Flipping the Tables

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The movies I watch most frequently, roughly 80%, are subtle, full of dark images, deep thoughts, and painted with smoke, mirrors, and chiaroscuro. The movies I tend to walk around, to avoid, even when given four-star reviews, are bloody, action flicks, brutal and gruesome, cruel and angry. My best friend might argue with you, that is exactly what I watch, a mixture of the usual top-ten noir films we’ve all seen with Bogart and Mitchum and their splendid ilk. But I also watch a lot of 1940’s crime films with twisted femme fatales, and a mixture of characters with seemingly no conscience and no regrets. I suppose there is a discrepancy there but we all have our limits and I never did well with brutal, unless it was painted up pretty and put in stockings and a ball gown.

Enter Raging Bull, the top daddy on many critics’ lists, including Roger Ebert’s. I have a long love affair with both De Niro and Italian culture. They feel like family, like the sort of folks I suspect are in a few generations of my lineage and my husband’s. So when I was asked what films everyone has seen that I have not, Raging Bull and The Deer hunter were the first on my mind and out of my mouth.

I sat with my ice water, Raisinets, and popcorn and hit play. I was immediately transported into a painting. The movie is magnificent, and would be even with the sound off. But the combination of the music and the visuals is nothing short of, and the choice of Scorsese to use black and white hooked me from the start.

I was at ringside, not cheering or taking pictures. I was mesmerized by Jake LaMotta in the ring, boxing the air. He was alone in a smoky haze, only the camera flashes from out of the darkness indicating that anyone else could see him fighting his adversaries, and only he knew who he was boxing.

There are 8 boxing matches featured in this film but I don’t think Raging Bull is really about boxing. He could have been a tailor or a policeman or a mail carrier. It gets to the heart of jealousy and insecurity, and how a person can tear their family  and their own life apart with their hands. In that way boxing serves as the perfect illustration of a man that punishes others for their weaknesses and for their strengths that make him feel weak. A man that can punish himself just as easily, and take it. Over and over again.

I grew up enamoured with boxing. I think I got it from my mother, who, though she didn’t watch any sports regularly, except figure skating during the Olympics, but never missed a heavy weight bout. This was during Ali’s reign in the late 70’s–as well as Holmes, Norton, Spinks, et al. I never missed a Rocky movie, and loved all of them. But this is an entirely different animal. I believe that is because it begins as truth, from LaMotta’s own autobiography. I understand there were a few changes, but not crucial ones.

If it was fiction, I would be saying, hey, drop the anger a bit and balance things out. A viewer can only take so much? Lighten a few scenes, take a break with the pressure. But this is real life and Scorsese pulled no punches. We ride the wave from beginning to end, and it never lets up. But I won’t say anything about the end, never a spoiler with me, just in case I am not the only person in the world that has not seen Raging Bull.

The main difference between this and other ‘boxing’ movies, is that clearly each scene has been edited perfectly, edited for effect, and somehow the effects come off without being pretentious or condescending. It is a truly beautiful film. Cathy Moriarty is fantastic as his second wife, and Joe Pesci is brilliant as his brother. Most underrated actor ever, but I digress.

Check this out, one of my favourite scenes, when Jake tells his brother to hit him in the face.

De Niro barely even moves his head and body when he’s hit over and over. I understand he trained with LaMotta for a year to do this film right.

The hardest scenes to watch, but the most interesting are the ones with his wives, especially those with Vikki. They clearly loved each other desperately, but when Jake was jealous, or reacting to something she said, he was an animal, ferocious and unpredictable.

 

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De Niro’s LaMotta reminds me of what Brando pulled off in On The Waterfront, especially showing how a lady can temper the beast, at least for a time, and help him to feel something other than rage. In one memorable scene, Jake is trying to abstain before a fight but Vikki pushes him close to the edge. He pours ice down his pants and she goes to him and kisses him, holding him close. She walks away with a wet spot on her gown.

Between the rage and the passion, my inner voyeur was well satisfied, and now I can cross Raging Bull off my list. I could wax long about not letting anger ruin us and stopping the rage before we tear ourselves apart, but we all know this already, so lets’ be good to each other, and see lots of good movies to keep life rich, capiche?

 

 

 

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No Dog in this Fight: My first viewing of Straw Dogs.

The end of Straw Dogs has Dustin Hoffman’s David Sumner driving an uncredited David Warner’s Henry Niles back to town after the climatic showdown in the Sumner house. Henry tells David, “I don’t know my way home.” To which David responds, “That’s okay. I don’t either.” This final exchange sums up the entirety of what  Straw Dogs conveys. At the end of the day, just what are we? 

There will be spoilers here.

Prior to my viewing of Straw Dogs, the only film by Sam Peckinpah I’ve seen was The Wild Bunch. I took that film as a more visceral version of a Leone western. However having only seen it once, I didn’t get the themes that are prevalent with Peckinpah’s work. This film is rife with controversy and complications and interpretations. It is not an easy watch. Things do not resolve themselves. People are not good and don’t nescesarily become better people by the end of this.

This film is certainly one that earned its controversial status. It raises questions. Even if you answer one question, you may not answer the next question the same way.  Is Straw Dogs a condemnation of violent masculinity? One may interpret it that way. Or is it a celebration of that? It may be as well. Is Peckinpah blaming women for the violence that occurs against them? It seems that way, at least to me it did. Early on David asks his wife Amy (a heartbreaking performance by Susan George) why doesn’t she wear a bra if she doesn’t want the leering eyes of her ex-boyfriend and his cohorts focused on her chest. This moment is actually one of many that show her husband is not only meek, but part of the overall problem. He disrespects his wife at times and belittles her. He blames her sexual freedom for the attention she did not ask for. By time we reach the climax, you’ll see David is no better than the brutes who invade their home. It just took him a little longer to get there.


The controversial rape of Amy is still a discussion point to this day. Becuase of how Peckinpah filmed the scene, there are indicators that Amy at first refuses but then acquiesces. Now I do not see it that way. I saw a woman trying to cope with the violation being committed against her. The scene is brutal and uncomfortable and I actually feel uncomfortable trying to discuss it. Yet this is film criticism and I’d be remiss to not mention it at all despite its notorious reputation.


This is a very complicated film, directed by a very complicated man. Did Peckinpah hate the violence within himself? Did he allow that to manifest in this film? Does he think David is a hero or antihero? So many questions. It’s fitting that this film came out in 1971, the same year as fellow controversial director Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Straw Dogs, like that film are not easily watched. Yet both films hold a mirror to the ghastly primal nature of humanity and at the very least, make you look inside and question just what are you. Straw Dogs, structurally is a time bomb, ticking away during its runtime until it explodes in the climax. 

Is it just a matter of time for any of us? Just another of the many questions it forever brings. Endless questions and endless discussion.

2015 list

2015 is here and I must admit I did not complete my penance for 2014 nor did I even watch a movie a month. For 2015 however I am making all attempts to rectify that. Behold my 2015 CinemaShame with some holdovers from last year.

1. Blade Runner

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2. Do The Right Thing

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3. Yojimbo/Sanjuro

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4. 3:10 To Yuma (carryover from 2014)

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5. A Clockwork Orange

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6. Lethal Weapon (seen 2-4 but never the original)

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7. Ace in the Hole

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8. Friday The 13th. (Another 2014 carryover)

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9. Charade

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10. The Hustler

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11. Marathon Man

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12. The French Connection

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This year I’ll be 30 years old. I haven’t completed a whole lot of things but I am determined to finish this list. I wish myself luck!

Shame of The Innocents

At this point with a little more than a month left on the year, I’m trying my best to get as many movies in as possible. So most likely my original list won’t be completed but I am certainly still watching. Here is a look at the gothic horror film The Innocents which I had never seen. I previously posted this on my personal blog, I felt this had to be added to my shame because this is a brilliant film. I don’t usually engage in hyperbole so this really resonated with me.

Looking at The Innocents for the first time.

Directed by Jack Clayton

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I picked this up during the semi-annual Criterion Collection sale at Barnes and Noble. I have heard about this film’s legacy for years and had never seen it. I always like to hear of successful genre films from an older era because I feel viewers nowadays dismiss them unfairly. Here we have a nice and atmospheric gothic horror film that as you watch it is actually quite unsettling. Deborah Kerr plays a woman who becomes the governess for a wealthy man’s niece and nephew. I won’t go too much further into the plot as not to spoil anything but there is something suspicious about these kids. I know it sounds cliche, but the mystery behind this is quite intriguing.

The film opens with the 20th Century Fox logo, but no fanfare. It’s just a stark black and white image with the sound of a little girl singing. Very unnerving. I had previously thought that the opening to Alien 3 was very dark and foreboding but this takes the cake. The film oozes menace throughout which really makes it a horror film and not just some scare machine which one would think having seen its trailer. Honestly it doesn’t help sell the film at all. It makes it look like some 60s B-movie and this is far more than that.

As I watched the film, I took note of the splendid craftsmanship in the cinematography. It really reminded me of the work of Stanley Kubrick. Combine that with the tension that permeates the story which is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock, this is probably why I responded so well to the picture.

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A prime example of knowing how to scare people without making them jump. I would recommend The Innocents to anyone who hasn’t seen it or to those who profess to be horror movie buffs. This is a fantastic film, with quality acting and it’s also very well crafted. It’s a shame I did not see this film sooner.

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Back in the game…with The Most Dangerous Game

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I know, I know. I’ve been out for a while. Since March I believe.

At this very moment across the country, various Barnes and Noble locations are having a sale on Criterion Collection titles. If you are unfamiliar, The Criterion Collection is a distribution group that collects classic and contemporary films and markets them to cinephiles moreso than the general public. Since Criterion releases are usually higher priced than regular films, I use this opportunity to collect as many as I can during the sale.

One gem I managed to pick up was “The Most Dangerous Game.” The film was directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Irving Pichel and produced by Merian C. Cooper. Cooper and Schoedsack would soon move on after this film to create the landmark adventure film “King Kong.” In fact the sets of this film were used in “King Kong.” The movie stars Joel McCrea and Fay Wray as two people who are shipwrecked on an island owned by Zaroff, played by Leslie Banks. Zaroff is a man who hunts other humans for sport, hence the most dangerous game. McCrea’s character, Bob Rainsford is also a big game hunter and is selected to provide ample challenge.

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I must say for a film that’s only 67 minutes long, it certainly does not waste any time. There’s basically no exposition and I still feel I know enough about the characters we should be focused on. Also with this being a Pre-Code film, the violence feels a little more tangible.

I also did not expect to be drawn in with the level of suspense that this movie has. Once the hunt begins you feel part of the battle of with between the two hunters and how a calm head really is the greatest weapon you can possess in a situation like that. I certainly hope the short story that this film is based off of by Richard Connell is even more suspensful.

If you have the chance to watch this great adventure film, it reall is a gem and I would highly reccomend it. “The Most Dangerous Game” is currently available on Criterion Collection DVD, Hulu Plus and also on YouTube. This is a great example of classic Hollywood filmmaking.

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Due to the sale, my list may most likely have some major changes coming soon. Stay Tuned. I won’t be gone as long again,

oh, the shame: a confession by @midairalmacita

I’ll admit it.  I’m stubborn.  A bit of a rebel.  When people tell me to do something, I mostly do the exact opposite.  Because I’m an adult, damnit.  Only I was like this as a kid, too.

When people tell me I just have to do this or that, I mostly just roll my eyes.  I’ll do what I want, okay?

So, this way of being has led me to a lifetime of watching really obscure, bizarre movies or hopeless romantic comedies (that are really quite bad) while missing all the “classics” of my generation.  I also attribute my lack of exposure to certain films to my sheltered childhood.  Growing up with very little, we never got to see films in theaters.  I can only really remember watching Crocodile Dundee.  Most of the time, we were stuck with what was on TV.  Basic TV, at that.  (I think we had cable for 3 months during all of my childhood).  By the time I was a teen and could rent movies, I had pretty weird taste in movies. And well, everything.

Now that I’m 35, I’ve realized that I kind of missed out on some pretty fun stuff.  Or seemingly fun (since I haven’t seen these things, I can only assume…people look like these things make them happy).  I’ve also found myself in many conversations where I have no idea what the Hell people are talking about.

I have a thing called a Mighty List, and–at some point–I decided that I wanted to watch a bunch of movies.  I really wanted to expose myself to new things and get out of my comfort zone.  So, this is part of that.  My list is mostly based on other people’s shock when I tell them that I have no knowledge of said films.

Without further ado…

  • Labyrinth (1986) – I attempted to watch this once, back in 2004. My then-fiance was completely perplexed that I hadn’t seen this movie.  He was a big science fiction geek who tried and tried to expand my horizons.  (He once gave me every Kurt Vonnegut book ever simply because I’d never–gasp–read anything from that guy).  I was actually trying really hard to watch the movie–even though I had a hunch I probably wouldn’t like it.  I’m not much of a science fiction/fantasy person, to be honest.  But it was weird, and there was David Bowie–and ooh, Jim Henson.  Yea…totally fell asleep ten minutes in.  Like dead to the world asleep.
  • ET – The Extra Terrestrial (1982) – This is another one my ex-fiance tried to get me to watch…that I tried to watch.  I passed out about 15 minutes in.  This one really took some doing to get me to agree.  I’ll admit–I avoided it on purpose my entire life simply because people said it was an Alma film.
  • Star Wars Original Trilogy (1977) – I think this is the one I get crap about the most.  I’ve had past boyfriends try to convince me to watch it, telling me all about the mythology (which does seem cool).  But I always refused.  I had to draw a line somewhere, and I just couldn’t go there.  I guess I am now a bit more curious about all the fuss.
  • Indiana Jones & the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – It just never occurred to me to willingly watch this movie.
  • Inception (2010) – Another movie that all my friends said was an “Alma” movie.  I just could never go there.
  • The Matrix (1999) – I once had a friend who would talk for hours about this movie, and I had no clue what they were even talking about.
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) – Absolutely no excuse. They do midnight showings every weekend at the theater in my neighborhood.
  • The Godfather (1972) – I have absolutely no good reason for avoiding this one all my life.  I actually love a good mob flick.
  • Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) – I actually think I’ll like this one.
  • Bull Durham (1988) – I adore Susan Sarandon, so I pretty much have to see this one.
  • Road House (1989) – For me, Patrick Swayze began and ended with Dirty Dancing.
  • Die Hard (1988) – I still have no clue why this is a Christmas movie.

There you have it.  Make fun of me.  Share awesome romantic comedies.  (I swear I’ve seen all the good ones, and everything else is just terrible).  I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

“Son of a Gunderon, I’ve always wanted to be a mariachi!”

A Double Feature of Repentance

Well with less than a week in January, I have completed the first of my 12 month program to atone for my cinema sins. I originally did not have El Mariachi on the list but when I realized I had never seen the debut feature of one of my favorite directors. I knew I had to do a double feature. With this being the last day of January I am here to report.

1. Fargo

I am really glad I finally got to see this Coen Brothers masterpiece. Sadly they were robbed at the Academy Awards. Thankfully Frances McDormand got a much deserved recognition for Best Actress. I loved the pacing of the film and the care placed in showing the almost immediate unraveling of this so called plot and Marge Gunderson’s polite police work to solve the case. Fun and quirky.

2. El Mariachi.

I feel I did myself a disservice not seeing this film sooner. I love pretty much all of Robert Rodriguez filmography and Desperado is my second favorite after Sin City. El Mariachi reminds of a pseudo prequel/remake/reimagining of Desperado. It almost had a sort of Hitchcockian feel of a case of mistaken idea combined with the mastery of Sergio Leone. Good action and very stylish camerawork show that Rodriguez is still one of the most consistent directors cinema.

One step to repentance complete.