Category Archives: Wipe Vs IMDB

IMDb Top 250: The Sting (1973)

WIPE VS. IMDb

(Warning: If you haven’t seen the film, there may be spoilers below.)

Director: George Roy Hill

Screenplay: David S. Ward

IMDb rank: #99

IMDb user quote: “The caper movie uber alles . . . A magical plot, dead on art direction, brilliant supporting roles (most notably Robert Shaw, ya falla?), and the guiding hand of Redford/Newman chemistry make this one of Hollywood’s great films.” – moman818, from Los Angeles, 10/10 review

Wipe’s take: The Sting marks the second and final pairing of Robert Redford and Paul Newman, an enduringly popular duo whose initial collaboration Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – also directed by George Roy Hill – currently sits at #148 on the IMDb top 250. It came as a bit of a surprise when The Sting took home an armful of Oscars in the spring of 1974, including Best Picture (it had been virtually shut out of the Golden Globes, earning only a screenplay nomination); however, by this time the film, a late-December-’73 release, had struck it big at the box-office and started a sensation on the Billboard charts with its soundtrack, composed mainly of old Scott Joplin piano rags adapted by Oscar-winner Marvin Hamlisch.* Today The Sting appears to have lost little of its ability to charm audiences, who remain enthralled by the Redford-Newman iconography, and perhaps even more so by the film’s playfully convoluted plot, which is divided into segments (“The Set-Up”; “The Hook”; “The Tale”; etc.) detailing the various stages leading up to the film’s climactic con (“The Sting”). As in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the keyword for The Sting is “fun”; its champions are most likely to laud the film as a supreme example of “pure entertainment.”

Viewing The Sting for the first time recently, I was indeed entertained, if not supremely so. I doubt I’m alone in confessing a penchant for films in which the characters hatch a plan that unfolds in carefully delineated stages towards some tremendously rousing payoff (I’m thinking not only of caper flicks but of prison-break perennials like The Great Escape [IMDb #100], The Bridge on the River Kwai [#70], and The Shawshank Redemption [#1]). The Sting follows this line of plotting admirably (it certainly had me “hooked,” to use the con-man parlance), except I would hesitate to call its climax rousing. When we finally reach the point at which the con-men played by Redford and Newman swindle the gangster Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) out of a half-million dollars, the victory occurs rather hastily (taking place within the last ten minutes of the film) and with surprisingly little fanfare.

Perhaps this is to the film’s credit. In an age where Soderbergh’s glitzy, preening Ocean’s trilogy sets the standard for its genre, it’s certainly nice to look back at a caper film with the good grace to underplay its climactic grift, and with the modesty not to bask in its own cleverness for too long. When Redford’s character declines his cut of the big score, telling Newman “Nah, I’d only blow it,” it’s a sign that both the character and the film itself basically mean well – for neither does it seem ultimately about the money, but rather about the humble rewards of pulling off a great story. (Actually, in the Redford character’s case it’s also about earning retribution for a pal Lonnegan had murdered. Almost forgot about that. Probably because the film’s so darn good-natured you tend to overlook the grisly murders that occasionally crop up.)

One other aspect of The Sting intrigues me, and that’s the handsomeness of Redford and Newman in contradistinction to practically all the rest of the major cast onscreen. Now, obviously, one expects that the best-looking people in the average Hollywood film will be its stars (except where Judd Apatow is concerned), but there seemed something especially pronounced about the unattractiveness of everybody but Redford and Newman in The Sting. (It also doesn’t help that Redford never looked fitter than he does in this film. Wow he’s dashing.) I’m not the first person to notice that the two lead women in The Sting are not what you’d call “conventionally attractive.” This wouldn’t bother me at all if one of these women didn’t happen to turn out to be a treacherous assassin (knew she was funny-looking for a reason!), and if the other weren’t relegated to a very unimportant role, despite the fact she’s playing Newman’s live-in love interest (knew she wouldn’t get much screen time!). Meanwhile, Robert Shaw’s character is made noticeably less attractive by means of a padded hunchback (if I’m not mistaken), and by a herky-jerky limp (which, in fairness, Shaw brought with him to the set from a recent handball accident).

Again, I should not be shocked that Redford and Newman turn out to be the most beautiful people in the cast. But I did detect a little more effort than usual put into foregrounding their beauty by surrounding them with mortal-looking people. (Plus I’m not even sure the two actors share many shots together. Better to admire them in separate close-ups I guess.) Even if I’m right, and this is the machinery of movie-star vanity at work, it hardly overwhelms the picture, which, as I previously stated, is pleasantly modest in tone and approach.

Does the movie merit top-250 status? I would say no, but it does belong near the top of any person’s list of “Movies with Impossibly Attractive Male Leads.”

-Cam

* Hamlisch’s score is often credited with reviving a ragtime craze in America, but the truth is that Joplin’s music had already enjoyed a popular resurgence a few years prior to The Sting, when Joshua Rifkin’s album of Joplin rags sold in excess of 100,000 copies in the United States. Still, the zenith of the craze has to be located in The Sting soundtrack’s reign at the top of the Billboard 2oo for five weeks in May and June of 1974. Semi-interesting footnote to all this: A Joplin biopic – called Scott Joplin – was released in 1977, starring Billy Dee Williams, and directed by Jeremy Kagan – a.k.a. the guy who would go on to direct 1983’s much-maligned The Sting II.

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IMDb Top 250: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

WIPE VS. IMDb

Director: Edgar Wright

Screenplay: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg

IMDb rank: #232

IMDb user quote: “When my brother decided we were going to watch Shaun of the Dead, my initial reaction was ‘Oh God, this should be a load of rubbish.’ Well, how very wrong I was [. . .] I found that I was laughing, crying and cowering in fear all at the same time.” – mouse712, from United Kingdom, 10/10 review

Wipe’s take: I seem to recall that back in 2004, months before it was released theatrically in North America, Shaun of the Dead was being christened online as a slice of geek heaven by the infamous Harry Knowles and his staff of critics at aintitcool.com—a.k.a. fanboy central. It’s not difficult to see why Shaun clicked with the Ain’t it Cool crowd (whose readers I suspect frequent IMDb user boards as well), since the movie comes equipped with various geek-culture bona fides. For one, it’s written and directed by, and stars members of the cast and crew of British Channel 4 cult series Spaced (which up until recently I had confused with the BBC sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf—I was way off, but never mind). For another, the movie pays homage to the cult classic zombie films of director George A. Romero, meaning  that, in addition to its punning title, Shaun offers plenty enough in-jokes for Romero aficionados—and IMDb posters—to play spot-the-reference (e.g., Shaun works at Foree Electric, a hat-tip to actor Ken Foree of Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead [1978]). But most significantly of all, the film rewards genre familiarity—it’s such a rollicking good time because it plays so cleverly with zombie movie tropes, etc.—and thus is tailor-made for movie-nerd consumption.

Is it possible to be neither an internet fanboy (excuse the gendered term) nor a zombie-movie nut and still enjoy Shaun of the Dead? Sure, but I somehow doubt one could love the film (not to mention place it in a top 250) without identifying as one or both of these two species of viewer. I found the movie appealing enough in the early going, particularly for the charmingly offhand way it introduces the zombie apocalypse: bummed-out sales clerk Shaun (Simon Pegg) goes out one morning to grab a Coke at the corner deli and fails to register the fact that the groggy folks around him are the walking undead. Also amusing is a subsequent scene where Shaun and his slovenly roommate Ed (Nick Frost) discover that the “drunk girl” shambling around their backyard is not what she seems to be. It’s a near-constant parade of witty little visual jokes such as these that makes Shaun initially so easy to like. Also to its credit, the movie doesn’t oversell its jokes with flashy technical flourishes, à la Pegg, Wright and co.’s  subsequent genre send-up Hot Fuzz (2007), a film I found so stylistically abrasive and annoying (however intentional this might have been) that I had to switch it off after about an hour’s time.

I can’t say that Shaun of the Dead did much more than amuse me, however. Its attempts at pathos, particularly in certain late scenes between Shaun and his mum (Nicola Cunningham), never catch the right tone, despite Pegg’s ability to produce anguished tears on cue. I think this failure can be attributed to the film’s generally cheery nature: there’s something approaching delight in the way the film frames the predicament of Shaun and the others, and the more the movie winks at genre conventions (especially in the jokey manner in which the film’s zombies are dispatched, and later all-but domesticated), the further one has to strain to invest any real emotion in the material. As funny as the movie sometimes is, one misses the underlying moral and political seriousness of Romero’s zombie pictures–not to mention the social/familial/sexual currents that stir the Haitian voodoo classic I Walked with a Zombie (1943)–which help to remind you why zombies are such a resonant film subject in the first place. Romero’s zombie apocalypse enacted a radical confrontation with human values; if Shaun of the Dead has anything to say about values and relationships it doesn’t amount to much more than a lesson one might glean from a sitcom. All the emotional, social, and moral implications of the characters’ trauma vanish blissfully and tidily in the film’s silly denouement. Cue laugh-track, and fade out.

Does the movie merit top-250 status? No, but as far as zombie comedies go, it’s better than last year’s Zombieland.

-Cam

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Coming up at Wipe…(update)

So it looks as though we’re going to move ahead with our plans (previously mentioned here) to tackle the IMDb top 250 in an ongoing series of articles over the next year or so (who knows at this point how long the task will take?). Look for this “IMDb 250” series to start up in the approaching days, once all the kinks have been ironed out (formatting, methodology, etc.).

More exciting news coming down the pipeline: in addition to reviewing the IMDb top 250, a few brave souls at Wipe have decided to take it upon themselves to seek out as many of the IMDb bottom 100-rated movies as possible, and subject them to no-less-than-rigorous exegesis.

There are some pretty lively titles to be found on the list, which can be seen here. Wipe is certainly anxious to learn what ungodly cinematic terrors await in films like Die Hard Dracula; Pocket Ninjas (starring Robert Z’Dar!); and The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek, Part II. And yet, we can already tell you that at least one of the films on the list–It’s Pat: The Movie–might be a masterpiece. So the review process on the bottom 100 could prove more contentious than first meets the eye.

There is of course one major obstacle to reviewing the bottom 100: a lot of these films will be awfully difficult to find. We’ll do our best to get ’em all, but we might need your help with some of the more esoteric titles, if you happen to be someone who specializes in tracking down obscure foreign horror films and the like. In the coming weeks, Wipe’ll be on the hunt for the 100, keeping you apprised of the movies we find, and the ones we don’t. Expect reviews for these cellar dwellers to begin sometime between now and the beginning of March.

Thanks very much for hanging with us!

-Wipe

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Coming up at Wipe…

Hey reader. The Wipe team has been busy brainstorming ideas for articles that might attract a wider readership and at the same time be something unique to Wipe. Every movie site does reviews, so what’s so special about ours? (Aside from the fact that they’re always insightful, cogent, life-altering.) Well, in an effort to branch out to more readers than just the people who know us (love and thanks to all of you), Wipe has decided to embark on an ambitious project: to review all 250 of the top-rated movies at IMDb. We’ve always had it in mind to do a wholesale reevaluation of the “great movies” from one canon or another; the IMDb list seems the one most pertinent to the average internet user’s tastes. Call it a shamelessly populist venture on our part, but we feel this is the best way to check the temperature of movie fever in the greater web population.  (Or maybe it’s a ploy to lure fanboys to our blog.)

OK, so we’ll review the IMDb 250. What’s gonna be so unique about that? Well, maybe we haven’t worked that out just yet. Isn’t it interesting enough that we’re prepared to give our views on the most popular films according to the internet? No? In that case, here’s an idea: we could read the user reviews posted on each of the movies’ IMDb page and occasionally quote from and respond to these users in our own reviews, enacting a dialogue (of sorts).

We are aware that there’s at least one glaring problem with reviewing the IMDb 250: it’s constantly in flux. A movie released next week–From Paris with Love, for example–could conceivably find its way into the 250 with enough positive user ratings (there’s gotta be millions of Travolta nuts out there somewhere [like Cam…]). To solve this problem, perhaps we’ll simply put a freeze on the 250 on a certain day, and work from the list as it stands at that point (we would of course post the 250 we plan to work from after the freeze).

Again, we’ll work the kinks out on this and get back to you. Who knows, maybe we’ll find the project’s impossible or otherwise not worth the trouble, and you’ll have to forget this post ever happened…

Please comment with suggestions if you feel inclined.

-Wipe

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