All That Jazz (1979)

All That Jazz

All That Jazz – 1979

Director – Bob Fosse

Starring – Roy Scheider, Ann Reinking, and Leland Palmer

This one was a little difficult for me.  I didn’t particularly like or dislike this film, despite the fact that I really liked some of the performances.  Usually with each of the films on this list I have some sort of reaction, and whether it’s shocked disappointment or some degree of elation about how good something is doesn’t matter.  It’s the reaction that I’m interested in.  The most wonderful (sometimes frustratingly so) part of tackling a chore such as this list, is that each and every one of these films make me feel something.  Or they usually do anyway.

The semi autobiographical All That Jazz, wasn’t bad, but ultimately, that is all it ended up being for me.  It wasn’t all that long ago that I watched it, and yet I find myself having a hard time remembering it, and consequently it’s pretty hard to write about something when it’s difficult to remember the plot.  However, have no fear, I did a bit of research on it to get me back up to speed, and I am going to do my best to write something about it anyway.

Joe Gideon is a man who dwells in… no, he revels in his own excess.  It isn’t uncommon for people to glamorize or celebrate something like drug use, alcohol, or casual sex, it is actually quite common for people to claim a vice with some degree of pride.  Gideon, the altar-ego of the film’s director Bob Fosse, can claim them all.  He is a hedonist for the ages.  The good part is that these things are what keeps him creating and crafting his true calling, choreography, the bad part is, it’s also what’s killing him.  So the question becomes, is a life spent fervidly devoted to your work worth dying for, and maybe more importantly, is a life without passion worth living?

On one hand, I found it easy to connect with Gideon (played very engrossingly by Roy Scheider) through his love of what he does, on the other I found I wasn’t very fond of his results, nor his methods of achieving them.  I know it’s blasphemous to say, but I don’t think his choreography (Fosse, or Gideon for that matter) was really all that memorable, or special.  Granted I’ve only really seen this (that I’m aware of), so I suppose his work deserves another chance to connect with me, but based solely on this, I wouldn’t go out of my way to give it one.

Gideon/Fosse, as a human being, is rather sloppy and careless, in love, in his relationships, and even in the way he treats himself.  Watching him walk like a wrecking ball through his own life was  like  a trip to the DMV, long, difficult and very annoying.  The odd part was that I like Roy Scheider in the role, and truthfully the Joe Gideon character is interesting to watch.  I definitely wouldn’t say that I connected with him, or that I even care if he lives or dies by the end of the film, but it did help to balance out the story a bit and bring it closer to center.  I guess it really all comes down to the fact that I liked Roy Scheider’s performance.  I like Roy Scheider.  He was easily the most watchable part of the film.

On a side note, films of the seventies tended to have real looking people in them.  Not everyone was a flawless being of perfect light, unleashed to increase ticket sales in certain demographics.  It’s refreshing to see someone with unique features, or a body shape that isn’t cookie cutter pretty, and to its credit, All That Jazz really embraces that organic trend of natural people and doesn’t relegate them to the background or as the doofy sidekick.  In fact, just about the only thing that I can appreciate about Fosse’s work, this film included, is his attraction to form and movement and artistry based on a multitude of things regardless of what others thought.  I only wished I liked his choreography more.

Clearly the rest of the actors and performers in the film felt very strongly about the impact that Bob Fosse has had, including Fosse himself, but even with that devotion and belief in it, All That Jazz was still only tepid at best.  In the end, after reading a bit about it, and doing a little analyzing of my own, I got more out of it than I had initially thought, but truly the motivation for me writing this was because I’ve been putting this review off now for a month and I just wanted to get if off my plate.

As far as the list goes, the spot would have been better served by any number of different films.  Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, has similar voyeuristic qualities, with a lot of the infidelity and familial drama, yet it resounded with me far more on every level, from the film’s technical craftsmanship, to Bergman’s direction, to the deep, heartfelt acting.  I guess all I’m saying is that, while I never really hated it, this film never really impacted me like one of the 1001 best movies ever should have.

Seven Chances (1925)

Seven Chances – 1925

Director – Buster Keaton

Starring – Buster Keaton, Ruth Dwyer, and T. Roy Barnes

Each and every time I watch a brand new Buster Keaton movie, I go into it remembering the last one I saw.  So far each of them that I have seen, except the first one of course, the extreme level of quality has me continuing to hold the next one to that high standard.  The problem with that, comes in with my memory.  Each and every time I forget that these films start out slowly.  There is the inevitable set-up of the premise, the introduction of all the main characters, and the reveal of the potential love interest for Keaton’s character(it happens in each of them).  As a result I get worried in the first 15 or so minutes, that it’s going to be all slow pace, and cutesy plotting.

The fact that Seven Chances was a movie about a man who desperately needs to get married by 7 o’clock on the same day, only elongates the necessary set-up of the film, and tricked me into believing that this would be the one that would simply be corny and sweet, without the usual jaw-dropping action.  As in each of the others, however, I was not disappointed or let down in the least, it simply took me a little longer to get to the meat of Keaton’s athleticism, derring-do, and stunt-work.

As I mentioned earlier, Seven Chances is about a man who needs to get married on the double in order to gain a huge inheritance, and after doing an inventory of the women in his life, and in the immediate vicinity, he determines that he has seven opportunities to make that happen.  Of course the girl he truly loves misunderstands how he actually feels about her, and thinks he only wants the money.  The real trouble starts when his lawyer, in an effort to expedite the process, explains in the newspaper just what the situation is.  Soon enough a flood of women come out of the woodwork all bent on marrying the rather flustered bachelor cum-millionaire.

As with all of the Keaton films that I’ve seen (Sherlock, Jr., The General, and Steamboat Bill, Jr.), the plot of Seven Chances is a backdrop at best and really ends up being a device through which to deliver the action.  The romance and characterization serves the purpose of setting up the scene and attracting people to the film in the first place, and while there are some fairly funny gags with Three’s Company-like misunderstandings, everyone is really there to see Keaton potentially kill himself.

Once again, the mans sheer physicality is astounding.  Each of the stunts is actually done by him, usually in one-unbroken take, and certainly without our modern-day concern for safety.  The rock-slide sequence in particular is the defining moment of this film.  The capper on a 20 plus minute chase sequence, it’s pretty insane to watch this guy run head first into a stream of rolling and bouncing rocks (I assume they weren’t really rocks, but still, his skill at avoiding all the obstacles in his path is exemplary).

That being said, I don’t think this film was quite as good as any of the others I’ve seen, and I’m not quite sure what aspect or characteristic placed this film on this list in the first place.  Perhaps the compilers of this list felt that Seven Chances had some unique defining quality, or maybe that it was of some great historical import, or perhaps it was simply a personal favorite, I’m not really sure.  I will say that it didn’t seem that there was a real stand-out reason to choose it over something else.  Perhaps there was a quota for a certain number of movies from each year, and without this film, 1925 was looking a little light.  Who knows?

Hopefully, I haven’t given the impression that Seven Chances is a bad film or anything.  The fact that I was excited to watch it, I enjoyed it, and that I will be excited to watch the next Keaton film is a testament to his staying power as an entertainer, one who I would have been completely ignorant of, if it hadn’t been for this list.

The Sting (1973)

The Sting – 1973

Director – George Roy Hill

Starring – Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw

Some movies are just the right combination of pluck and chemistry.  They don’t have the strongest story, nor do they have the most gripping action, or the most beautiful girl, but they leave you with a pleasant feeling once the film is over.  Thanks to the long lasting effects of this pervasive pleasantness, films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Hot Shots, and The Neverending Story still resonate with me, while still other films (much like the Wonka re-make) fail.  They possess some element that isn’t quantifiable or necessarily repeatable.  The stars aligned and the seas parted and low and behold the film is good.  The Sting sits firmly in this demographic, not at all bad, but somehow better than the sum of its parts.

Redford and Newman re-team in this buddy film set in the lawless Chicago of the 30’s.  Newman oozes confidence and cool as the con-man Henry Gondorf, who takes novice Johnny Hooker, Redford, under his wing in order to pull off the fleece of the lifetime against serious as cancer mob boss, Doyle Lonnegan (Shaw).  There are a number of twists and turns, red-herrings and surprises on the con-men’s road to revenge, yet the whole tone of the film stays light and fun.  Despite some marvelously dower moments by Robert Shaw’s Lonnegan, the stake never really seem that high, although it is still a pleasure to watch all of the three main actors do their thing.

Cinematographically, the film rides a thin line between stylized and cartoon, (a line that fellow 70’s heart-throb Warren Beatty went way, WAY past in Dick Tracy) and at times seems a little campy.  Still the look of the film sets a certain tone that works for the camaraderie of Hooker and Gondorf.  It looks exactly like the Disney resort “The Boardwalk” made me feel, nostalgic about a time I never thought I cared about.

Of all the creative elements, the least effective in terms of me continuing to enjoy the movie, was the musical score.  Despite the fact that it compliments the set design and look of the film, every time strains of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” began, I was immediately drawn out of the story.  Luckily, even though the music is a little goofy, it isn’t used to a degree where I couldn’t pay attention, I just gritted my teeth and eventually it would end.

By and large, I enjoyed this film quite a bit.  I saw the twists and turns for what they were long before they were revealed, but I blame my knowledge of modern movie conventions for that.  While it might not be the best con-man movie I’ve ever seen (that dubious honor goes to the super fantastic Paper Moon), I think it’s earned it’s spot on this list, even if that spot is towards the end.

“Learn to run your own con-game.” – Ashley

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

ButchCassidySundanceKid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – 1969

Director – George Roy Hill

Starring – Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Katharine Ross

Growing up as a kid, I would visit my dad on the weekends.  Together we would watch shows like “Bonanza”, and movies like “The Outlaw Josie Wales”.  To my dad, the western was a big deal, and as a result I got pretty burned out on watching them.  So I stopped.  All through high school, and some of college I avoided them.  To me, they all seemed the same.  Gritty, boring, long, and worst of all, un-interesting.  It was in college that I began my love of foreign film, from the French new wave, to Italian neo-realism.  The angry young men of British films, to the heroic samurai from Japan.  It was one samurai film in particular that caught my attention (Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo”), and eventually led me back to the western through the work that it inspired (A Fist Full of Dollars).

Despite this rather circuitous route, I’ve since come to embrace the western as the praise-deserving genre that it is.  With these newly opened eyes, I’ve seen some real gems that I would have otherwise missed, among them, Once Upon a Time in the West, 3:10 to Yuma (the 2007 version, as I have yet to see the original), The Proposition, and now…Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!

Newman and Redford are positively magnetic as the titular pair of outlaws in this late 60’s film by George Roy Hill.  Redford in particular stands out for me.  He is quiet, introspective, dangerous, and complex.  He has an intensity as well as a light-heartedness, all conveyed through “simple” posturing, or through a smouldering stare.  Before this, my only real knowledge of Robert Redford came from a small selection of his acting resume (Three Days of the Condor, Sneakers, and Spy Game), none of which gave a consistent feel for his ability.  In Butch and Sundance, I feel that I got a much clearer glimpse into why this actor became as popular as he did.  As the Sundance Kid, he is the calm, cool and capable partner of Butch Cassidy, the smooth-talking, idea-man played by Paul Newman.  Despite Butch being more of the main character, and having more dialogue, he was continually out shone by the quiet, almost Harry Lime-esque character of the Sundance Kid.

Don’t get me wrong, Paul Newman is great in the role of Butch Cassidy, but since I expected less of Redford, I was left with a more lasting impression from his performance.

Both characters seem wholly entranced by, and are ultimately slaves to the impending future.  They are living through the events of the present, with their eyes firmly forward, ever planning the next heist, fleeing the current town for the next one, and orchestrating the next caper.  As the film progresses, they slowly become aware that this shiny future they admire has no place for them, that they are a dying breed.  In every aspect of their lives, there exists strife.  From the dissent in their own gang, to the special posse contracted to deal with them, to the overwhelming odds they face by the end of the film, it becomes clear that their time is through.

The thing about this impending doom, though, is that they are seemingly un-willing to change in order to stop it.  While trying to escape their pursuers, they are told “It’s over, don’t you get that? Your times is over and you’re gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where.”  Throughout the film, they are given multiple chances to turn away from their destiny, but they never do.  The glamour and and excitement of this lifestyle is all they know, and it keeps them constantly committed to their outlaw trade, looking for fresh starts, second chances and new hideouts (New York, Bolivia, Colorado, etc.).  The eventuality of their communal fate, illustrated in the scene where Butch Cassidy is riding his brand new bicycle, doing tricks, and taking risks, only to end up in front of a stampeding bull.  And so it is with Sundance too.  The railroads are bringing civilization and law to the once lawless terrain measured and ruled by the gunfighter and his gang.  They are literally and figuratively being driven to extinction.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a fantastic watch, and is well deserving of it’s place on the list of 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die.  Highly Recommended.

“What the shit, bicycle montage?” – Ashley