State Your Shame for 2017

Do you have those movies — you know the ones — the ones you *should* watch, the ones you could watch if you just made the time?

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The Blade Runners, the Godfathers, the Taxi Drivers, the It’s a Wonderful Lifes that everyone talks about and maybe you admit you haven’t seen them.

Maybe.

Or maybe you pretend because you know enough to make idle conversation and espouse idle, non-poignant remarks that won’t give away your secret.

CinemaShame is a community of online writers, bloggers and social media participants that have formed a support group, a safe zone, for penitent moviewatchers. We name the movies we regret not having seen. We watch the movies. We write about our experience.

Finally watching a “classic” after reading and hearing about it for so many years offers a different perspective than those that have lived and loved a film for their entire life. It’s an informed perspective that brings prior knowledge and cultural awareness. Does the film live up to its status? Does it live up to the hype?

Join the Knights of Penitent Moviewatching. Share your shame, fulfill your destiny. Kneel before the classics of Cinema.

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31 Days of Horror: 2016 Shame-a-thon

For the past few years, I’ve gathered the fearless masses during these pre-Halloween weeks, encouraging them to indulge in a horror movie shame-a-thon, sponsored by Cinema Shame. The notion was simple. List 31 unseen horror movies you feel obligated to watch and tackle as many as you can during the month of October.

It may seem impossible, but October’s creeping up on us all yet again. I know this, you see, because it’s my birthday tomorrow and my birthday is a harsh reminder. The whole end of summer, end of one more year of existence combo-malaise. Pumpkin picking, hay rides, apple cider, arguing about costumes with small people… and then Halloween.

This year, I’m again following my Cinema Shame method, but adding a new twist. Fellow Pittsburgher @ElCinemonster has been organizing his Hoop-Tober Challenge on Letterboxd.com for three years now. Each year he lays down some challenges to help guide the viewing of his monstrous minions. Anyway, that’s been a smashing success, and I’ve enjoyed watching the event from afar. This year I’ve decided to combine my Cinema Shame Horror Shame-a-thon with @ElCinemonster’s Hoop-Tober Challenge to create the most unwieldy title in the history of movie blogging and watching.

Welcome to the 2016 CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile 31 Days of Horror Shame-a-thon

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So let’s lay down the laws, shall we? Continue reading

That Sinking Feeling – (1979, Bill Forsyth)

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Of all the Cinema Shame confessions I’ve made this is probably the most embarrassing. Up until a couple of years ago I didn’t even know Bill Forsyth’s comedy That Sinking Feeling existed. To make matters worse I’m Scottish, so I have no excuse for not having even heard of his debut feature. In my defence while growing up in the 80s’ Forsyth’s most famous films Gregory’s Girl (1981) and Local Hero (83) aired regularly on television. Occasionally Comfort and Joy (84) would appear in the early hours on STV but I can’t recall That Sinking Feeling ever appearing in the schedules.

It probably didn’t help That Sinking Feeling has only recently become available in its original form on DVD through the BFI’s Flipside series focusing on little seen British movies. Prior to that the only previous release featured the awful re-recorded audio track used for the film’s international release replacing the actors thick Glaswegian accents with middle-class voices and dubbed with all the skill and care usually reserved for kung-fu movies. For a long time this was the only version available.

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A tongue-in-cheek disclaimer at the start of the film claims any similarities to the real city of Glasgow are coincidental,  but it’s clear Forsyth is making a serious point here about the bleak prospects facing working class youngsters at a time when Scottish industries were in decline. That Sinking Feeling wears its social commentary lightly though and gives audiences a first taste of the understated often absurd humour of Bill Forsyth. Essentially the film is a series of comic set-pieces utilising Forsyth’s wonderful use of dialogue, and setting up sight gags that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the silent era.

Unemployed teenager Ronnie (Robert Buchanan) reflects on his place in the world and decides drowning himself in a bowl of cereal is no way to go out. Instead he decides he can make a small fortune by robbing a warehouse full of stainless steel sinks.  Ronnie enlists his equally unemployed mates to pull of an elaborately planned albeit eccentric heist. There’s Vic (John Hughes) and Wal (Billy Greenlees), wannabe master-thief Andy (John Gordon Sinclair), and Bobby (Derek Millar) whose homemade chemistry experiments have led to the invention of a drug which causes suspended animation.  It is to Forsyth’s credit that Bobby’s scientific breakthrough never feels incongruous even though it’s essentially science fiction. “Just think, waking up to start a new life in the Glasgow of 2068. The ring road will be finished” says a doctor later in the film and this mixture of absurdity and melancholy runs throughout Forsyth’s early Scottish films.

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People often compare Forsyth to Alexander Mackendrick for obvious reasons but there’s a hint of Michael Powell in there as well. Powell made two great films in Scotland The Edge of the World (1937) and I Know Where I’m Going! (1945) and both have great affection for its people and a sense of the landscape defining their place in the world.

Very glad to have finally seen That Sinking Feeling and might well follow up by re-watching Bill Forsyth’s later American films which I haven’t seen since they came out. Particularly his last Hollywood movie Being Human (1994) which flopped spectacularly despite the presence of Robin Williams but I remember being an interesting if flawed epic.

Cinema Shame Short Subjects- February 2016

With so many movies in my collection unwatched, if I were to do a Cinema Shame post for all of them, I’d never get anything else done.   Also, to be really honest, not every film I watch is going to be worth a whole post to themselves. To that end, welcome to my first compilation post, where I’ll write smaller reviews of the movies I’ve watched.

The Train Robbers (1973)

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 This movie has been sitting in my collection for a while now as part of a 5-disc blu-ray collection of John Wayne westerns. What first attracted me to it was the cast, most notably Ann-Margret. It’s the story of a group of cowboys led by Lane (John Wayne), who are hired by a widow (Ann-Margret), to find a lost shipment of gold that her dead husband had buried after a train robbery. The gold has also attracted the attention of every gun in the territory, including Ricardo Montalban.

The Train Robbers has the look and feel of a low-budget movie, or as if John Wayne felt like going out to film a western for a couple of weeks. The cast consists entirely of Wayne’s crew and Montalban; no one else says or does anything significant. In fact, even Montalban doesn’t speak at all until the end of the film. The entire film consists of Wayne and his crew going out to get the gold, and coming back afterwards. Locations are used and reused again and again for the trip out and the trip back, further adding to the low budget feeling.  I’d say it’s not really a bad movie; just a very lightweight, by-the-books movie. Entertaining, but hardly a classic of the genre.

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Flaxy Martin (1949)

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Next on my watch list was this noir from Warner Archive. Months before she was to play the long-suffering girlfriend of James Cagney in the outstanding White Heat, Virgina Mayo played the titular femme fatale here. Flaxy is the girlfriend of mob lawyer Walter Colby (Zachary Scott). Colby is tired of having to bail out the gunsels of mob boss Hap Richie (Douglas Kennedy), and tells him he’s quitting. Hap, however, has other ideas. When a case-fixing turns into blackmail, Hap, with the help of Flaxy, frames Colby for the murder of the blackmailer. Colby escapes from the train taking him to prison, and, with the help of a librarian (Dorothy Malone), heads back to the city to clear himself.

As the title character, Virginia Mayo is fantastic, very duplicitous and cold-blooded. There’s a scene where Flaxy is leaving a hotel room with a slight smile on her face, knowing a murder was about to be committed. It’s a great character moment, and it shows Mayo deserved her top billing here. Having said that, though, the movie being named after her seems rather strange. Though she is a central character to the plot, the bulk of the movie centers on Zachary Scott’s Walter Colby. This presents a problem because Colby is, quite possibly, one of the worst lawyer characters to ever appear anywhere. When Flaxy comes under suspicion in the murder of the blackmailer, Colby’s idea is to take the rap himself. Seriously. This is only one of the movie’s logical flaws. Colby as a character is simply not as interesting as Flaxy is, and watching him try to extricate himself from the drama is oddly hilarious, which is not something you normally want to see in your film noir. Still, it is a very watchable film, though perhaps not for the reasons the producers intended.

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Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)

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The last film I’m going to review today is yet another Warner Archive release. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a true classic from the 50s monster movie era, and its poster is certainly one of the most iconic movie posters ever. Allison Hayes is Nancy Archer, the richest woman in town, and also one of the most pitied. Recently released from a mental hospital and a noted drunk, she’s married to a sleazeball named Harry (William Hudson). Harry is having an affair with a local woman (Yvette Vickers), and flaunts her in front of everyone in town. One night, Nancy runs into a spaceship, but no one believes her. To prove she’s not crazy, she goes in search of the ship with Harry. When they find it, the giant creature from the ship goes after Nancy, and Harry abandons her. She later becomes the titular 50 Foot woman, and goes on a rampage.

It’s hard not to love this film. It’s as ‘B’ as a B-movie gets, and there are plot holes aplenty. Harry is certainly one of the worst characters to ever appear in any film. He’s a dick to everyone from his wife to her butler to the sheriff, and no one calls him on it. He keeps on plotting to murder his wife to get her money, to the point where he’s found in her room with a loaded syringe ready to administer an overdose to her, and yet it’s immediately forgotten. Granted, Nancy had suddenly developed into a giant, but you’d think *someone* would question why Harry was in her room in the dark. But alas, they don’t. He just keeps being a dick until the end of the movie. The movie’s climax is also nowhere near as impressive as the poster makes it out to be. Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had with it, and I’m glad I finally got to watch this classic 50s monster movie.

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The Shame doesn’t feel, it doesn’t give up, it follows. (Also Hard Eight!)

In the winter of 2014 I was given the wonderful opportunity to write about some classic films that I had slept on and do battle with my lifelong habit of procrastination.

Welp, after two articles I promptly flamed out. Two years later I am trying again. I’ve read some self-help books. I’m a little older, a little wiser, a little more married than I was before (Hi Rach!). I would consider myself a much more responsible person on the whole. I am truly a penitent man and I promise not to fall off the wagon again. If I do, know that it won’t be for some dumb reason like general laziness, it’ll be something more exotic like a hardcore meth habit.

So here’s my list for 2016. Same as my 2014 list, mostly, with some new additions… (I finally saw Jaws over the summer, so I can say that for myself…)

Hard Eight
Selma
The Stunt Man
Smokey and the Bandit
Lawrence of Arabia
The Man with the Movie Camera
Chinatown
High Noon
Animal House
Rope
Breakfast at Tiffanys
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Let’s kick it off after the jump with my thoughts on Hard Eight, the directorial debut from P.T. Anderson.

Continue reading

O Canada Blogathon Cinema Shame Special : Niagara (1953)

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This site, Cinema Shame, is usually about highlighting films one has never seen before. For this blogathon, I’m doing something a little different; I’m reviewing a movie which I have seen, which I’m hoping I can get other people to see, because I think it’s a shame if they miss out on it. In keeping with this Blogathon’s subject matter, I’m looking at a movie set in Canada. Specifically, the 1953 suspense thriller Niagara.

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Niagara is the story of a young newlywed couple, Polly and Ray Cutler (Jean Peters, Max Showalter) who arrive at Niagara Falls for a combination honeymoon/business trip. Their neighbours include George Loomis (Joseph Cotten) and his much younger wife Rose (Marilyn Monroe). The Cutler’s become friends with Rose, not knowing that she has a plan to murder her husband with the help of a lover.  When George disappears, everyone feels sympathy for Rose. However, Polly becomes entangled in the plot when she runs into George after his disappearance, and can’t convince anyone else she saw him. The movie’s twists and turns lead to a desperate boat chase in the river above the Falls.

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Niagara was directed by Henry Hathaway, a Hollywood veteran of both westerns and film noirs. His earlier films include Kiss of Death (1947) and The House on 92nd Street (1945). Niagara is, by all accounts, a noir, despite its being in Technicolor. The Falls are very much a feature of the film, and are used very well. The cabins in which both couples are staying were built specifically for the film, and they command an amazing view of the Falls. They were later removed after filming. Getting a little closer, The Walk Behind The Falls plays a very important part of the film, as it’s where Rose and her lover plan for George to die in an accident.  Rainbow Tower is also a key setting for the film, as it’s where Rose is finally confronted by George after his supposed death.

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 Speaking of Rose, a word needs to be said about how important Niagara was to Marilyn Monroe, and she to it. This movie marks the first time Marilyn ever got top billing, and it’s a rare dramatic role for her. 1953 was a very good year for Marilyn’s movies, as Niagara would be followed by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How To Marry A Millionaire. Marilyn, though, probably saw little of the success. Even though she was the film’s lead actress, Marilyn was still a stock player for 20th Century Fox, meaning she was paid a weekly salary (she wouldn’t become a contract star for another 3 years).   The producers behind Niagara, though, wanted the movie to highlight Marilyn, both as a character and an actress.

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Marilyn’s costuming in Niagara was all very form fitting, and it was often filmed to highlight Marilyn’s features. The film holds the record for the longest walk recorded on film (116 feet of film), and it consists entirely of Marilyn walking away from the camera. It’s also been said that the director cut down Marilyn’s heels for the walk so she would sway more than usual. Whether true or not, Marilyn is more than just a pretty woman in Niagara. As Rose Loomis, she plays her part very well, going from seductive femme fatale to fearful victim through the story. The whole cast play their parts very well, and the whole story is well-told, up to a point.

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If there’s a problem with Niagara, it’s with the timing of the story. With the focus on Marilyn Monroe, one of the biggest moments in the film is going to be the confrontation between her and Joseph Cotten after he escapes the death she planned for him.  The buildup to the meeting is very well-done, as we see Rose start to panic and seek a way out of Canada as fast as possible. George finds her and, after a bit of a chase, corners her under the bells in the Rainbow Tower. It’s a dynamite scene, filmed beautifully in color with all the trappings of noir. It would serve as a great finale to any film. Unfortunately, though, there’s about 15-20 minutes left. By this time, there’s a manhunt on for George, and he somehow manages to find his way to the same area where the Cutlers are going for the boat ride. This leads to George taking Polly hostage on a boat, and they end up drifting towards the Falls. George manages to get Polly to safety, but he ends up going over the Falls. The idea that these two somehow manage to end up at the same location for this to happen is stretching credibility just a bit, and feels just a bit pointless. Still, I think the film is definitely worth a watch. Not everyone thought so, however.

Marilyn’s costuming, as mentioned before, was very form-fitting, and the movie played them up to their advantage. Religious groups, however, felt the movie was indecent, and banned it upon release. Another complaint came from the Ontario MPP for Niagara, William Limburg Houck. He took a very dim view of the movie when it was announced, afraid that a story full of sexuality and murder would harm Niagara’s reputation and position as a tourist destination. His was a dissenting opinion, though; most everyone else in the Ontario government backed the film wholeheartedly, and to this day, it’s considered an important part of Niagara’s tourist history. You can even stay in Marilyn Monroe’s hotel room if you want (room 801 of the Niagara Falls Crowne Plaza, once the General Brock hotel). The movie, all in all, did justice to both the natural beauty of Niagara Falls, and of its lead actress, Marilyn Monroe.

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New York New York (1977, Martin Scorsese)

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No idea why I avoided seeing New York New York. A musical paying homage to the Golden Age of cinema sounds like something I’d really like but somehow I just never got around to it until now.

Synopsis:

VJ Day celebrations, New York, 1945. Despite her reservations Francine (Liza Minelli) spends the night with obnoxious jerk Jimmy Doyle ( Robert De Niro). Both turn out to be musicians. She’s a big band singer, he plays the saxophone. For reasons even Francine does not seem to understand she begins a long term relationship with this joker. Their destructive romance contrasts with the success their musical partnership brings them professionally.ny2I sat down to watch New York New York with with high expectations because I tend to prefer Scorsese’s more atypical movies than the gritty violent dramas people consider his default setting. I’ll take After Hours (1985) or The Age of Innocence (1993) over Goodfellas (90) any day of the week. New York New York a fine film beautifully shot by László Kovács and fuelled by nostalgia for the classic musicals of the 40s’ and 50s’. Boris Levan’s set design perfectly recreates the artificiality of studio built sets, which were meant to look better than real life ever could. The excellent musical numbers are a mixture of jazz standards and new tracks by John Kander and Fred Ebb, writers of the stage-play Cabaret. I wish I could really love it, but there’s just one problem.

This guy.Ny4De Niro gets a lot of stick for his career choices over the last twenty years but this is by far his worst performance because it diminishes an interesting film. For a practitioner of an acting style which supposedly encourages ‘authenticity’ De Niro is unbearably mannered here. Minnelli seems naturalistic in comparison and wears a barely concealed look of astonishment in every reaction shot to her co-star’s over-acting. The lack of chemistry between them is obvious from their first meeting during the VJ celebrations when Jimmy sits down uninvited at Francine’s table and pesters her for a date. These early scenes are meant to echo the first meeting between lovers in a screwball comedy who begin their courtship by hating each other but the attempt at witty repartee falls flat partly because De Niro is about as charming as cement.ny3Casting actors with two very different acting styles is deliberate. Minnelli is showbiz royalty, the daughter of Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli, while De Niro honed his technique at the Actor’s Studio. This contrast between the magic of old Hollywood and the grittiness of Scorsese’s work is there in the story too. New York New York might stylistically recreate the crowd-pleasing escapism of the Hollywood musical but at the movie’s heart is a troubled volatile relationship and it’s as tough as anything Scorsese has made. While I’m ashamed of not having seen New York New York until now I don’t feel as guilty as DeNiro should for gurning his way through it.