Movies posts

Sunday November 27, 2022

Wagner Does Cagney in Harper

“You gave that man oranges?”

While I was sick with Covid in New York, I tried to pass the time watching movies, but most of them didn't stick. I'd get five minutes in, then hit stop and try something else. I was miserable and not much helped. But for some reason I was able to watch the two Paul Newman detective movies, “Harper” from '66 and the sequel “The Drowning Pool” from '75. Was that the first sequel Newman had ever done? I think it might've been. “The Color of Money” might've been the second.

I'd love to see a deep dive comparing the two Lew Harper movies. The first was made at the tail end of the studio system when they still used green screens for driving scenes, the second during the heyday of gritty, auteurish Hollywood movies, before Spielberg and Lucas infantililzed us all.

One pleasant surprise in “Harper” is a scene with Robert Wagner. He plays Allan Taggart, a whimsical, handsome hanger-on at the Sampson estate who seems intrigued by the private detective game. He wants to try his hand. At one point, he and Harper are trying to get into someone's room and he hurts his shoulder trying to bust down a door that's actually open. That's the gag. Which is when Newman/Harper gives him a gun and asks if he knows how to use it. And Wagner/Taggart goes into an impression of James Cagney:

Oh, I prefer a Thompson, actually. But this will do in a pinch. You dirty rat, you gave that man oranges?

Is the Thompson line Cagney, or is it just the latter part? I like that the latter part is a mix of a line he never said and a line from “Mister Roberts,” which hardly fits the detective/crime situation they're in. I also never realized, or I'd forgotten, that it's the Cagney counterpart to Bogart's strawberries in “Caine Mutiny.” Both '30s Warner Bros. gangsters had a fruit fetish as crazy, WWII Navy captains. Most important, for “Harper” anyway, is that the imitation isn't just a throwaway. Taggart's ability to sound like others is key to the plot. 

Of course, Cagney and Wagner co-starred together in the ill-conceived remake of “What Price Glory?” Wagner was a newbie at the time, and apparently director John Ford bullied him on the set. Ford tried the same with Cagney on “Mister Roberts” and Cagney offered to punch his lights out. 

Another connection. In one of his books about Hollywood, screenwriter William Goldman praised Paul Newman for acting with Wagner for Wagner's closeups in a climactic scene in “Harper.” Many stars don't do that; they leave it to someone else on the set. But Newman did, and it helped Wagner out greatly, and added so much to the scene. And it's that exact thing that Shirley Jones praised Cagney for in “Never Steal Anything Small”: acting with her, reading lines with her, during her closeups.

Other movies with Cagney impressions:

Posted at 12:21 PM on Sunday November 27, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Monday September 19, 2022

What Is Boris Karloff 'Known For'?

No, not for one of the most famous screen incarnations of all time. Of course not. Why would he be?

Some might be mollified by the 1935 sequel up there in first place but not me. And that's knowing what I know. I know Karloff isn't known for “Frankenstein” per IMDb's algorithm because he wasn't the star of it. He was fourth-billed. Colin Clive was the nominal star, and, yes, per IMDb, he's known for Frankenstein. It's No. 1 for him. Ditto Mae Clarke as Elizabeth, Edward van Sloan as Dr. Wadman, and John Boles as Victor Moritz. They're all known for “Frankenstein” but the guy who played Frankenstein's Monster is not known for Frankenstein because he didn't star in it. He starred in other things afterwards because this movie made him a star. It made him known. And that's why he's not known for it.

See the cat? See the cradle?

This is the thing IMDb needs to fix. One of the things. You're missing the overall, as Deep Throat said to Bob Woodward.

Posted at 09:04 AM on Monday September 19, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Friday September 16, 2022

Cagney-Chaney Connect

I've long been confused by the above shot, which is part of a series of publicity stills for “The Public Enemy” in 1931. It mirrors nothing in the film. I guess Cagney's hair dangles in front of him like so after his brother pops him one in the early going, but otherwise, no. I never quite got why they went with that look for a publicity shot.

The other day I was watching Tod Browning's 1920 gangster film “Outside the Law” (as one does), and near the end we get this shot of Lon Chaney:

Not exact but close. I'm sure Warners publicity dept. in 1931 wasn't trying to ape or homage Chaney—his was a quick shot in an 11-year-old movie in which he's third- or fourth-billed—but maybe it was stashed in the back of someone's brain, a photographer or publicity goon, or maybe it was just an early gangster staple look. “Now if you could just snarl for me. Yeah, and muss your hair so it falls over your forehead. That's it!”

Cagney would play Chaney a quarter-century later in the biopic “Man of a Thousand Faces” but by then he was all wrong for the role. 

Posted at 11:24 AM on Friday September 16, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Wednesday August 31, 2022

What is D.W. Griffith 'Known For'?

How much is IMDb/Amazon warping our history? Here's D.W. Griffith's Wikipedia page, second graf. I mean it says it right there:

Griffith is known to modern audiences primarily for directing the film The Birth of a Nation (1915). One of the most financially successful films of all time, it made investors enormous profits, but it also attracted much controversy for its degrading portrayals of African Americans, its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan, and its racist viewpoint.

Here's an obit from 1948:

 

Here's a comparison of these four films using IMDb's own stats:

Rnk Movie Quotes Trivia Movie Connects Critic Rvws User Rvws Rating No. of Ratings
1 Intolerance 31 46 105 76 125 7.7 15,576
2 The Mother and the Law 0 3 1 1 4 7.1 210
3 The Birth of a Nation 26 79 260 80 380 6.2 24,748
4 Broken Blossoms 18 20 42 76 96 7.3 10,360

In terms of engagement/interest, “Birth” trumps everything. I mean, I'd go in this order: “Birth,” “Intolerance,” “Broken Blossoms,” and then maybe “Abraham Lincoln”? I'll leave the last one to true film historians or Griffith scholars. But “The Mother and the Law”? Which is simply a portion of “Intolerance” released three years later? Putting that ahead of “Birth of a Nation”? I'm intolerant of that. 

Yes, it's not as bad as IMDb's “Known For” for Thomas Dixon, but it's not good. I'm almost getting the feeling IMDb doesn't take its role as the repostiory of our online movie information very seriously.

Posted at 05:15 PM on Wednesday August 31, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Saturday August 13, 2022

Gene Hackman on James Cagney

GQ: You've got to do one more movie. ... Your hero James Cagney was retired forever and then came back to do Ragtime. Can't you do one more?

Hackman: [laughs] Well...

GQ: Why do you love Cagney so much? 

Hackman: There was a kind of energy about him, and he was totally different from anyone I'd ever seen in my life. Having been brought up in the Midwest, I didn't know those New York people. I thought he was terrific. Everything he did had a life to it. He was a bad guy in most of the films, and yet there was something lovable about him and creative.

-- from an interview between Gene Hackman and Michael Hainey, GQ magazine, June 1, 2011

Posted at 07:55 PM on Saturday August 13, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Wednesday July 27, 2022

Paul Sorvino (1939-2022)

Question: Why, before I ever saw “Goodfellas,” did I think Paul Sorvino was not right for mob boss Paul Cicero? I mean, I guess I know why. I thought he was too nice. I didn't think he was scary enough. But where did this idea come from? How did I know him? I'm looking over his credits on IMDb and wondering what I ever saw him in as a kid. “Day of the Dolphin”? Just that?

I wouldn't be surprised if it was through commercials. Not like ads for dishwashing detergent or whatever, but commercials for the shows he was on: the Alan Alda-created “We'll Get By,” in which he played a suburban dad and a husband, and which lasted 13 episodes in the summer of '75; and “Bert D'Angelo, Superstar,” in which he played the titular maverick cop, and which lasted 11 episodes in '76. I never watched either but maybe some of it seeped in. Maybe some part of me thought “Bert D'Angelo, superstar, as a mob boss? Whatever, Marty.” 

Of course he was great in “Goodfellas”: calm, understated, handy with a razor blade and a piece of garlic. I assume he's closer to the real thing than, say, Brando in “The Godfather.” Don Corleone is what mob guys imagine themselves to be; Paul Cicero is closer to what they are. And even then...

When news broke of his death on Monday at age 83, one thing that was passed around on social media, which I loved seeing, was video from when his daughter Mira won the Oscar for “Mighty Aphrodite:”  how she thanked her family, and her parents, and her father “who has taught me everything I know about acting”; and how he, in the audience, already tearing up, just crumpled. Reminds of a series of photographs from, I believe, Life magazine from like the 1940s or '50s: another burly Italian father, walking down the aisle at his daughter's wedding, about to give her away, and breaking down with each step. 

We're losing all of our cinematic mob guys all of a sudden: Liotta, Caan, Sorvino. It's like last fall when we kept losing 60-something standup comedians. It's like we're in the middle of a mob war.

Posted at 07:26 AM on Wednesday July 27, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Friday July 22, 2022

#TheSnyderCult

Zack Snyder is the Donald Trump of moviedom. Everything about him is horrible but somehow he has legions of rabid fans demanding more horribleness and attacking anyone who gets in the way. Snyder doesn't destroy lives the way Trump does, he just destroys culture. Twice I picked films he directed as the worst movie of the year (“Sucker Punch” in 2011, “Batman v. Superman” in 2016), and it was just the two because I wasn't making “worst of” lists in 2009 (for “Watchmen”) and 2007 (for “300”).

He so botched the much-anticipated “Justice League” movie that Warners took it away from him and gave it to “Avengers” director Joss Whedon to finish. He did more than finish it, he kind of remade it, and it was a bit oil and water (OK, it was very oil and water), but my immediate thought was, “Well, it's better than 'Batman v. Superman.'” Anyway, that seemed the end of it. 

In another time, it would've been. 

In our awful time, we kept hearing from Snyder's legions of fans. They showed up on social media, hashtag-ready, demanding a #ReleaseOfTheSnyderCut, and incessently attacking anyone who disagreed. Apparently they threatened people. Apparently they threatened lives.

Eventually it worked. Warners gave Snyder the money ($100 million?) to finish his version of “Justice League,” it premiered on HBO last year, four hours long, and with his name at the top of the title. He got top billing: “Zack Snyder's Justice League.” But it was considered better than the oil-and-water-version: 71% to 39% via Roten Tomatoes.

Except now Rolling Stone has just published an investigative piece indicating that the Zackbrats, the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut cult, might not have been as organic as it claimed. Snyder might have orchestrated it. With bots.

I wish I could tell you more about it but the article is under a pay wall. Good for them. I mean, I'd pay for the article, or even a physical copy of the magazine if I knew where to buy one, but I don't need another subscription. I'm inundanted as is.

So I'm relying on a website called slashfilm that has summed it up. Some key lines:

The article by Tatiana Siegel (with additional reporting from Adam Rawnsley) reveals that Warner Bros. was so suspicious of the “organic” fan movement that was somehow coordinated with military precision that they hired outside cyber security firms to investigate their legitimacy and found that at least 13% of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut warriors were bots or fake accounts. Rolling Stone also consulted with social media tracking firms and they came to the same conclusion: not all the Snyder Cut accounts were fake, but there are a whole lot more fake accounts than is standard for this kind of movement. (Daily active spam accounts on Twitter usually track at around 5%, for comparison.)

Zack doesn't come off well. With each attack, he'd claim ignorance, inability to control fans, etc., but, as slashfilm writes:

It just so happens they're always mad at the exact people who stood in his way between “Batman V Superman” and the release of the Zack Snyder Cut of “Justice League.” These are executives who nobody knew before this movement yet everybody sure seemed to know to target at the same time.

Apparently some Snyder cultists still want him to return to the DCEU and fix everything, or “300”-ize everything, but that ship might've sailed. He's over at Netflix now—which is having its own problems, of course. He made an “Army of the Dead” movie (67%), which is appropriate, and has been announced as the director of another adaptation of Ayn Rand's “The Fountainhead,” which is even more appropriate. It's two of my least-favorite things in one package. Can a reboot of “Triumph of the Will” be far behind? 

Posted at 08:57 AM on Friday July 22, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Friday July 15, 2022

The Public Enemy Knows Best

I like this shot of the bad kids of 1930s cinema during the Eisenhower era.

It's from “These Wilder Years,” a forgettable 1956 flick from MGM starring James Cagney and Barbara Stanwyck, shot on a dime, and pairing them with up-and-comers who didn't pan out: Don Dubbins and Betty Lou Keim. It's not worth watching. But I like imagining the warped 1950s sitcom that could've been made from the above shot. Are they parents? Do they have kids? Teenagers? Maybe Betty Lou is pregnant again. Oh, that Betty Lou. Cue laughtrack.

Posted at 09:13 AM on Friday July 15, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Wednesday July 13, 2022

Copacabana, 1942

Here's Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in 1942 in “Now, Voyager”:

A quarter-century later, Barry Manilow would prove him right. Kinda. There's certainly an ear-worm in the word. But Manilow's song only rose to No. 8 on the U.S. charts? Damn, it sure as hell played enough back then for a No. 1.

Posted at 08:50 PM on Wednesday July 13, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Monday July 11, 2022

James Caan (1940-2022)

In mid-1970s, leading man form.

This is how much of a prude I was as a kid. I watched “Brian’s Song,” about the friendship between Chicago Bears running backs Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, and the death of the latter from cancer at age 26, when it premiered on television in November 1971. I was just 8, which is what, second grade? I think this was my intro to football, in fact. I wasn’t a fan yet and became one shortly thereafter. The movie, of course, wrecked me and my entire generation of boys. We were still living in insensitive times, when boys weren’t supposed to cry, when they were mocked for doing so; but if some kid said he never cried we’d go “What about ‘Brian’s Song’?” and he’d usually admit, “Yeah, OK, ‘Brian’s Song,’ sure. Who didn’t?” I still can’t hear the theme music without something stirring. For that role, James Caan was basically the patron saint of our generation: the full-of-life dude that died way too young.

Which explains my prudeness: how I was disappointed in Caan when I saw he was starring in a movie called “Rollerball” that was actually Rated R.

To the world he’ll forever be known as Sonny Corleone, the hothead brother and heir apparent to the Godfather throne, but he almost didn’t get the role. For the past few weeks I’ve been reading “Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli,” about the making of “The Godfather,” and while I knew there were disagreements on casting, I didn’t know how bad it got. Paramount and its president, Robert Evans, initially said they should go with unknowns and a smaller budget (because mob movies didn’t make money), then switched and said, “Hey, how about Robert Redford? How about Ryan O’Neal? Dustin Hoffman?” All were considered for Michael. Yeah, Michael. Director Francis Ford Coppola, meanwhile, had this idea from the get-go:

  • Brando
  • Pacino
  • Caan
  • Duvall

John Cazale was found off-Broadway.

Anyway, the studio didn’t want who he wanted, and eventually they spent nearly half a mil on screen tests to prove him wrong. Evans didn’t want Pacino in particular, who was an unknown and whom Evans dismissed as a shrimp, and so for a time Caan was tapped to play Michael rather than Sonny. But at the 11th hour, Coppola got his way and the rest is cinematic history. Pacino became a star, Caan became a star. He makes no sense as a Sicilian but we tend to gloss over that because he’s so good: angry, personable, fun, bada-beep bada-boop.

He was a man’s man who cut quite a figure with the ladies. In his heyday, he was broad-shouldered, thin-waisted, light on his toes, with a tick-tock walk and a look that often said, “Why the hell are you talking to me?” without heat. The other night we rewatched Michael Mann’s “Thief,” that ultimate Mann (and man) movie, and Caan in his early 40s looks fantastic: trim and handsome, quiet and sharp. (The New York Times obit says he plays a “not-too-bright ex-con” in the film, which is a not-too-bright description.) 

I haven’t seen many of his other ’70s flicks and hope to rectify that soon, but I remember him always there as I was growing up. And then he was gone. I assumed he took a break after a long period of starring roles—like Will Smith from 2008-2012—or maybe he just didn't like the way they were making movies in the early-to-mid-80s as opposed to the auteur '70s; but it was actually a bad cocaine habit. He didn’t make a movie for five years, wound up in debt, and when he returned, in Coppola’s “Gardens of Stone” in 1987, he looked much older. He was a young 41 and an old 47. I remember the ballyhoo about the return, and I went to the movie hoping for greatness. Has anyone seen it recently? Is it anything? Then “Alien Nation,” which I missed, and “Misery,” which I also missed.

I kept missing his movies—even the popular ones: “For the Boys,” “Honeymoon in Vegas,” “Mickey Blue Eyes.” The one Wes Anderson movie I’ve never seen is the one he’s in. I’ll have to rectify that. How many times did he play off the mob role? Or the tough-guy persona? That’s part of the joy of “Elf”: that man, that face, having to deal with batshit Santa stuff.

“I’ve been accused [of being a mob guy] so many times,” he told Vanity Fair in 2004. “I won ‘Italian of the Year’ twice in New York.”

He was Jewish, of course. He grew up in the Bronx, where his father was a kosher meat wholesaler. He hung around tough guys. He played football but he didn’t make the cut at Michigan State. Football’s loss was acting’s gain.

The Times obit says he improvised the bada bing part in this famous “Godfather” quote: “You gotta get up like this and—bada bing!—you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit.”

I’ll also remember him for a line he didn’t speak but is spoken about him: 

Brian Piccolo is sick, very sick…

Rest in peace.

Posted at 07:31 AM on Monday July 11, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Sunday June 19, 2022

A Special Paul McCartney 'Known For'

What is Paul McCartney known for, according to IMDb?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Yes
  • No

Thanks for coming. 

Why “Vanilla Sky” by the way? Because Paul did the title song. 

What could go in place of “Vanilla Sky”? I don't know. “Help!” maybe? “Let It Be”? The new “Get Back”? How about “Live and Let Die”? He did the title track to that one, too, and the song was a top 10 hit in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. “Vanilla Sky”? It went to No. 62 in Japan. That's it. Charted nowhere else. Nowhere. Else.

Happy 80th, Paul.

Posted at 02:25 PM on Sunday June 19, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Saturday June 18, 2022

Dreaming of Ed Norton's Summer Blockbuster

I was reading an entertainment magazine about the new big summer franchise movie starring Ed Norton. It was ... no. Except he didn't see it as a sequel. And it wasn't a sequel. It was just a big movie starring Norton and directed by the same director of that summer franchise movie. They were being reteamed for the first time. In fact, they'd already made the sequel to the franchise movie with a different director, and Norton implied he thought it was better with a different director, and kinda sorta disparaged this new movie. but I was thinking the opposite. I liked the new movie better than the sequel to the summer blockbuster.

I was reading all of this in a small movie room—one of many. They were like the old MTVs of 1980s Taipei, with framed posters and pictures of movie stars on the wall. One room was dedicated to Heath Ledger. The girl who ran it got weepy at the thought of him.

Posted at 07:50 AM on Saturday June 18, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Monday June 06, 2022

What Is Thomas Dixon Jr. 'Known For'?

Here we go again. 

So what is Thomas Dixon Jr. known for?

If you ask that of most people, they’d go “Who?” But if you ask that of someone who knows a little something of film history, not to mention racial history, they might say, “Isn’t that the guy who wrote the book that became ‘The Birth of a Nation’?" 

Yes. In 1905, Thomas E. Dixon Jr., a lawyer-minister, published a celebratory novel of the Ku Klux Klan called “The Clansman,” which D.W. Griffith adapted into the 1915 epic “The Birth of a Nation,” one of the most innovative and controversial films of all time. It was screened at the White House and Pres. Woodrow Wilson called it history written with lightning. It expanded the boundaries of what filmmakers could do. It also helped resurrect the Klan in the 20th century, leading to untold death and misery. When Dixon died in 1946, the headline of his obit in The New York Times read: THOMAS DIXON DIES; WROTE ‘CLANSMAN.’ It is what Thomas Dixon was, and is, known for.

Except, of course, on IMDb.

Because apparently a day hasn’t gone by when we all haven’t argued about the legacy of “The Mark of the Beast.”

So how do the other movies rate ahead of “Birth of a Nation”? According to IMDb, the algorithm that compiles its “Known For” titles weights various factors in a filmmaker’s career, including:

  1. The importance of the job (director > production assistant)
  2. The frequency of the credit (if you’re mostly a writer, writing credits matter more)
  3. The type of title (movies > TV shows)
  4. The popularity of a title (based on page views/awards/user ratings, etc.)
  5. The importance of the credit (starring > supporting)

I assume it's those first and fifth factors that are screwing up Dixon's result, since he directed “Mark of the Beast” and “Fall of a Nation.” He also produced “Beast.” It’s his one production credit. So he wrote, produced and directed “Mark of the Beast.” So, by the algorithm’s logic, it must be important. Meanwhile, “Birth,” directed by D.W. Griffith, was only adapted from Dixon’s novel. He didn’t even get the screenplay credit for it. So, per 5) above, it takes a ding.

You know which of the five isn’t weighted enough? That fourth one. I think IMDb is ignoring its own data. Here are the numbers for those top “known for” credits for Dixon that indicate user and cultural engagement:

  Title    Quotes Trivia Photos  Connec-tions* Critic Reviews User Reviews
1. The Mark of the Beast 0 0 0 0 0 0
2. Gods of the Machine 0 0 0 0 0 0
3. The Fall of a Nation 0 4 11 2 1 2
4. The Birth of a Nation 26 80 87 256 79 379

* I.e., references in other movies and TV shows

I mean: Holy fuck. 

And here’s what makes it all worse. The three movies ahead of “Birth”? They don’t exist. There are no extant copies of “Beast” and “Fall.” As for “Gods of the Machine”—you notice there’s no date on it? That’s because it was never made. It’s classified as “in development,” from someone named Matthew Collins, who made one short film called “War!” in 2014, and who supposedly based his characters for “Gods” on some of Dixon’s characters. That’s why Dixon gets a credit. Because some guy who made one short film in 2014 said his new movie includes Dixon’s characters. So when are we going to see this epic? Who knows? It was last updated five years ago: April 3, 2017. I doubt it will ever be made 

Yet somehow, according to our preeminent film site, Thomas Dixon is known for this non-existent movie more than he’s known for one of the most famous movies of all time.

What a fucking joke, IMDb.

Posted at 08:08 AM on Monday June 06, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Friday May 27, 2022

Ray Liotta (1954-2022)

I first saw him in “Something Wild” as the ex-con hubbie of Melanie Griffith and he scared the shit out of me. I next saw him in “Field of Dreams” as the heavenly “Shoeless” Joe Jackson playing baseball in the Iowa cornfields, and he scared the shit out of me. Then it was “Goodfellas,” playing lead character and narrator Henry Hill, a kid from the neighborhood who becomes a wise guy, rats, and has to live out the rest of his life in suburbia “like a schnook,” and it was Joe Pesci who scared the shit out of me. That was one of the things that amazed me about that film—that Ray Liotta didn't scare the shit out of me. Of the wiseguys, he was the nice one.

He didn't get an Oscar nomination for “Goodfellas”—he was never nominated, in fact—but Pesci did, and won, and his career took off. Liotta? I'm looking at his IMDb page right now and the early '90s are full lof lead roles in forgetful movies. In “Article 99” he plays a compassionate doctor working with vets. In “Unlawful Entry” he plays a creepy cop obsessed with Madeleine Stowe. In “No Escape” he plays an Army captain convicted of murder and sent to a hellish prison. In “Corrina, Corrina,” he plays a 1959 widower who hires Whoopi Goldberg as a nanny. In “Operation Dumbo Drop,” he plays an Army captain who delivers an elephant to a Vietnamese village. I didn't see any of these movies. I doubt many people did. 

I saw “Copland,” with Stallone, but... Apparently he was on a killer good episode of “Just Shoot Me,” playing a Christmas-obsessed Ray Liotta. Then bits and pieces in other people's movies: “Blow,” “John Q,” “Bee Movie,” “Observe and Report,” “Sin City 2,” “Kill the Messenger.” Sometimes he popped, sometimes he didn't. He did for me in “Marriage Story,” as the 40th-floor attorney who is too cutthroat for Adam Driver until his own nice-guy lawyer, Alan Alda, gets burned. Then Driver says, “I need my own asshole.” Cut to Liotta. He should've played these roles more: fierce guys who cut through the shit. 

He puffed out in his later years and his piercing eyes seemed smaller in his head, but when he was young he was beautiful. Apparently he died in his sleep in the Dominican Republic filming another movie. “And now it's all over,” as Henry Hill said. Just 67. Another guy in his 60s.

Last night, in honor, Patricia and I watched “Goodfellas” again. It's one of the great movies, with one of the great endings, with one of the great examples of nonstop movie narration. It will live as long as people care about movies.

Posted at 09:39 AM on Friday May 27, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Monday March 14, 2022

A 'Known For' Quiz

IMDb's problematic “Known For” algorithm is back, and this time it's a quiz!

Can you guess who this actor is?

Here's a hint: I associate him with none of these movies. But I do associate him with several fairly popular films from the 1980s. Am I wrong? Is the algorithm? Here are some of the factors that “may” (IMDb's word) count toward “Known For” designations.

The job performed on the title (a credit as director will have more weight than a credit as production assistant).

Our mystery guest is mostly an actor: 97 credits. He's directed two things. He's produced six. The above are all for acting.

The frequency of credits for a particular job in the context of the person's filmography (writing credits may have more weight for someone who is more frequently credited as a writer than as a producer).

Actor. See above. So far it's working.

The type of title (a credit for a theatrical feature has a different weight than a credit for a short film or a TV series).

Our mystery guest did have a semi-popular TV series in the 2000s but that didn't make the cut. But I associate him more with that series than with any of the above. Problems appearing.

The popularity of the title (this takes into consideration the number of hits/page views, the average user rating, any awards won by the title and several other indicators).

OK, this is where it starts getting crazy. Obviously “Dark Knight” is a popular title, and maybe “Foxcatcher” a little. But the other two? Not at all. And the movies that are missing? The ones I associate him with? More so. Here's how each of these movies rank, in terms of this guy's overall filmography, compared with the movies I associate him with:

Movie Popularity User Rating No. of Votes
War Machine 10 15 11
Live By Night 7 12 9
Foxcatcher 9 9 4
The Dark Knight 1 1 1
Movie Popularity User Rating No. of Votes
Movie 1 6 5 6
Movie 2 3 3 3
Movie 3 4 8 5
Movie 4 8 11 7
Movie 5 5 2 2

“Dark Knight” aside, most of my movies trump the “Known For” movies by IMDb's own criteria. 

The relative importance of the credit among similar ones for the same title (for example an acting credit for someone who received top billing will weigh more than an acting credit for a cameo appearance).

And here's where it gets crazier. Along with his credit placement, per IMDb, I've included whether or not he's on the movie's main poster. 

Movie Credit On poster? 
War Machine 7  X
Live By Night 17  
Foxcatcher 6  
The Dark Knight 15  
Movie Credit On poster? 
Movie 1 5  
Movie 2 6 X
Movie 3 2 X
Movie 4 1 X
Movie 5 4  

In every one of the movies I associate him with, he's either a lead or supporting. And his credit in “Movie 2” is misleading. He's one of the six leads in it. He just gets sixth billing. 

Ready to find out who the dude is? Here are the movies I've hidden until now:

Movie Popularity User Rating No. of Votes Credit On poster? 
War Machine 10 15 11 7  X
Live By Night 7 12 9 17  
Foxcatcher 9 9 4 6  
The Dark Knight 1 1 1 15  
Movie Popularity User Rating No. of Votes Credit On poster? 
National Lampoon's Vacation 6 5 6 5  
The Breakfast Club 3 3 3 6 X
Sixteen Candles 4 8 5 2 X
Weird Science 8 11 7 1 X
Edward Scissorhands 5 2 2 4  

Yes, it's Anthony Michael Hall

And when you think Anthony Michael Hall, of course you think “Live By Night.” And “Dark Knight.” And “War Machine.” Doesn't everyone? 

I mean, that's gotta be one fucked-up algorithm.

Here's the thing, though. While researching the above, I came across this beauty of a caveat on IMDb's explanation page for its “Known For” algorithm:

Since this is an entirely mathematical approach, some of our Known For choices may occasionally not be the best or most representative ones - if you're an active IMDbPro member, you may select your Known For titles. (italics mine)

Holy hell. So did A.M. Hall choose these films for himself? How does one know? Shouldn't there be a proviso stating so? If he did, there isn't. If he didn't, my original thought stands: that's one fucked-up algorithm.

Posted at 09:19 AM on Monday March 14, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  
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