Saturday, March 30, 2013

Billy Bathgate

Year 5, Day 89 - 3/30/13 - Movie #1,391

BEFORE: It's tempting to change my order and exploit the Edward G. Robinson connection, but that would disrupt my theme, as this is another film about 1930's gangsters. Forunately, Peter Falk from "Robin and the 7 Hoods" was also in "The Player" with Bruce Willis (last seen in "Mercury Rising").

Squeezing in that extra film has really disrupted my sleeping schedule - my body now does not know when the proper sleep cycle should be.  Not good news, with a vacation coming up.

THE PLOT:  In the year 1935, a teen named Billy Bathgate finds first love while becoming the protégé of fledgling gangster Dutch Schultz.

AFTER: I'm guilty of fast-forwarding through most of this movie to get to the scenes with Nicole Kidman (you know the ones) so this time I watched the film for actual story content.

Right off the bat, I had problems with the story structure - the film opens with Dutch Schultz overseeing a gang execution, on a boat with one guy wearing "cement shoes".  The intended victim asks to hear Billy Bathgate's story, so the film flashes back to that.  After catching up with the present, the film fails to show us the execution, but it is shown later in a flashback.  All of the footage is there, so there's no need for any of it to be shown in the wrong order.

Most of the film seems to be more complicated than it needs to be - the love triangle really dragged the film down, in my opinion.  It feels like it never really kicked into second gear, and that most of the cast just wasn't given anything to do.

The plot concerns the trial of Dutch Schultz, which gets moved to a venue upstate, and Schultz's efforts to influence the jury by moving to that town, buying a farm, and working with local charities (nice tie-in with last night's film...).  But congratulations (?) on making gangster life boring. 

Also starring Loren Dean (last seen in "How to Make an American Quilt"), Dustin Hoffman (last seen in "Outbreak"), Nicole Kidman (last seen in "Just Go With It"), Steven Hill, Steve Buscemi (last seen in "Miller's Crossing"), with cameos from Stanley Tucci (last seen in "Quick Change"), Mike Starr, Frances Conroy (last seen in "The Crucible"), Moira Kelly.

RATING: 4 out of 10 races at Saratoga

Robin and the 7 Hoods

Year 5, Day 88 - 3/29/13 - Movie #1,390

BEFORE:  Three members of the Rat Pack carry over from "Ocean's Eleven", and the heist films appear to be over, but I'm still in the crime genre.  This film came after "Ocean's Eleven", but is more of a de facto sequel to "Guys and Dolls", since it's set back in the 1930's, when the gangsters were more cartoonish. 

THE PLOT: In prohibition-era Chicago, the corrupt sheriff and Guy Gisborne, a south-side racketeer, knock off the boss Big Jim. Everyone falls in line behind Guy except Robbo, who controls the north side. Although he's outgunned, Robbo wants to keep his own territory.

AFTER: The connections to Robin Hood weren't all that apparent to me, I think it's a bit of a stretch, unless you factor in the names of the characters, like Little John, Marian and the "Sheriff" of Chicago.  It's also a little weird watching a bunch of manly gangsters break into song - but I guess that's just what they did back then.  Dean Martin demonstrates that it's possible to sing and shoot pool at the same time, no mean feat.

I confess I found the plot pretty boring - maybe it was because I was trying to squeeze in an extra film, but I fell asleep halfway through and I had to finish the film the next evening after work.  Then again, maybe the film just is boring, because nearly all of the exciting crime action takes place off-screen.  We see the results of a gangland hit, but not the hit itself.

Most of the songs were really corny, too, especially the "Do Badder" song.  That one also seemed very weird, as it highlighted the fact that they were encouraging the orphan boys to do good deeds, just like Robin Hood, or the local gangster.  Huh?  Shouldn't they aim a little higher than a criminal who happens to make charitable donations?  Where do they think the money is coming from?  But the one saving grace was the inclusion of "My Kind of Town" as an anthem praising Chicago.

The whole morals thing seems really mixed up in this film.  But I guess that's Chicago - killing a cop and framing another guy for it seems like par for the course.  And apparently they had gambling halls that converted to religious temperance meetings at the push of a button - very convenient!   But I couldn't even really tell what the "scheme" was - counterfeiting?  Collecting for a fake charity?  So much was unclear...

A weird connection between "Ocean's Eleven" and this film, both featured actors who played villains on the campy 1960's "Batman" show - last night's film had Cesar Romero, who played the Joker, and this one had the actor who played "King Tut". 

And, another Christmas connection at the end, that's three nights in a row.  Another sign I should have saved this chain for later this year...

Starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. (all carrying over from "Ocean's Eleven"), Bing Crosby (last seen in "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court"), Peter Falk (last seen in "The Great Muppet Caper"), Barbara Rush, Victor Buono, with cameos from Edward G. Robinson (last seen in "Soylent Green"), Hans Conreid.

RATING: 3 out of 10 Santa suits 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ocean's Eleven (1960)

Year 5, Day 87 - 3/28/13 - Movie #1,389

BEFORE:  My 2nd film today, an extra heist film for the week.  Why?  Because I've got a real vacation coming up, and not only will I fall 2 weeks behind schedule, but I've done the cacluations, and if I continue at one film per day, my last film before going on break will be #1399.  I'll never be able to relax while I'm away unless I can leave off at a nice, round number like #1400.

Character actor Norman Fell (Mr. Roper from "Three's Company") carries over from "Fitzwilly". 

THE PLOT:  Danny Ocean gathers a group of his World War II compatriots to pull off the ultimate Las Vegas heist. Together the eleven friends plan to rob five Las Vegas casinos in one night.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Ocean's Eleven" (2001) (Movie #11)

AFTER: Well, "Fitzwilly" ended on Christmas Eve, and this film starts off on Christmas, with the heist scheduled for New Year's.  That's an unexpected little coincidence.

I want to be careful here, and I don't want to hold this film accountable for resembling the other heist films, especially if it came first and the other ones are actually copying (sorry, paying tribute).  Again, the plan is really clever, assuming that crossing a few wires in the electrical boxes of five casinos would actually produce the desired effect.  In a way similar to "Fitzwilly", where the department store staff was convinced to just hand over the money, here we've got a situation where the casino staff is manipulated to unlock the money rooms - though they don't really realize that they're doing it.

Again, as with the other films, with a clever enough plan, the heist actually appears to be the "easy" part.  The thieves came up with a great way to get the money out of the 5 casinos, by using a vehicle that no law officer would want to inspect closely.  And again, something is bound to go wrong during the heist itself, and plans need to be adjusted.  But the much harder parts of the plan include keeping quiet about the score, and getting the money out of town.  That seems pretty standard, but this is one of the films that set that standard.

As for negatives, I think maybe Dean Martin was allowed to sing "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" a few too many times.  Also, I'm not clear on their motivations for stealing from the casinos - they're veterans, I get that, but it's a bit of a leap from honorable soldiers to disreputable thieves.  It wouldn't have hurt to drop in something about being unemployed veterans, or having a beef against the casinos, or something.  One character was motivated to steal because he came from a rich family - how does that follow logically?

Also starring Frank Sinatra (last seen in "The Man with the Golden Arm"), Dean Martin (last seen in"Airport"), Sammy Davis Jr. (last seen in "Moon Over Parador"), Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson (last seen in "Ocean's Eleven" (2001)), Richard Conte (last seen in "Call Northside 777"), Joey Bishop, with cameos from Cesar Romero (last seen in "Around the World in 80 Days"), Shirley MacLaine (ditto), Red Skelton,

RATING: 5 out of 10 slot machines


Year 5, Day 87 - 3/28/13 - Movie #1,388

BEFORE:  Curse me for a fool, I missed the connection between Benny Hill and Dick Van Dyke, since they co-starred in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" - so by rights, "The Italian Job" should have gone next to this one.  This OCD thing always makes me see a better way of organizing the films than the one I ultimately choose.  But I'm in luck, because Alec Guinness from "The Lavender Hill Mob" was also in the 1970 film "Scrooge" with Edith Evans, who appears in tonight's film.

Speaking of Christmas, this film concerns a Christmas heist - I'll be watching Christmas-themed films this year, but I've got a different lead-in planned.  I guess since we had the Thanksgiving-themed heist last week, this one fits right in.  (Damn, why didn't I save my heist films for holiday time?  See what I mean?)  To further add to the confusion, I bought Easter candy today, and finally brought home that big box of Valentine's Day chocolates that came from someone very special (myself).

That's another OCD minefield, a box of mixed chocolates.  How many?  24?  Should I eat 12 a night for 2 nights, or 8 a night for three nights?  6 a night for 4 nights?  How many are dark chocolate, and how many are milk chocolate?  How many are creams, how many are caramels, and how many have nuts?  Thank GOD the box had one of those little diagrams telling me what flavor each one is.  But how many different ways are there to eat 8 chocolates, and which is the BEST way?  What will still leave me a good variety of flavors for tomorrow night?  I can see how this could paralyze someone with a worse case than mine - eventually I pick a chocolate strategy and make my first move.

Speaking of strategy, I'm going to try to work in an extra film today, for reasons I'll explain in my next post.

THE PLOT:  Miss Vicki's loyal butler, Claude Fitzwilliam, leads the household staff to rob from various businesses by charging goods to various wealthy people and misdirecting the shipments.  After a new secretary is hired, she is caught up in the intrigue and falls in love with Fitzwilly.

AFTER: I confess it took me a while to figure out the scam in this one.  A (formerly) rich woman's staff pretends to buy a lot of expensive goods from Gimbel's, Lord & Taylor, and other department stores, charging them to the accounts of genuinely rich people, then selling the goods through a fake retail outlet.  They've also got a few other scams going, like sending Bibles to the family of recently deceased people, who then feel compelled to send money in return.

The butler/ringleader justifies these crimes by pointing out that insurance covers the thefts, and the money they raise keeps their employer afloat, even though her fortune is long gone.  Whatever helps you sleep at night, pal, but let's call this what it is - theft.  It's no different than swiping a credit card number and buying retail goods or plane tickets (happened to me last month, the bank caught it in time though).  The Bible thing's a little more noble, but it's no different than the charities that send me address labels, calendars and notepads.  It's a waste of paper, and pisses me off - why would I send money to a charity when they're only going to waste it on making more calendars and notepads?  (ASIDE: a suggestion for the Avon Foundation - it should be the walk "AGAINST" breast cancer, not "for".  Make the correction, and we'll talk.)

I don't know, it seems like a long way to go to make a buck.  The scheme requires someone on the inside at every major department store, and you'd imagine that each store would eventually get sick of all the claims and start investigating the flaw in the system, and that would logically lead them to whoever was placing the wrong addresses on the boxes.  Maybe this is why most stores stopped using these "house accounts" and saw the benefits of credit cards supported by big finance companies.  You can still see the old system in a few places today, though - Peter Luger's steakhouse, for example, where they don't take any charge cards, just cash or in-house accounts.

But the schemes here have to support a staff of, what, 20?  As well as maintain the house, the utilities, the cost of doing business, and Miss Vicki herself, who insists on writing large checks to various charities.  There's just got to be a better way, legal or illegal, to focus one's efforts to raise capital, and without making others bear the cost.  I suppose many of the richer people probably have so many bills they may pay them without looking, but that's just another justification.

The Christmas Eve heist, while clever, is still ill-advised.  As in "How to Steal a Million", the lead thief uses what he knows about human behavior to get others to do most of the work for him.  He works out a way to convince the Gimbel's management to give him their money, which is a thing of beauty.  But he put everyone in the store, staff and clientele, at risk.  Christmas shopping is dangerous enough as it is - people have been hurt in stampedes in recent years - so creating a near-riot frenzy in the store as a distraction is not cool.

Fitzwilly is first in conflict, then in love with, Miss Vicki's secretary, played by Barbara Feldon.  While I'm confessing things, I admit I had the hots for her when I was 12 or 13 and watching reruns of "Get Smart".  Watching this film, I can see I had good taste - she plays a great combination of smart and sexy here, with her glasses, page-boy haircut and husky voice, calling to mind a sexier version of Velma from "Scooby-Doo".  Oh, yeah, I also had the hots for Velma, plus MaryAnn from "Gilligan's Island", Erin Gray from "Buck Rogers", Wonder Woman, Batgirl, half of "Charlie's Angels", Ann-Margret, Pam Dawber, Morgan Fairchild, Catherine Bach, Loni Anderson, etc. etc.  I was a horny little kid in the early 80's.

Also starring Dick Van Dyke (last seen in "Divorce American Style"), John McGiver, John Fielder (last heard in "Piglet's Big Movie"), Norman Fell, Sam Waterston.

RATING: 5 out of 10 misspellings

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Lavender Hill Mob

Year 5, Day 86 - 3/27/13 - Movie #1,387

BEFORE: I've expressed already my dissatisfaction with this year's "31 Days of Oscar" programming on TCM - not the films themselves, but the scheduling.  Films were arranged according to the studio or distributor that released them, and I really don't care about that.  I don't know anyone who does - when have you heard of anyone refusing to see a film because it was released by Fox, or Paramount, or Dreamworks?  It seems really petty - a good film is a good film, and whoever releases it, releases it.  So, who cares?

I've got a proposal for TCM's Oscar-themed programming next year - why not run films that rhyme back-to-back?  It's just as arbitrary, and a lot more fun!  You could follow "The Italian Job" with "The Lavender Hill Mob", or pair "Mutiny on the Bounty" with "Bridges of Madison County".  I'm sure there are plenty more examples - no need to thank me, I hereby give up the idea and all claims to it in order to make their programming better.  ("Glory" and "The Philadelphia Story"?  "Gaslight" and "It Happened One Night"? "Gladiator" and "The Aviator"? "Key Largo", "Fargo" and "Argo"?)

This heist film comes next because Audrey Hepburn has a quick cameo in the beginning, one of her first screen roles, so she carries over from "How to Steal a Million".   So I don't even need to link from Peter O'Toole to Alec Guinness through "Lawrence of Arabia".

THE PLOT:  A meek bank clerk who oversees the shipment of bullion joins with an eccentric neighbor to steal gold bars and smuggle them out of the country as miniature Eiffel Towers.

AFTER:  Yes, I'm definitely seeing a pattern develop with these heist films.  No matter how clever the theft is, something always seems to go wrong, or there's always a slip-up that puts the cops on the trail, or there's some kind of problem leaving the country.  When I take a step back, I can see the same DNA of a classic heist film in a more modern film like "Quick Change" or "A Fish Called Wanda" (which was helmed by the same director as tonight's film, coincidentally).

However, it seems like the criminals were more likely to (eventually) get caught in the films of the 1950's, and the more modern thieves seem more likely to succeed and end up with the cash.  I'm not sure if that reflects a change in society's morals, or the conventions of filmmaking, or something else. Perhaps it was that production code of 1950's that demanded that crime not be glorified on film, or else audience members would be likely to go rob an armored car or something, expecting to succeed.

It's funny, not only was I talking about Alec Guinness yesterday, but I was talking about how the best way to get away with something is to win people's trust first, and then when committing the crime, to completely act like nothing is amiss.  Seems simple, really, but then I guess most criminals get caught when they panic or try to run.  Tonight's film highlights these points perfectly - Guinness plays a bank clerk who accompanies the armored car shipments of gold, monitoring the entire process.  He does this for 20 years, so the bank trusts him implicitly, before he gets the idea to pull a heist and fund his retirement.  In becoming the person the bank trusts the most, he's also become the person they'll suspect the least.

Throughout the staged heist and the police investigation, he's got to maintain his cool, even when it looks like the plan's fallen through.  Commit to the plan, act natural, stick to your story - all great advice.  There's a point late in the film where he's being chased by the cops and he's carrying a briefcase.  Instead of running, he jumps into a crowd of businessmen, blends in perfectly, and casually walks away.  It runs completely counter to one's fight-or-flight instinct, but it's completely the right move.

The endgame drags on a bit too much - when some of the gold souvenirs are accidentally sold to some tourists, our two anti-heroes have to track them down, travelling all the way back to the U.K. from Paris just to keep anyone from figuring out where the gold went.  This is a bit of a contrivance, especially when their quest leads them right into the "belly of the beast", the police testing lab (what are the odds on that?)

Come to think of it, there are quite a few contrivances here.  What are the odds of two people with an interest in metallurgy occupying the same boarding house?  Or similarly meeting the right accomplices for the job at just the right time? 

P.S. "A Streetcar Named Desire", "Jerry Maguire" and "Chariots of Fire". "Three Coins in the Fountain" and "Brokeback Mountain". "A Touch of Class" and "Splendor in the Grass".  "State Fair" and "Up in the Air".  "Moonstruck" and "Good Night and Good Luck".  "Cocoon" and "Platoon".  I could literally do this all day long. 

Starring Alec Guinness (last seen in "A Passage to India"), Stanley Holloway, Sid James, Alfie Bass,

RATING: 6 out of 10 bobbies

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How to Steal a Million

Year 5, Day 85 - 3/26/13 - Movie #1,386

BEFORE: Back to regular heist films, as seen on TCM.  Linking from "Millions", Leslie Phillips (who had a bit role last night playing Leslie Phillips - how did he get THAT role?) was also in "Venus" with Peter O'Toole (last seen in, yep, "Venus")

THE PLOT:  Romantic comedy about a woman who must steal a statue from a Paris museum to help conceal her father's art forgeries, and the man who helps her.

FOLLOW-UP TO:  "The Thomas Crown Affair" (Movies #324 + 325)

AFTER: So many of these heist films are stag affairs, you might think that women have no genetic predisposition for theft.  It's refreshing to see a film that asks if a man and woman can fall in love while committing an art robbery - I'm guessing they can.  If a man and woman can fall in love while running a zoo, they can do so while stealing art.

Actually, it's fake art - a statue of Venus NOT made by the sculptor Cellini, but the only people who know that are the forger and his daughter.  She enlists the help of a suave cat burglar to steal the statue back from the museum before they can test its authenticity, and thus expose her father's profitable art scam.  But the burglar might not be who he claims, either - jeez, if the tagline for this film wasn't "Nothing is real...except their LOVE!", then some poster designer missed the boat.

The professional burglar, at least as portrayed on film, has to be part criminal, part hi-tech expert, part "gadget guy", part human nature expert, and part Don Juan.  So Paris' prisons are probably filled with a lot of cool characters with a Peter O'Toole or Pierce Brosnan vibe.  Ah, those were the days, back before security cameras were watching our every move, and all you had to do was figure out the break schedules of a few sleepy security guards.  Then you'd jump into your Jaguar or Lamborghini, and it's back to the Ritz hotel.

I liked the technical elements of the heist here (the lead female's incessant whining to her "PaPAA!", not so much) - Peter O'Toole makes stealing a statue look cool, and almost effortless.  Not to give anything away, but why work on disabling an alarm system when you can convince the guards to do that for you?  Plus, part of not getting caught is looking like you belong - I never skipped class in high-school, but I would often leave early if I had a study hall at the end of the day.  The easiest way to leave was right through the front door, waving to the principal's secretary on the way out.  If I tried to go out the back, I'd get nabbed by the gym teacher, but walking out the front door?  Everyone just assumed I had a valid excuse.

I deal with a lot of art myself - animation art, but that still counts.  The animator I work for has literally thousands of drawings for sale at any point, and we don't print up Certificates of Authenticity, except for our most picky clients.  Anyway, the COA's could be forged too, so what's the point?  I feel like the first line of defense in verifying for our customers that each drawing was signed by the director, and that they're buying an actual hand-drawn drawing that appeared in a film.  Once in a while we get two customers interested in the same piece of art, and the animator offers to draw it again, but then someone would get short-changed - it would still be an original hand-drawn piece, but not one that appeared on film.  So I'd rather disappoint one of the customers than send out a fake.

I've got my own collection on the wall, about 80 autographs from "Star Wars" actors, with the COA's whenever possible (I think maybe 2 or 3 were bought on the cheap and don't have authentification).  Even then, if I should ever sell the collection, I'll be better off if I can prove where the photos were signed, what event the actor appeared at, who the seller was, etc.  I won't buy off eBay because it's filled with fakes - people have the nerve to post Alec Guinness autographs that look like they were signed yesterday, and not only is the guy dead, but he was notorious for not signing anything related to "Star Wars".

Also starring Audrey Hepburn (last seen in "Always"), Hugh Griffith (last seen in "Tom Jones"), Eli Wallach (last seen in "The Ghost Writer"), Charles Boyer (last seen in "Around the World in 80 Days").

RATING: 5 out of 10 fake Van Goghs

Monday, March 25, 2013


Year 5, Day 84 - 3/25/13 - Movie #1,385

BEFORE:  This film wasn't part of the original plan, but I won a DVD copy playing trivia on Oscar Night.  While it apparently doesn't focus on thieves, the money from a heist is a big part of the plot, so I'm slotting it in here, even though it screws up my actor linking a bit.  The best connection tonight is that Michael Caine from "The Italian Job" was also in "A Bridge Too Far" with Alun Armstrong, who appears tonight playing St. Peter in a vision.

THE PLOT:  A 7-year old finds a bag of Pounds just days before the currency is switched to Euros.

AFTER: This is a short and sweet little film about a couple of kids who happen upon a huge pile of money, and what happens after.  It appears to literally "fall from the sky", although later it becomes very clear where the cash came from. 

And apparently there was a frenzy in the U.K. to turn in those old pound notes for euros - though in reality there was a few months grace period where the old currency was still accepted, and the film just sort of glosses over that fact.  EDIT: I've done a little more research, and Wikipedia is telling me that the U.K. never officially adopted the Euro as their currency, though they still have the option to, and they're still using the Sterling Pound.  Now I'm really confused, because that calls the whole premise of this film into question.  If they never made the switchover, then when does this film take place?  Did someone speculate about how this process would work, and then went ahead with releasing the film, even though the events depicted never took place?  Curiouser and curiouser...

Anyway, this process is seen through the eyes of a child, one who has trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality - he has visions of the saints and has conversations with them about how they died and what they're the patron saint of.  For many adults it might be hard to remember how they thought about things when they were kids, especially concerning religion.  I swallowed all the Catholic dogma that I was fed until I was 15 or so, then I couldn't wait to go to college so I could stop wasting my Sundays in church.  When you're young you don't think about the impossibility of it all, and you're told to treat Jesus like some kind of superhero, with all his miracle powers.

Actually, that's something of a great analogy.  Superman, the ultimate superhero, is special because he's the Last Son of Krypton.  He's a great Jesus analog because he comes from outer space (heaven), he's got powers far beyond those of mortals, he stands for truth and justice, and he's here to save mortals. (And like Jesus, he's a fictional character...)  He even "died" in the comics a few years back, but got resurrected in true savior-like fashion.

But he's special because he's unique, the only Kryptonian.  The mistake made by DC Comics was in introducing Supergirl, another Kryptonian, then the Phantom Zone criminals, the Eradicator, then the Kandorians in the bottled city (originally not Kryptonians, then they were...), then Doomsday.  Just before the recent reboot, they introduced a new Kryptonian (Kristin Wells), and then after the reboot, they introduced H'El, another one.  All of this goes toward making Superman less special.

It's kind of like that with the Saints - each one seems to have a small portion of "Jesus power", and miracles supposedly get done in their name after they die, so what are we supposed to make of that?  Don't all these other miracle-performing dead people chip away at the uniqueness of Jesus?   If God is so all-powerful, why does he need all these "go-betweens"?  Why do we need a patron saint for cobblers, headaches and rabies? (all true)  Sick horses, perjury and dysentery? (That must really suck, to be the patron saint of dysentery...) Why is there a patron saint for television?  Actually, considering last year's fall line-up of shows, television probably needs all the help it can get...

Anyway, back to the film.  The kids have to consider what to do with all the cash they found - they can't put it in the bank or risk having it taxed, they can't donate it without raising suspicion, and they can't spend it in big chunks for the same reason.  They give a bunch of it away, or at least try to, before one of the thieves comes around looking for it.

Essentially, this is a spin on the classic question, "What would you do if you won the lottery?", and obviously anyone's answer when they're 10 would be very different from the one they'd give at the age of, say, 40. If you're a kid, you might think that giving money to a charity is a great idea, because of all the good you can do in the world.  As an adult, you might realize that 80-90% of the money given to a charity covers their operating expenses (staff, rent, postage and supplies to solicit more donations) so it's not necessarily the best way to go about making significant changes.  As a kid you might think taking a bunch of homeless people out to lunch is a great use of the money, but as an adult you might wonder if this is the best way to go.  How does this help them eat tomorrow, or the next day?

We went to a Chinese Auction ("Chinese" as in weird, not Asian - like Chinese checkers or Chinese fire drill.  I know that's a bit racist, but I didn't name these things...) this weekend, which is a fund-raising event popular among Scout troops and PTA groups on Long Island.  You pay an entry fee and you get a sheet of tickets (more tickets available at extra cost) and then there's a function hall or gymnasium full of prizes.  You put your tickets into little paper bags or plastic containers next to the prizes you want, and then they have a drawing for each item.  The popular items are harder to win, of course - the first time we went, I went "all in" on a Jenga game and won it.  This time, my wife won a basket of haircare products, but I haven't won anything since the Jenga game.  I just don't see the point in spending hundreds of dollars to maybe win something worth about $20.  But I will buy tickets for the 50/50 raffle, the end jackpot that was worth about $700 this time.

Afterwards, we were hanging out with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and as usual, the conversation turned to one of those "What would you do for XX amount of dollars?" questions.  My sister-in-law loves to ask these theoretical questions like "Would you build me a deck for $10,000?" and "For an extra $5,000 would you wear an orange tuxedo while building the deck?"  If I should point out that I don't possess the skills necessary to build a deck or that I don't own an orange tuxedo, it only aggravates her, so I've learned to just say "yes" or "no" and move the conversation along.

But through this process she's figured out my pricing scheme on many different tasks, so the end result is that for a six-figure salary, I've more or less agreed to be her indentured servant for a year's time.  God help me if she ever wins the lottery, and I have to put my life on hold for a year and complete a bunch of random tasks, while wearing an orange tux.

Also starring Alex Etel, Lewis McGibbon, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan, Christopher Fulford.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Mormons

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Italian Job (1969)

Year 5, Day 83 - 3/24/13 - Movie #1,384

BEFORE: I know, I watched the remake before the original - it's happened before, it'll probably happen again, as I can't always control when each movie comes into my life and makes it to The List. Like me, Turner Classic Movies apparently has a fascination with heist films (or "caper films", as they call them), and they ran a whole bunch in January this year, just before the Oscar-themed programming.  It was an embarrassment of riches, and I had to choose a select few, I didn't have room for them all - not if I wanted to keep making progress against the tide.

Linking from "Quick Change", Randy Quaid was also in a 1999 film called "The Debtors" with Michael Caine (last heard in "Gnomeo and Juliet").

THE PLOT:  Comic caper movie about a plan to steal a gold shipment from the streets of Turin by creating a traffic jam.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Italian Job" (2003) (Movie #1,136)

AFTER: This one's rather short and to the point - they managed to save time by cutting out the "planning" phase of the heist.  The plan comes from the lead character's mentor, who was killed before he could pull of the job, but prior to that spent months blocking out the perfect heist.  A few minutes are also saved at the end by not providing a proper resolution.

The debate rages - should criminals be depicted on film as successful, enjoying the ill-gotten fruits of their labors, or should their schemes come to an end, meeting with failure either comic or tragic.  Does crime pay?  Should it?  Unfortunately, you won't find an answer to that question in this movie, because they chose to end the film at a rather precarious juncture.  It almost seems like they just ran out of film stock - but more likely it's another prime example of a screenwriter reaching a crossroads, and not knowing which way to go.

So what we have here is about 98% of a film.  A promising set-up, a really brilliant heist, and then zero follow-through.  When the credits start to roll, you might think "Really?  But HOW does it end?" Well, technically it doesn't.  You can always choose whatever ending you prefer, but from a writing standpoint, to not have one is a real copout.

Before that, however, we're treated to a beautiful car chase, with the BMC Mini Coopers, precursor to the BMW Minis that were seen in the remake.  While the entire town of Turin is stuck in the world's largest traffic jam (I'd like to see the stats on that...) the pre-minis can go drive up and down stairs, through pedestrian walkways, over buildings, etc.  However:

NITPICK POINT #1: Can a mini jump from building to building?  Probably.  Can a mini jump from building to building when loaded down with gold bars?  That seems a lot less likely.  (See, Brett Ratner?  Gold is HEAVY.)

NITPICK POINT #2: Could you really start a traffic jam in 1969 by switching out a reel of computer tape in a control center?  Again, I'd like to see the proof.

Plus, if you've got to go to prison, try to make sure that it happens in the U.K.  Prison life over there looks really sweet, with all the comforts of home.  If you're a crimelord, that is.

Also starring Noel Coward, Benny Hill.

RATING: 4 out of 10 jumpsuits