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Shelf of Shame: Comedy Edition – Withnail & I (1987)

by on Jan.07, 2015, under Shelf of Shame

Shelf of Shame Comedy

WITHNAIL & I (1987)
Bruce Robinson’s crudely shot but deeply personal meditation on friendship and alcoholism follows a pair of unemployed actors living in squalor and taking an impromptu trip to the English countryside to continue an ongoing avoidance of any actual responsibility. Richard E. Grant (in his film debut) stars as the troubled and self-absorbed Withnail with an at-first insufferable attention-craving desperation that soon reveals itself an even deeper performance symptomatic of an already-broken young man on a downward spiral, while Paul McGann’s “…& I” lends a straight-man backbone and nervousness that makes you wonder why he ever puts up with his so-called best friend that never did anything for him. But several moments help you realize the two deserve each other, as they con and booze their way into staying a weekend at the country home of Withnail’s affable if overbearing Uncle Monty (a hilarious Richard Griffith). Almost totally directionless, the pair seem content to drink their young lives into an eternal stupor, especially the ego-maniacal but practically useless Withnail who can’t help but drag his would-be buddy down into his even deeper and darker squalor. Robinson’s road/buddy flick has since achieved immense cult status in England, with some crossover in the U.S. thanks to the chemistry of the leads and constant stream of memorable dialogue, best doled out by spaced-out drug dealer Danny (a brilliant Ralph Brown), an overly self-medicated hippie philosopher of sorts who speaks to the disappearance of the 1960s, a decade he and others actively cherish but dread as it winds down. Robinson obviously made a film about people and times he knew all too well, reminiscing about the people and era he based it on (in a retrospective documentary on the Criterion Collection disc) with a clear mix of fondness and melancholy. The film speaks to and for a universal generation of youth looking for the right path or every excuse not to walk through moments of hilarity that often conceal a lingering sadness.

Grade: B+

Does it belong on your Shelf of Shame? Yes. At first glance, I’d go the other way, but this one resonates pretty quickly the more you watch it. Surely an acquired taste, it remains a cult classic for many, and you’ll likely see why during a first viewing.

  • SOME LIKE IT HOT (greatest comedy ever? need to see more Billy Wilder)
  • MEATBALLS (set Bill Murray’s film career in motion, created a legend)
  • A SHOT IN THE DARK (many including my dad call the best Pink Panther)
  • SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (need to see more Preston Sturges)
  • MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE (seen the other Python, gotta complete it)
  • EDDIE MURPHY RAW (is this the best standup movie ever?)
  • MIDNIGHT RUN (always stared at me in video stores)
  • THE APARTMENT (again with the Wilder, plus a best picture winner I haven’t seen)
  • WITHNAIL & I (gotta represent the cult classics, one I just keep hearing about)
  • SILVER STREAK (always wanted to see a Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder flick)
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Ben Stark’s 2014 Movie Year-In-Review

by on Dec.31, 2014, under Speculatin' a Hypothesis

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No, I haven’t seen Boyhood yet. Or Inherent Vice. Or Selma.

I’m not a film critic. I like watching and making movies, and it’s fun to remember the great stuff I saw in 2014, and to share that stuff with friends.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive look at anything beyond my own personal experience at the movies over the last 12 months.

Despite directing a demanding short film and welcoming our first child into the world, I did manage to see about 34 movies in 2014. I certainly saw less than I did in previous years, but I can live with that.

So, without further ado…

 

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VISUAL EFFECTS

  1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  2. Interstellar
  3. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  4. The Babadook
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy

 

EDITING

  1. Interstellar
  2. The Babadook
  3. The Raid 2
  4. They Came Together
  5. Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

 

SOUND

  1. Interstellar
  2. The Babadook
  3. Godzilla
  4. How to Train Your Dragon 2
  5. Blue Ruin

 

SCORE

  1. How to Train Your Dragon 2
  2. Godzilla
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  4. Interstellar
  5. Calvary

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  1. How to Train Your Dragon 2
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  3. Calvary
  4. Interstellar
  5. Blue Ruin
  6. Ida
  7. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  8. Locke
  9. Noah
  10. The Babadook

 

ACTION SEQUENCE

  1. Apes Attack, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  2. Battle of the Bewilderbeast, How to Train Your Dragon 2
  3. Capturing the Lemurian Star, Captain America: Winter Soldier
  4. Prison Fight, The Raid 2
  5. Thorin vs Azog II, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
  6. Final Fight, Godzilla
  7. Time in a Bottle, X-Men: Days of Future Past
  8. Times Square, The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  9. Prison Escape, Guardians of the Galaxy
  10. Museum Chase, The Grand Budapest Hotel

 

MOMENT

  1. Final Scene, Calvary
  2. The New Alpha, How to Train Your Dragon 2
  3. Checking Video Messages, Interstellar
  4. “Human… Work…”, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  5. Creation Timelapse, Noah
  6. Mother & Father Reunion, How to Train Your Dragon 2
  7. Zero Forgot the Disguises, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  8. Teddy in the Trunk, Blue Ruin
  9. Bard/Thorin Wall Talk, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
  10. Return to the Apartment, Ida

 

SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE

  1. Toby Kebbell, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  2. Gary Poulter, Joe
  3. Agata Kulesza, Ida
  4. Carrie Coon, Gone Girl
  5. Kevin Kolack, Blue Ruin

 

MALE PERFORMANCE

  1. Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
  2. Tom Hardy, Locke
  3. Brendan Gleason, Calvary
  4. Macon Blair, Blue Ruin
  5. Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar

 

 

FEMALE PERFORMANCE

  1. Essie Davis, The Babadook
  2. Mackenzie Foy, Interstellar
  3. Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida
  4. Jessica Chastain, Interstellar
  5. Amy Poehler, They Came Together

 

SCRIPT

  1. Calvary
  2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  3. How to Train Your Dragon 2
  4. They Came Together
  5. Blue Ruin

 

 

DIRECTOR

  1. Dean DuBois, How to Train Your Dragon 2
  2. Jennifer Kent, The Babadook
  3. Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel
  4. John Michael McDonagh, Calvary
  5. Christopher Nolan, Interstellar
  6. Matt Reeves, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  7. Jeremy Saulnier, Blue Ruin
  8. Steven Knight, Locke
  9. Paweł Pawlikowski, Ida
  10. Gareth Edwards, Godzilla

 

 

And, of course, my Top Ten of 2014, as of today.

 

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10. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? This was a tough slot to fill, and it honestly cycled between the new Hobbit film and Godzilla a few times before I settled on recommending a more idiosyncratic: Sion Sono’s bloody and hilarious ode to filmmaking. A bizarre mixture of Guy Ritchie crime films, Super 8, and Kill Bill, this is an absolute blast, with a raucous, adrenaline-fueled, and surprisingly emotional final act.

 

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9. Ida - A quiet and deceptively simple story about a young nun, Ida, who begins to learn about her past and her family’s legacy is told with a beautifully restrained hand by Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski. Agata Kulesza gives an absolutely heart-breaking performance as Ida’s aunt, whose inability to reconcile with the sins committed against her highlight what seems to be a big theme in the films I loved in 2014: Forgiveness.

 

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8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier - I never would have guessed that Anthony and Joe Russo, mostly known for directing television comedies, would crank out one of the most effective action films in years. As a big Cap fan, I’m of the opinion that his solo adventures should be grounded, gritty spy stories, and that’s exactly what the Russos and Marvel Studios delivered. The film earns its place in the Marvel canon by introducing major changes to the overall franchise narrative, rather than feeling like yet another low-stakes chapter in an ongoing story. Chris Evans continues to excel in the role of Steve Rogers, and his refusal to give up on – or feel victimized by – his best friend in the film’s climax is a perfect example of how Captain America should be drawn.

 

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7. Blue Ruin - A tense and brutal mash-up of The Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple and Jeff Nichols’ Shotgun Stories, Jeremy Saulnier’s earthy Southern revenge thriller is a thing of beauty. The way Saulnier uses sound design and pacing to tease out linger moments of tension signals the arrival of a new young expert of suspense. Again, forgiveness and reconciliation are key here, as Dwight (the excellent Macon Blair) seeks vengeance, inadvertently putting his loved ones (and his body) at hazard.

 

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6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - You could take this movie in so many different ways. Is it just another franchise entry in a CGI-driven blockbuster series? Is it an absurd comedy where an ape rides a horse, wielding dual machine guns? Is it a thoughtful allegory for Middle East tensions? Is it a detailed look at how societies grow and conflict? Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is some how all of these things and more. A smart thriller that could have never been released without the decades of narrative context that has come before it, the film is a great example of the beautiful absurdity that big-budget spectacles can deliver, while still managing to present sincere and relatable characters. Again, unforgiveness rears its mangled and scarred head: Koba (Toby Kebbell in my favorite supporting performance of the year) has plenty in common with Blue Ruin‘s Dwight or Ida‘s Wanda.

 

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5. Interstellar - More proof that Hollywood isn’t completely doomed. If this is what we get when Christopher Nolan is a bit off his game a mere two years after wrapping up one of the great trilogies in film history, well then we should appreciate what we receive all the more. As with other Nolans, Interstellar becomes more and more compelling with distance and repeat viewings, once the hype of marketing and the allure of third act twists fall away. All we want from our Hollywood epics is sincere emotion and the highest craftsmanship, and here we have both, intertwined: A multi-generational (kind of) drama about family dysfunction told on the canvas of multiple galaxies, using the cutting edge of film technology, that exudes soul, empathy, and hope.

 

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4. The Babadook - If there’s one thing I’m a total sucker for, it’s character-driven existential horror films… And with The Babadook, Jennifer Kent delivers an existential horror film that belongs in any conversation containing the titles The TrialDon’t Look Now, or Hour of the Wolf. In fact – and I’m no pure horror expert by any means – this might be the best horror film I’ve seen since Drag Me To Hell in 2009. Regardless of irrelevant genre chatter, The Babadook is a terrifying and expertly crafted movie, anchored by a brilliantly tormented performance by Essie Davis. It also came at a time for me when my wife and I were dealing with a sleep-depriving newborn infant. It’s so healthy to have a film that does not skirt around the dark and ugly side of parenting. In fact, The Babadook wisely illustrates the danger of isolating oneself and denying one’s own inadequacies as a caregiver. Watch it in the dark with the volume way up.

 

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3. The Grand Budapest Hotel - I can’t help but think we’re all taking Wes Anderson for granted. It’s mind-boggling to think about how long he has been consistently doing splendid original work that plays on screens around the world, and yet he doesn’t often get mentioned in the same breath as a Scorsese, a Malick, or a Paul Thomas Anderson. He should. Not only is his prolific output eerily inspired and always refreshing, but he is also an entire generation’s introduction to film as a purely auteur-driven medium. Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums were formative films for so many adolescent and college-aged cinephiles during the turn of the century, and here he is fourteen years later, still inventing and making a film as beautiful as those, all while adding ambition, scope, intricacy, never leaving behind those little moments of beautiful truth. In what might be The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s finest scene, Ralph Fiennes’ brilliant Gustave H loses his temper in scolding his lobby boy Zero after his protege forgot to bring necessary supplies to a prison break. Realizing he’s flown off the handle (still fairly gracefully, of course), Gustave quickly corrects himself, pointing out that civility in a brutal, unforgiving world is one of life’s greatest virtues.

 

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2. How to Train Your Dragon 2 - I’ll be honest; I’m feeling some weird guilt about being so enraptured by a computer animated, big-budget sequel aimed at 10-year-olds. But alas, if I’m honest with myself, there’s no other movie this year that is as much fun, has as much heart, and gets more out of its place in mass culture than How to Train Your Dragon 2. Here’s an awesome adventure film with thrilling action sequences, several heart-wrenching moments, and a vibrant, deep cast of characters that all have something to do. It’s a kid’s movie in which the hero’s girlfriend has her own goals, her own identity, needs no rescuing, and develops a friendship with a male character that in no way becomes romantic. Zero tension is derived from tawdry, tween-peddling melodrama. Instead, tension comes from characters’ inability to forgive, or reluctance to allow others to forgive them. And yet, out of these small character dynamics comes a rich widescreen adventure with gorgeous animation and massive stakes. Dean DuBois has taken a novelty literary property gobbled up by the DreamWorks machine, helped make a surprisingly strong adaptation, and has now taken the reigns to create a mythic saga of Star Wars proportions.

 

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1. Calvary - I can’t get this film out of my head. On finishing it, I was impressed by a well-shot and sharply written character study that mostly relied on dialogue to convey its ideas. However, several weeks later, the moment of film in 2014 that has stuck with me most is Calvary‘s final scene, a wordless piece of cinema that beautifully encapsulates the entire difficult and darkly comic story that comes before it. Without spoiling anything, Calvary is a poignant look at the importance of reconciliation. From Brendan Gleeson’s complex-but-controlled performance to Patrick Cassidy’s mournful main theme, director John Michael McDonagh uses his rich resources to their maximum potential. A stirring, profane, faith-affirming, faux nihilistic masterpiece.

“I think forgiveness has been highly underrated.”

 

 

And now… fun with Letterboxd!

Top Ten of 2014

Top When? of 2014 - Movies I’d love to have seen at this point that I think may have appeared (and may still appear) on my top ten of 2014.

To See: 2014 - All the movies I’d like to see with a 2014 release date.

Most Anticipated of 2014 (January) - The ten films I was most looking forward to a year ago.

Most Anticipated of 2015 (January) - The ten 2015 films I’m looking forward to most. What a year it’s set to be.

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Shelf of Shame 2014 – Ben Stark

by on Dec.06, 2014, under Shelf of Shame

In 2013, I watched 12 “classic” films that I hadn’t ever seen before. It worked out well, and I’m doing it again in 2014! Here are the final 12 films I’ll be watching. Friends from Film Nerds, Aspect Radio,  and the Hollywood Gauntlet and Fabisch Factor facebook groups voted and helped me whittle down the list to just 12. Needless to say, I’ve got plenty more years of movie-watching left before this Shelf of Shame is empty.

 

January – DOG DAY AFTERNOON (Sidney Lumet, 1975)

VIEWED JANUARY 25th – I was expecting great things from Sidney Lumet, a director whose work I’ve not seen much of, and of course I had heard great things about Al Pacino’s lead performance, but what I wasn’t expecting was the amazing work from Charles Durning. I was primarily familiar with Durning from his fantastic comedic work as Pappy O’Daniel in The Coen Brothers’ O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, but his turn as negotiating officer Moretti is absolutely staggering. Every performer in Lumet’s somewhat comic heist movie feels exceptionally lived-in and organic, but somehow Durning’s work is what really blew me away. Overall the film moves extremely quickly, but for some reason I felt a disconnect when it came to John Cazale’s tragic Sal character. This will probably subside with future viewings.

February – THE STING (George Roy Hill, 1973)

VIEWED FEBRUARY 18th – Being that George Roy Hill’s BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID is one of my all-time favorite movies, my expectations were very high for Hill’s reunion with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. While THE STING doesn’t have its predecessor’s visual flair, structural experimentation, or winsome anachronisms, it’s still a very entertaining and satisfying caper film. It’s more of a Redford vehicle than a showcase for Newman, which is – again – a slight disappointment, but Redford certainly has plenty of screen presence to hold his own. What’s immediately apparent about THE STING is its incredible production value. The art direction and costume design is staggering, and along with the wonderful interstitial title cards, go a long way in creating an absolutely organic, lived-in environment for its characters. Hill doesn’t let any of the design go to waste, either; much of the film is shot in slow, open wide shots that make sure we get to see all of our characters living in the world created for them. As with most 1970′s classics, the supporting cast is fantastic, as Charles Durning makes another welcome appearance. He’s joined by the great Robert Shaw in a glowering villain role, as well as a very charming Harold Gould and a scrappy, likable Jack Kehoe. All in all, THE STING was a warm, effervescent caper delivered to me in the dead of winter, and it couldn’t have been more welcome.

March – THE GREAT DICTATOR (Charlie Chaplin, 1940)

VIEWED MARCH 29th – Quite possibly one of the most important films I’ve watched for the Shelf of Shame, it’s a miracle that Charlie Chaplin’s brave satire even exists. Much has been written about the audacity of THE GREAT DICTATOR, but what strikes me is its episodic nature, reminding me more of Chaplin shorts than features, and its obvious change from other Chaplin features: The use of dialogue. Chaplin’s toe-dipping into sound is what makes MODERN TIMES such a beautifully fun anachronism, but here the full-on sound treatment doesn’t sit as well. There’s something awkward and misshapen about Chaplin’s film, but it’s such a bold statement, and features several excellent sequences (including that famous ending), that it still manages to charm.

April – THE GREAT ESCAPE (John Sturges, 1963)

VIEWED APRIL 25th – This is one of those quintessential Shelf of Shame picks; a film that everyone has seen on VHS or cable a billion times by accident. THE GREAT ESCAPE is bona fide American classic, with an iconic score by Elmer Bernstein and a possibly even more iconic performance by Steve McQueen. I can’t identify why I’ve never seen this movie, but boy am I glad I put it on this year’s list. It is an absolutely essential war film, and wonderfully mixes the broad, populist imagery and types of John Ford with the brutally specific mechanics and details of Jean Pierre Melville. Yes, the first act feels a bit flabby while it’s going on, but once the second act starts gearing up, everything begins paying off and the time just flies by. The wide, passive, somewhat stagnant grammar that Sturges sets up at the start of the film is necessary to the utilitarian, geographically precise approach that the film’s all-climax third act demands. I’ve been a bit lukewarm on a few of my Shelf of Shame selections so far this year, but here’s one that earns its spot on the list, and is must-watch material for any movie fan.

May – BRAZIL (Terry Gilliam, 1985)

VIEWED MAY 28th – As a guy that’s generally ambivalent toward Terry Gilliam (although a few of his most well-revered films sit on a future Shelf of Shame), I wasn’t expecting much out of BRAZIL, but made sure it was on this year’s list because of its high status amongst film snobs in general. How wrong I was to go in with lowered expectations. From the opening scene, Gilliam’s camera and Norman Garwood’s Production Design completely captivated me, and by the time Jonathan Pryce’s dream sequences arrived I was already won over. I’ve never been too interested in Pryce as a performer, but here his comic timing recalls something of Buster Keaton, and he makes an excellent entry point into an entirely original, terrifying, and hilarious universe. I’m always glad to be proven wrong, and I was definitely wrong to expect anything but greatness from this obvious classic.

June – HANNAH & HER SISTERS (Woody Allen, 1986)

VIEWED JUNE 30 – As with many Woody Allen films, it took me right into the second act of HANNAH & HER SISTERS before I became comfortable with the movie’s pacing, dialogue, and setting. There’s something about the privileged intellectual sandbox that Allen plays in that keeps me at arm’s length, but once his stories introduce their central conflict, they very often succeed. On average, I really love Woody Allen movies, and this film definitely jumps into the top of his filmography for me. The moment that this realization solidified for me was in the last of Max Von Sydow’s few scenes, in which his character’s relationship with Barbara Hershey goes from bored to devastated in mere minutes. All the performances are fantastic, but something about Von Sydow’s Frederick fascinates me; he’s an incredibly gruff art snob, as well as a fully self-aware codependent lover to Hershey’s Lee. The film mirrors CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS in a way, as it mirrors an infidelity plot (featuring Michael Caine, Hershey, and Mia Farrow) with a search for spiritual certainty by Woody Allen’s Mickey, but I’ll admit that Allen’s scenes wore a bit thin for me… but the less time you spend in them, the less power the film’s wonderful ending has, so all that familiar existential hand-wringing ends up being an entirely worthwhile experience.

July – PATTON (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970)

VIEWED JULY 30 – It’s really incredible that a movie produced so relatively close to World War II could be so acerbic towards the American military, so honest about the religiosity of 20th and 21st century war and politics, and so generous in its portrayal of German military members as thoughtful and astute. I had always assumed that PATTON was a typical 50′s or 60′s “war picture” in the vein of THE LONGEST DAY, but this is absolutely counter-cultural… and yet, it doesn’t go out of its way to be condescending or insulting. Here’s a film that is written by vocal Vietnam War critic Francis Ford Coppola, yet totally embraced by Richard Nixon himself. PATTON exceeds at every level: It’s an incredible character study of a fascinating, terrifying, and funny man. It’s a really strong war narrative that gives a very clear idea of geography, stakes, and chronology. It’s amazingly directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, a man whose filmography whom I’ve always been interested in, but now have to consider a major priority. The way he uses wide screen compositions to frame characters within their contexts is absolutely masterful. Of course, Jerry Goldsmith’s multi-textural score – which is at times whimsical, other times haunting, and sometimes even inspiring – is deserved of the praise that’s been heaped upon it for the last 44 years. I can’t rant and rave about PATTON enough. Again, George C. Scott’s performance. The scenes of the Nazis psychoanalyzing Patton. The general “remembering” the Carthaginian battle against the Romans. The contrast of Patton against his cowardly bull terrier, Willy (God forbid he be named after William the Conqueror with THAT attitude). And of course, that final moment poem and that final shot. If you haven’t seen PATTON, move it to the very top of your Shelf of Shame.

August - TRAINSPOTTING (Danny Boyle, 1996)

VIEWED SEPTEMBER 24 – I failed. What a tragedy. Unfortunately, August was a tremendously busy month because of a film I’m making, and September hasn’t been any calmer due to the baby my wife is expecting and the nursery that needs to be completed, so I  haven’t gotten a chance to watch many films. I’ll admit I watched this in parts across several lunch breaks. I’m sure that influenced my experience, which wasn’t overwhelmingly positive, but I also know that this just isn’t the type of film I usually respond to. Perhaps it’s the squalor, the horror, and the comedy all mixed up together, or the broad and base way each of these is represented (two poop jokes, guys), but something about TRAINSPOTTING failed to amuse or greatly move me. MacGregor’s performance is amazing, however, and Danny Boyle’s camera placement is always admirable.

September – ELEPHANT (Gus Van Sant, 2003)

VIEWED SEPTEMBER 23 – Not only did I fail, but I cheated. I’ve been wanting to catch up with ELEPHANT since it was released during my college years, and it’s only become a higher priority as I continue to discover the work of Gus Van Sant. The man is clearly a master, and having also loved PARANOID PARK, it’s no surprise that ELEPHANT completely captivated me. In fact, it did more than that. In a strange way, this movie transported me to the moment I heard about the Columbine shooting: I was a sophomore in high school, working as an office aide, which was the perfect elective class for someone who enjoyed doing invisible, meaningless work as opposed to sitting in a class room or socializing in a gym. I remember the administrators’ muted reactions. I remember learning more and more about the tragedy and easily imagining how it could have happened at our school. This movie is quite possibly the most accurate representation of high school I’ve ever seen. The monotony, the emptiness, the bizarre chemistry between working professional adults and overgrown children, and the long, languid nature of days spent in seemingly arbitrary confinement with similar-yet-scary strangers. Beyond its verisimilitude, the movie’s pace and dramatic beats are absolutely shock-inducing and numbing. This isn’t a movie I’d like see again any time soon, because it’s a movie I won’t ever be forgetting.

October – VIDEODROME (David Cronenberg, 1983)

VIEWED OCTOBER 29 – I’ll admit it. I’m scared to watch Cronenberg. THE FLY absolutely ruined me as a child, and even now I get queasy thinking about it. In trying to tackle this fear, I’ve scheduled a Cronenberg for my last two Shelves of Shame. Last year’s SCANNERS was good, but I felt it was non-essential sci-fi horror. I can’t say the same for VIDEODROME, which has an assured tone and collection of iconic images that put it in the “essential sci fi horror” category along with Carpenter’s THE THING, ALIEN, and Kaufman’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. I still don’t quite understand why so many cinephiles consider Cronenberg to be an art-film staple, considering that the works of his I’ve enjoyed most have been very good, pulpy genre pieces. Setting all the useless expectations aside, I can highly recommend VIDEODROME for its clear and assured direction, sickening tone, and mind-bending imagery.

November – M.A.S.H. (Robert Altman, 1970)

VIEWED NOVEMBER 19 - Defenders of MASH may suggest that the film shows humor in the midst of the horrors of war, but that presupposes that joy can only be experienced at the expense of others. A mish-mash of shamings, stale jokes, mild racism, and misogyny, MASH was a fairly miserable experience for me. Altman wallows in messiness: inconsistent shot selections, cluttered compositions, rough zooms, ugly looping, shaky focus. All certainly intentional, but all contributing to an muddy, unpleasant, and destructive experience. It may come as no coincidence that another of this year’s Shelf of Shame titles was PATTON… A far more effective, subversive, and yes, funny satire of the folly of war, also released in 1970. Elliot Gould is pretty great, though.

December - THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (John Sturges, 1960)

VIEWED DECEMBER 6 – What a dependable action director John Sturges was. A satisfying and fun Western that doesn’t match the gravitas of SEVEN SAMURAI , Sturges’ remake still impresses with beautiful cinematography and a phenomenal cast. I was baffled by the casting of ONE TWO THREE’s angry young Communist, Horst Buchholz, as the brash, presumably Mexican Chico. As in THE GREAT ESCAPE, Steve McQueen is absolutely phenomenal and ridiculously charming. His repartee with Yul Brenner was clearly an influence on Newman and Redford. All in all, an above average Western and a really fun conclusion to this year’s Shelf of Shame.

I’ll be posting my titles for 2015′s Shelf of Shame list soon, so stay tuned. Also, I’ll be ranking the 2014 films in order of personal preference over at Letterboxd (posted below).

Just like last year, be sure to check in monthly to make sure I’m staying on schedule! Here‘s the list on Letterboxd.

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Cinematrimony – Guardians of the Galaxy

by on Aug.08, 2014, under Cinematrimony

Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss Marvel’s latest comic book adaptation Guardians of the Galaxy. Does the movie exceed Matt’s fanboy hype? Does it play well with notoriously anti-superhero Francesca? Matt and Francesca discuss this and more in this episode of Cinematrimony.

Click Here to Download: Cinematrimony – Guardians of the Galaxy

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Cinematrimony – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

by on Jul.24, 2014, under Cinematrimony

Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the latest edition of the sci-fi reboot franchise. Matt was thrilled with the first film in this new imagining of Rod Serling’s bizarre sci-fi tale but will Francesca come around after this heavily-praised sequel? Matt and Francesca discuss this and more in this episode of Cinematrimony.

Click Here to Download: Cinematrimony – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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Shelf of Shame: Comedy Edition – Midnight Run (1988)

by on Jun.18, 2014, under Shelf of Shame

Shelf of Shame Comedy

MIDNIGHT RUN (1988)
Martin Brest’s road action/comedy marks the first essential film in this 10-part comedy series thanks to a deft script loaded with memorable action and dialogue delivered by pros in their absolute primes. Robert De Niro obviously still had about a decade of brilliant work in him, this on the cusp of “Goodfellas” and “Awakenings.” As no-nonsense, world-weary bounty hunter Jack Walsh, we get arguably one of his best performances to date, and a terrific comedic turn at that in case you didn’t know he had it in him. Matching wits with the great and unspeakably dry Charles Grodin as a mob embezzling prisoner, De Niro leads us on a wonderful adventure from New York to Los Angeles by plane, train and any automobile at his disposal. And Brest sprinkles terrific action sequences, particularly one involving a helicopter, machine gun and river used to their rich potential. But the real strength here is the chemistry of those leads along with George Gallo’s feverishly paced and wonderfully profane script, handled perfectly by Brest (who also directed the first “Beverly Hills Cop”). Despite a a few tracks on the slightly dated but to-be-expected 1980s soundtrack (otherwise scored well by Danny Elfman), this film seems pretty timeless in its tone and simplicity. And it has a heart, too, not just rooted in the relationship De Niro and Grodin develop. We get a heartbreaking but sweet scene when De Niro visits an ex-wife, which seems pretty standard until his teenage daughter turns up during an argument. De Niro totally sells a tender moment when his hard-nosed and cash-strapped bounty hunter turns down money his daughter raised babysitting. Add the brilliant Dennis Farina as an always-angry and quick-witted mob boss (pre-dating his similar turn as Ray Barbone in “Get Shorty”), John Ashton as De Niro’s opportunistic rival bounty hunter, Yaphet Kotto as a miffed FBI agent always a step behind Walsh and Joe Pantoliano’s scummy bail bondsman, and you’ve got a terrific ensemble.

Grade: A

Does it belong on your Shelf of Shame? Yes. This is an all-time great action/comedy and road move featuring one of Robert De Niro’s best performances.

  • SOME LIKE IT HOT (greatest comedy ever? need to see more Billy Wilder)
  • MEATBALLS (set Bill Murray’s film career in motion, created a legend)
  • A SHOT IN THE DARK (many including my dad call the best Pink Panther)
  • SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (need to see more Preston Sturges)
  • MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE (seen the other Python, gotta complete it)
  • EDDIE MURPHY RAW (is this the best standup movie ever?)
  • MIDNIGHT RUN (always stared at me in video stores)
  • THE APARTMENT (again with the Wilder, plus a best picture winner I haven’t seen)
  • WITHNAIL & I (gotta represent the cult classics, one I just keep hearing about)
  • SILVER STREAK (always wanted to see a Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder flick)
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Shelf of Shame: Comedy Edition – Meatballs (1979)

by on Jun.04, 2014, under Shelf of Shame

Shelf of Shame Comedy

MEATBALLS (1979)
This Canadian summer camp comedy is the perfect movie to watch at the start of this season and a great way to understand why Bill Murray would become such a champion of the genre.  Murray is ALWAYS on in this movie, almost mugging a little too hard and never settling down for an honest moment, but the movie wouldn’t survive without it. I’d say it sacrifices story for antics and vignettes, but it isn’t really reaching for anything beyond making you laugh here and there. But it definitely has heart, thanks mostly to the good nature of Murray’s Tripper Harrison, especially when he spends time with shy outcast Chris Makepeace and encourages him to run the camp Olympiad (also another great example of the nurturing and irreverent 1970s when adults could harmlessly joke around with kids: “Let’s go get laid before the race.”). The structure definitely reminds me of “Caddyshack” in that we’re stuck in this place for an hour and a half and we could wind up with nearly any character at any moment, and story only surfaces when it reminds itself it’s a  movie after all. But this doesn’t have nearly as many memorable characters, nor does it give them opportunities to become that. Still, a harmless and fun time. Best just to see unfiltered Murray charisma and potential.

Grade: B-

Does it belong to your Shelf of Shame? Only if it’s a “Bill Murray Essentials” project. This is by no means a disappointment, but I wouldn’t call it essential comedy viewing.

Up next: Midnight Run (1988)

  • SOME LIKE IT HOT (greatest comedy ever? need to see more Billy Wilder)
  • MEATBALLS (set Bill Murray’s film career in motion, created a legend)
  • A SHOT IN THE DARK (many including my dad call the best Pink Panther)
  • SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (need to see more Preston Sturges)
  • MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE (seen the other Python, gotta complete it)
  • EDDIE MURPHY RAW (is this the best standup movie ever?)
  • MIDNIGHT RUN (always stared at me in video stores)
  • THE APARTMENT (again with the Wilder, plus a best picture winner I haven’t seen)
  • WITHNAIL & I (gotta represent the cult classics, one I just keep hearing about)
  • SILVER STREAK (always wanted to see a Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder flick)
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Shelf of Shame: Comedy Edition – Silver Streak (1976)

by on May.20, 2014, under Shelf of Shame

streak

SILVER STREAK (1976)
Fun action/comedy blending exciting set pieces. Mostly a showcase for Gene Wilder, especially during the first hour when it goes for more of a Hitchcockian vibe. Richard Pryor only comes more than an hour into it, when it drifts almost entirely into pure action territory. Hops from light romance to mistaken identity thriller to disaster movie blockbuster in two hours. Highlight is Wilder and Jill Clayburgh’s chemistry during the opening act. I do wish we got more time with Wilder and Pryor on screen together, but maybe I’ll get that in “Stir Crazy” and/or “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” (both on Netflix Instant). Directed by Arthur Hiller.

Grade: B-

Does it belong on YOUR Shelf of Shame? No. You’ll have a good time, but I wouldn’t call this an essential comedy by any stretch. My goal was to finally fit in one Wilder/Pryor flick, so mission accomplished, but I could have gone with any of them to get it done.

Up next: Meatballs (1979)

  • SOME LIKE IT HOT (greatest comedy ever? need to see more Billy Wilder)
  • MEATBALLS (set Bill Murray’s film career in motion, created a legend)
  • A SHOT IN THE DARK (many including my dad call the best Pink Panther)
  • SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (need to see more Preston Sturges)
  • MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE (seen the other Python, gotta complete it)
  • EDDIE MURPHY RAW (is this the best standup movie ever?)
  • MIDNIGHT RUN (always stared at me in video stores)
  • THE APARTMENT (again with the Wilder, plus a best picture winner I haven’t seen)
  • WITHNAIL & I (gotta represent the cult classics, one I just keep hearing about)
  • SILVER STREAK (always wanted to see a Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder flick)
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Gordon Willis, 1931-2014

by on May.19, 2014, under Other Features

Manhattan

Arguably the greatest cinematographer ever, Gordon Willis passed away at 82 on Sunday.

He shot the entire “Godfather” trilogy, “All the President’s Men” and every Woody Allen movie from 1977-1985, a run that included “Annie Hall” and perhaps his greatest work “Manhattan” (above).

Read this tribute and take a look at some of my favorite Willis images.

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Cinematrimony – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

by on May.15, 2014, under Cinematrimony

Matt and Francesca Scalici return with another episode of Cinematrimony. This time, Matt and Francesca discuss Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Does the latest offering from the Marvel universe overcome Francesca’s inherent boredom with the superhero genre? Matt and Francesca discuss this and more in this episode of Cinematrimony.

Click Here to Download: Cinematrimony – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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