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Your May 2010 Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: ...all it takes is a little Confidence.

Preshow Entertainment: 8th Annual Young Comedians Show

Pizza: Big Mama & Big Papa's! YAY!


We love Big Mama's and Big Papa's pizza. No matter how many, or few, people are in attendance, we always get the Big Papa 36" pizza, which I end up feasting on for years. Anyway...to less important stuff:


Coincidentally, I'd seen THE STING twice in the last few years. Once at a friend's and another last year at the Orpheum Theater in Downtown Los Angeles as part of Last Remaining Seats. Every year, they open a bunch of the old theaters Downtown and run movies ranging from silent to almost contemporary (I also saw BUCK PRIVATES at the Million Dollar Theater). What amazing spaces. They even let you walk into the projection booth. It makes me wish I lived in that time (for a few weeks, perhaps), when seeing a movie was a thrill, an event. It can be argued it still is, but you'd probably lose that argument if you're over 15. The Orpheum theater opened its doors in 1926. That means if THE STING took place in Los Angeles instead of Chicago, Newman and Redford could have walked right by when The Orpheum was still a vaudeville house where acts like Jack Benny and the Marx Brothers played.

Some movies have great acting, only to be stuck in a stupid script. Some movie have a great script but the director is a nincompoop. I'm not saying anything you don't know. And I bet you also know that THE STING gets everything right. THE STING is a perfect movie*.

I hate to abuse the cliche, but THE STING really does get better with each viewing. Yes, it is about con men, but the real con men were writer David Ward and director George Roy Hill, who make you think you're one step ahead of their movie, when really, they're three steps ahead of you.

THE STING opens with the 1930's Universal Logo over the soundtrack of Scott Joplin's THE ENTERTAINER, a song that surely tripled piano teachers' income everywhere (When the movie was released, it was a #1 hit, not bad for a ragtime instrumental originally from 1902). Before any shot, even before the credits begin, the mood is set. And then they do something I am wild about. The actors take pre-show curtain calls (using clips from later in the movie).

It's 1936. Joliet, Illinois. Two small-time con men, Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones, James' dad) cast a tiny hook and snag a big fish ($11,000). What they don't realize is the mark was a courier who was moving racket money to Chicago. This windfall will end up biting them on the ass for the whole movie. They have unwittingly crossed Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). "Ya follow?"


But Hooker buys a suit and proceeds to lose his proceeds on one roulette bet at a crooked game room where if you bet it all on Red, it'll come up 22 Black. And Lonnegan's not the only one after Hooker. Crooked cop Snyder (Charles Durning) is shaking him down. There's also an assassin named Salino, the FBI, and a mysterious gloved man who will be after him as well. That's a lot of different'n'dangerous entities looking for him. It sure seems like it's a good time to leave town. Hooker goes to Chicago to seek out legendary con man Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), where together they'll conspire to fleece Lonnegan.

What happens next is a Machiavellian plan that keeps us on our toes. And the filmmakers always leave you in the dark regarding a fact here, a tidbit there. We follow, but never really know for sure what the plan is all about, or if we're following the right man.

And here's another con the makers play on us. THE STING is a comedy. The reason it works so well is that it has all the elements of a really good caper/suspense movie. But it's a comedy. There are small bits, like Hooker's defiance in getting a manicure, or his face after Gondorff demonstrates a dazzling display of prestidigitation, only to end up accidentally catapulting the cards across the room. There's dialogue, like after Lonnegan loses to Gondorff in a poker game where they both cheat - Lonnegan (to his minion): "What was I supposed to do, call him for cheating better than me in front of the others?" That same scene also has one of my favorite lines in not just this movie, but in any movie.
Gondorff purposely shows up late and (fake) drunk to the gentlemen's high stakes poker game, all part of the plan to piss Lonnegan off. His entry line? "Sorry I'm late, guys, I was taking a crap." (Yup, I've lifted that line myself many a time). Actually, the whole poker game is hysterical. It's an inch short of a Neil Simon scene, doubly commendable as the scene is suspenseful as well. It also has a great button.

Some parts are even played like a silent movie comedy; the early 1900s ragtime soundtrack (famously already out of date by the period in which THE STING is set) helps this along, where they actually engage in bits of schtick, like said manicure scene and even a chase scene on Chicago's El.

And then...there are the characters. Gondorff, a shell of his former self, now relegated to nightly drinking binges and working for his girl, Billie (Eileen Brennan). Billie's a tough dame (he calls her a countess) who yanked him off the street where he now helps her with her brothel and a literal carousel of prostitutes (I think that used to be 1 E-Ticket). There's Hooker, a dapper confidence man who wants revenge, only to learn revenge is for suckers.

There's Kid Twist, played by the always fun Harold Gould, J.J. (Ray "Martian/Mr. Hand" Walston) as the horserace wire reader, Dana Elcar as the crusty FBI man out to bust Gondorff, and, well, the list goes on. All great players, all pro. It's thrilling to watch all these people in one movie.

I wish I could explain why Robert Shaw's performance is so stunning. He spends much of the movie just staring at the person who is talking to him. Listening. Processing. His poker face is not reserved solely for poker games. It's unnerving. What actor makes a choice like that? My neuroses would eat me alive ("They're going to fire me. If I'm just going to stand here and stare, they could just use a cardboard cut-out of me.") Someone cleverly compared him to the shark in his USS Indianapolis speech from JAWS - "...he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like doll's eyes." And I agree. And his limp? That was from a handball injury days before filming. Turns out that was actor's necessity rather than choice.

And the language! Every now and then they throw in a term that adds to the giddiness, even if you don't know what it means, or can't figure it out from context. So when they say things like "it's all jake," or "chantoozie," or "lamsters"...you smile. I love everything about THE STING. Hell, even the sound is great, as footsteps throughout the movie are accentuated as if people wore tap shoes.

While most movies are winding down, THE STING is introducing essential characters like Loretta (a waitress Hooker is interested in), professional assassin Salino, and a mysterious man who wears black gloves. They can get away with this because the movie gets better as it goes on. We're totally invested to see how everything will turn out. And with so many balls in the air (believe me), we just gotta know.

Director George Roy Hill made 14 movies; some we saw at RMC (BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID...also with Newman and Redford, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP) and some we haven't (the way overlooked SLAP SHOT, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE). And for the record, not all of his movies were stellar (THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL). But Hill sure had a way with characters. Perhaps it was because he was an actor first, then a director. And he doesn't stop at actors. Some of his shots are impressive, like when Hooker readies to knock on Lonnegan's door and notices a goon behind him. The shot is lined up so all we see is the goon's back, until Hooker turns to him (and us), and we see only his hat and eyes over the goon's shoulder. It's comedy in a shot. Or the way the camera moves in on a freshly murdered man, only for us to realize it's really pushing in on Hooker's escape route (even the camera shots sting us). Another creative shot has Lonnegan looking out of the pharmacy window. In that very window, we see a reflection, where a zoom in reveals J.J. watching Lonnegan from across the street. It's hard to put the composition and effectiveness of this image into words, but when you see it, you'll probably agree.

Much credit for THE STING has to go to writer David S. Ward. A brilliant script (Hill assisted) without a wasted moment. Even a nosy neighbor who peeks her head out of her door seems like a throwaway moment, but ends up important.Ward gets every detail right. And it pains me to opine that his STING accolades should be revoked for writing the abomination that is THE STING II, starring Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis (which I saw in a theater, and is also in the RMC library). Ward, like Hooker himself, hit the big score and lost it in one move when THE STING II came up 22 Black.

A quick side note, if I may. When watching THE STING years ago, I spotted a green and white bus that would keep appearing throughout the movie. I just figured they'd rented a period bus, why not use it as much as they can? Well, I mentioned this to the other RMCers, and it sort of became a drinking game. "There's the green bus!"

Everyone loved THE STING when it was released. Even at the Oscars, when Elizabeth Taylor opened the envelope, she said: "And the winner is, oh I'm so happy, THE STING." I remember seeing THE STING on a Florida vacation when I was a teenager, at the Rocking Chair Theater (that's gone now, but the Orpheum is still standing).

The effectiveness of this movie amazes me. Watching it yet again, I actually said out loud, to the room, "Wouldn't it be great if we spoke like that?" And later, I said, "We can do this. We can pull off a con like this. Nothing illegal, let's just mess with someone." And we could use words like jake, chantoozie and lamsters. I'm still entertaining that idea, so if you see me touch my nose with my index finger, watch your back.

*Of course no movie can be perfect. But this really comes close.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Preshow Entertainment: 8th Annual Young Comedians Show

Man, I just love watching these old HBO comedy shows. I have a bunch of them, so every now and then we pop one on. This one, hosted by John Candy, was from 1983 and featured Bill Maher, Paula Poundstone, The Amazing Johnathan, Carol Leifer, Slap Happy, Steve Sweeney and a pre-MST3K Joel Hodgson. We only got to watch half of the show before the pizza arrived.

This one opened with Candy on a payphone pretending to talk to someone, an empty bit that went nowhere. An 80s band played an innocuous song, then introduced Candy, who spent the evening flopping and sweating and stammering. He sure was nervous. First up, Bill Maher. This is Maher before he became snarky and condescending (though I still kinda like him). But what's amazing is that his act is still the same ("I kid ________ because I love _______.") as it was 23 years ago.

Next up, Steve Sweeney who, as Candy told us, opened for Robert Klein and Ramsey Lewis. Yipes...did we hate this guy. He did characters that were loud and unfunny. I mean, really unfunny. And annoying. Really annoying. Then came a nearly unrecognizable The Amazing Johnathan doing his schtick. Carol Leifer (I'm a big fan) came on exactly when the pizza arrived, so I'll have to watch the rest another time.

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