Shane (1953)

I was going to start this post talking about how I’m not interested in Westerns, but I love There Will Be Blood, True Grit, and No Country for Old Men, so I guess I’m more of a Western fan than I thought.

Shane’s the story of a retired gunfighter who tries to make a quiet life as a ranch hand on a family homestead in Wyoming. The settlers are being terrorized by Ryker, who considers the entire valley to be his.  When the homesteaders won’t give up easily,  Ryker calls in a hired gun–Jack Wilson, played by Jack Palance– and Shane returns to his sharpshooting roots.  I of course missed the film’s most anticipated gun battle because I WAS LOOKING AT FACEBOOK, so I had to re-watch the last 20 minutes of the film.

It was fun to see such a young Jack Palance, with his high-cheekboned skeleton smile, since the only Jack Palance I’ve ever known is the old man from City Slickers.

Honestly, I wasn’t very interested in the film from its description or the DVD jacket, but it had an interesting enough story to keep me engaged.  It was so bad it was great–the acting was melodramatic, I think the kid was cross eyed, and there was lots of pining after forbidden love.  The fighting was terribly fantastic– lots of face punching and stumbling all the way back across the room and through the door.

Aside from watching lots and lots and lots of movies, my favorite part of this AFI film challenge is that it’s getting me to step outside of my usual habits and try out films I wouldn’t ordinarily choose. I wouldn’t rush out to get Shane on DVD, but spending 2 hours watching the gorgeous Wyoming landscape on my TV wasn’t at all bad.


Raging Bull (1980)

I didn’t realize it until now, but I was actually working off a different list way back in my first attempt to watch all of AFI’s Top 100 movies.  The initial list came out in 1998, and was modified in 2007 to remove some movies, add others, and change around some ranking.  Wikipedia has a side-by-side comparison of the lists.  I’m working off the 2007 list this time, but even so, I went into the task having already watched nearly half the movies.

Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull came in 4th on the list (and 24th on the original list).  I’m not sure why.  With the exception of one short scene, I found the movie boring and the characters flat.

Sports movies aren’t my genre to begin with, but I can always get into a good story.  Raging Bull just didn’t have one, it didn’t have much of a story at all.   After reading Jake LaMotta’s autobiography, Robert De Niro was so compelled by the story that he pressured Scorsese into making the film.  De Niro admitted the book wasn’t very good, and I really don’t know what about LaMotta was compelling. The film didn’t really go anywhere, plot or character wise. LaMotta was hot tempered, had trouble with the mob, and abused his wife.  That’s the whole film. I just saved you 2 hours, 9 minutes.

By the time I was old enough to really get into movies, Robert De Niro’s career of “bad boy” characters was well past its heyday, and he was either playing older, mild mannered roles  (think Analyze This, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Meet the Parents, etc.) or the “old cop” role. It is a completely different experience to go into seeing De Niro in this role, with the knowledge and context of his later-career filmography, than it would have been to see this film fresh at the time it was released.  It’s a difficulty I have with most of the movies on the list, because I feel that many of them were creative and innovative in ways I’ll never notice, because my viewing is colored by so many later films and performances.

I do have to give De Niro credit for his brilliant acting in the jail scene.  There’s not much I can say to explain it with any real justice, you should watch it yourself.


AFI Top 100

I have a bit of a head start on this goal, since in the summer of 2003 (?) I tried to watch all the movies on all of AFI’s lists.  I didn’t finish any of the lists, but I did see a LOT of really good movies.  Now several years later it’s time for me to tie up this loose end and at least finish the 100 Years 100 Movies list.