watched this?
  12. Spotlight – I’ve been trying to watch this movie for over a year. Hopefully, I fit it in before the two year mark.

As the astute reader may have noticed, there are a couple recurring themes in this list. News, Media, Aaron Sorkin, and Alfred Hitchcock. That wasn’t intentionally done at the start of this list, but one rabbit hole leads to the next. And so my shame begins. Unfortunately, as of the time of posting this, chances are I’ll be a month behind and will cover two in February. Wish me luck.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946): Non-Christmas in July

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I now understand why I never got into It’s A Wonderful Life earlier in my life. The only time I was exposed to it was at Christmas, but calling it a “Christmas Movie” is a mis-characterization by today’s standards. The movie is so much better than that classification, calling it a “Christmas Movie” is the same as giving that title to Die Hard and Lethal Weapon.

Aside from the movie briefly opening on Christmas Eve, the first half of the movie is void of Christmas references, and “Christmas Spirit” aside from mentions of God and angels. The climax happens on Christmas, but the heart of the story isn’t tied to the holiday itself. The film could have been easily the same and carried the same weight had it happened on the 4th of July and the snow changed to rain.

Watching the film outside of the pretense of Christmas, it carries with it a different context. I’m not expecting the “Christmas Spirit” bullshit that litters all Christmas movies these days. I may be wrong, but I find most Christmas Movies these days end with talk of “Christmas Spirit” or “Oh, we’re a family, and we hate each other, but we’re family, so it’ll be okay,” or the entire movie is about Santa. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Christmas movie with an original message.

I’m getting off topic here.

I enjoyed It’s A Wonderful Life so much, that I hate that it’s limited by it’s references to Christmas as a Christmas Movie. The story is a great contrast to the last CinemaShame I posted: Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane was the story of a man who was greedy and lost it all even though none of it really mattered to him except one thing. It’s A Wonderful Life is the story of a man who was not greedy, and didn’t have it all, but realized he had what mattered most to him.

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The acting is superb, as always, from Jimmy Stewart. I could watch Jimmy Stewart literally do anything. If they ever find a tape of Jimmy Stewart reading a year’s worth of grocery lists, I’d pre-order the Criterion Edition of that Blu-Ray. The little movements he does to express emotion is this movie is phenomenal, especially as he goes through the full spectrum of every emotion. He’s a character that is consistently the guy you wish you could be and you love him for it.

And the final scene. I never saw the whole final scene. Just the point, when his daughter makes the comment about the bell. But that scene. I’m not going to lie, it stirred me more than that jersey scene in Rudy. (I have so much more to say about Rudy, but that’s another time.) I’m not going to express the last scene, but it’s important to take note of your life and wonder: “Could that happen to me?” If the answer is “yes,” then you win.

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One final thought on It’s A Wonderful Life – aside from that you should see it if you haven’t, and should preferably do it away from Christmas. I wonder how it would be received today given that the story relies heavily on God and angels. It’s hard to say given that recent movies like Heaven Is For Real seems popular in certain parts of the country, but not in others. If they ever remake It’s A Wonderful Life, which I guarantee has been discussed, I’m sure they’ll cut down on the religious aspects, but I hope they still carry the same message of the original. You may not get everything you want in this world, but if you live a good life, by good means, and help others, it’s the best way your going to live.

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Catch-Up: April’s Shame – Citizen Kane (1941)

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I had tried watching Citizen Kane many times before, but never made it very far. I was almost always bored by the lengthy newsreel sequence. Then eventually, I gave up trying in my late teens. But I have officially made it through the movie, arguably referred to as the greatest movie ever made, and I’m not so sure.

On first viewing Citizen Kane seems stale. The newsreel sequence is far too long and seems like it might be completely unnecessary. It’s long and tedious. The make-up goes between pretty good, to J. Edgar level. The film itself is an examination of the life and death of Charles Foster Kane, a would-be politician, millionaire, and newsman. The character is partially based on William Randolph Hearst, Samuel Insull, and Harold McCormick. And the story takes place after his death as a news reporter talks to people from his life to uncover the meaning of Kane’s final word.

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On further viewings, the newsreel sequence does seem a bit long, but is completely necessary. It provides a base for the story of Charles Foster Kane to be built on and provides one of the many versions of the kind of man he was. Maybe it just seemed stale because it’s used in other movies so much, most recently that I can think of, Iron Man. And it’s use just seemed like lazy story telling, but when Citizen Kane first came out, it wasn’t.

That’s something that I’ve had to keep in mind on my further viewings, that Citizen Kane broke a lot of new ground in film. A lot of which has been copied and re-copied for years, to the point where it is embedded in most of today’s films.

The idea of telling a story not through the linear narrative is perhaps the greatest gift to film Kane could give the world especially along side the idea of the unreliable narrator. The news reporter is given many different angles and theories on Charles Foster Kane from people that all had very different opinions of him. Were they telling the truth, or were they using his death to get even and show the world the version of him that they saw. It builds a complex character and makes the final reveal stand out. No matter what version was right, Kane’s final word highlights what he really cares about and who he really was when everything else was stripped away.

Without non-linear story telling, or multiple/unreliable narrators some of my favorite films might not have been made: Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, The Godfather Part 2, and The Social Network.

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The story telling is really what I eat up in this movie, but the effects and cinematography are a huge impact on current cinema as well. Deep focus was rarely used in those days, keeping the background and foreground in sharp focus. The up-angle camera shot and his crane work continue to inspire filmmakers. I can’t help but wonder if this being Orson Welles film debut helped him break new ground. He hadn’t been in the business to know “how things were done.” He did it the way he wanted to because he had never seen it done any other way.

There have been a few lists floating around the internet with movies to make sure your kids seen before a certain age. They mostly include the original Star Wars movies and the original TMNT films. By today standards, those movies don’t look as good, but if a kid seems them at the right time, they have more of an impact. Citizen Kane should be on a similar list. If you’ve already been spoiled by great, more modern cinema, then you really have to work to appreciate Citizen Kane. I’m not sure it’s still the greatest movie ever made, but it’s certainly up there and it certainly paved the way for whatever film holds that title.

March’s Shame: Blade Runner by @theactualkeith

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Blade Runner creeped up on my Shame List when after a failure in February, I felt I needed some true penance. Plus, I saw a few minutes of Blade Runner on TV and wondered why I hadn’t seen it before. (The scene I caught was Harrison Ford, Deckard, scanning the picture of the room while drinking his futuristic bottle of scotch.)

Blade Runner takes place in a future which has birthed organic robots referred to as “replicants.” Replicants have been banned on Earth and are used exclusively on off-world colonies. As we enter the world of the film, a group of replicants have escaped the off-world colony and returned to Earth to hide out in Los Angeles. Semi-retired Blade Runner, Rick Deckard, agrees to take the assignment of tracking down the escaped replicants. Blade Runner is the title for the police officers who are tasked with tracking replicants.

Harrison Ford is an excellent choice for the role of burned-out Deckard. The fact that a Blade Runner can get burned-out speaks a lot about the job. (It’s interesting to imagine what Blade Runner might have been had Dustin Hoffman taken the role in the first place.)

This film is what all science fiction movies should be. An exploration of the modern world through the prism of the future. And instead of looking at topics like social class and racism, Blade Runner actually explores the very nature of humanity. I already knew the great question of the movie going in. Maybe it was because I knew it, that I had trouble seeing the signs that brought it up in the first place. The same problem happens when you know directions so well that when someone asks you can’t give them landmarks.

So is the answer to the big question affirmative? Yes. Probably. But that wasn’t really the point, was it? The answer is the same as to whether the top falls at the end of Inception. 

ImageThe importance of the film is that it makes us consider what humanity is. What makes us know that we are human? What makes us know that someone else is human? Whether we are or not, how do other treat us and do they even care?

The larger questions aside, the film is beautifully crafted. Perhaps here would be a good time to talk about the various versions of the film. The film I saw was the only one I could get my hands on — The Final Cut. I knew that there were voice overs in other versions and I can see why Scott would have removed them for The Final Cut. They weren’t needed. If I ever find the time, it might be interesting to compare the many cuts of the film and see how they impact the story and the question of humanity.

But really, I’m content to watch and rewatch The Final Cut and look for all the details Ridley Scott hid in his world for us. The level of detail is immense — to the point that there are prices on the parking meters that are still illegible even in high definition.

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Blade Runner is a great film that has so much going on within its world, I feel only slightly less shameful than at the start of the year. What will fully relieve my shame? Several rewatchings of the film and a better understanding of its parts beyond a base knowledge constructed from parodies, references, and rip-offs.

 

January’s Shot at Redemption: Caddyshack

Comedies are a strange thing. It’s hard for a comedy to be truly timeless. There are jokes that will always be funny, but as a whole, it’s hard for them to withstand the test of time. Comedy relies heavily on the time and relevancy. Not just on cultural topics, but the general barometer of comedy culture at the time. The culture of comedy twenty years ago, is different than today. Different generations have different senses/styles of humor. (I think this is why Conan went over so poorly with Leno’s audience.)

With the passage of time, something else happens with older comedies that were very successful – they become part of mainstream culture. They are referenced and respun, spoofed and parodied. Movies in general do this, but for comedies it means that their jokes or gags are revealed to those that haven’t seen the movie yet.

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These are the contributing reasons that Caddyshack fell short on my first viewing. The main scenes that made the film famous are ones I had seen before, or felt like I had seen them in parody. The scenes with Bill Murray and the gopher, the bits of Rodney Dangerfield, and the boat sequence are all funny, but they didn’t catch me the way they probably did for people who saw the movie with no expectations or point of reference.

I’m not saying Caddyshack isn’t funny, but it’s been so cemented into the annals of comedy that it had a lot to live up to. It’s one of those movies a lot of people of a certain age reference because when it came out, all those people were of a certain age to see it. The younger you go, the less it’s referenced because less people in that generation have seen it. They are only aware of it through other references.

The cast is great and live up to their comedic legacies. Bill Murray is genius (maybe not as much as Ghostbusters, but still great), Chevy Chase has great delivery of lines you almost miss because he doesn’t act like he’s telling jokes, and Dangerfield does what he does best – gets no respect and does a solid 30 minute set spread throughout.

I saw it thinking I’d catch more references people were making. Turns out, I get them all already without seeing the movie. I had fun on my first CinemaShame penance, but I didn’t get the absolution I was hoping for. Maybe I’ll have slightly better luck in February.

Forgive me, Internet. I have Shamed. by @TheActualKeith

Watching movies has always been like a job for me. I love movies. I watch as many as I can, but somehow there have been many that still elude me. I try my best to keep up and catch up, but it’s hard when I’m the only one keeping myself accountable.

Now, thanks to the Internet (Thanks, Mr. Gore!), @campbelldropout, and @007hertzrumble I have other people that will keep me accountable for at least 12 films I really should have seen now. Although, seeing the lists of others, I don’t feel as bad. This site is like a great little support group.

“Hi, my name is Keith, and I’ve never seen…”

My list:

January: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)* and Caddyshack (1980)

February: Sound of Music (1965)

March: Citizen Kane (1941)**

April: Braveheart (1995)

May: North By Northwest (1959)** and Vertigo (1958)**

June: The Graduate (1967)

July: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966)**

August: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

September: Blade Runner (1982)

October: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

November: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

December: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

* I watched Glengarry Glen Ross a couple days before this idea was born. I thought about counting it for January since I had never seen it before, but that felt like cheating. That’s why I’m adding Caddyshack.

** I feel like I’ve seen these movies before, but it was so long ago, I can’t remember if I did. I couldn’t tell you anything outside of the standard synopsis, or the pop culture references. Maybe I saw them as a kid, or I only saw clips in a film class. Either way, I need to dedicate time to these.