Chad Comello

books, movies, libraries, typewriters

Page 46 of 55

The Sting

Originally published in the North Central Chronicle in October 2008 as part of a series called “Chad Picks Classic Flicks.”

Welcome back to “Chad Picks Classic Flicks.” I was catching up on more recent films over the summer but I’m excited to start a new year of discovering the new in films of old. This year’s first installment examines the 1973 flick The Sting in honor of the death of its star-screen legend and cool customer Paul Newman. Newman stars along with Robert Redford as two Depression-era grafters in Joliet, Illinois, who team up to con a ruthless mob boss.

The Sting starts by doing what every crime caper seems to do by showing the main characters pull a small but clever job, just to set the stage and show us they’re good at what they do. And they are good at what they do. Johnny Hooker (Redford) and his friends scam others partly out of desperation and partly because they enjoy it. They’re like the crew from the “Ocean” movies; they don’t know, or want to know, a life without a gamble and the risk of high reward.

Especially Hooker. He is so anxious to gamble the money he conned from another hapless bystander that he blows it all on a rigged game of craps. His elder and wiser partner-in-crime Luther calls him on it: “You’re a con man and you blew it like a pimp!” With Hooker on the run from a crooked cop, he finds Henry Gondorff (Newman) to enlist in a big con per Luther’s advice. Hooker finds Gondorff snoozing between his bed and the wall after a long night drinking. When Gondorff is sober, Hooker convinces him to try a big con on a big-time mobster.

From there the movie unfolds like a play neatly divided into four acts: the Set-Up, the Hook, the Tale, and the Sting. Each act even has its own title card. If you see The Sting after seeing a lot of modern crime flicks like Matchstick Men and Ocean’s Eleven it will seem predictable. But the truth is to the contrary. Modern-day crime capers owe their existence to the ingenuity of movies like The Sting. The story moves along so fluidly, adding the twists and covers required for a decent crime movie, that the audience doesn’t feel cheated with any new revelation.

But you don’t have to worry about being out of the loop until the very last scene like you are in some mystery films. The Sting lets us know about the con, but doesn’t give out details, so we can watch the bad guys squirm. Once the con is laid out, we can just sit back and enjoy. And enjoyable it is. For winning seven Academy Awards in 1973 (which by all accounts was a light year for film) including Best Picture, The Sting is a lightweight fare. Newman especially seems to just be enjoying himself. He has a few scenes playing drunk which will make you smile.

The mood changes throughout; sometimes there is tragedy, suspense, or drama, but underneath it all there is always comedy. And most of the time it’s not laugh-out-loud. It’s like the entire movie is a joke but the joke-teller never smiles. The merry-go-round in the indoor amusement park Gondorff lives in does all the laughing; when it’s turned on it disguises the fact that the amusement park doubles as a tavern and a brothel.

In many ways, The Sting is the unofficial sequel to the equally funny and thrilling 1969 flick Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Both movies share the same leading men, playing similar characters, and director (George Roy Hill) and pull off the same light-mixed-with-heavy dynamic that so many movies today try to duplicate. The characters in both films are criminals, but criminals we want to be friends with.

This wouldn’t be possible without Newman and Redford as the leads. With Newman’s trademark blue eyes and devilish smile and Redford’s con-man good looks, we believe them in their roles and root for them too. Even when the movie runs flat-a rare occurrence-we never give up on it simply because it’s so entertaining. Entertaining like the soundtrack, anchored by Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” and other ragtime songs like it. The upbeat music screams irony when it plays over scenes with such bleak surroundings.

The Sting isn’t on any of the American Film Institute Top 100 lists; no matter, it’s still fun, and good. You don’t see that combination too often these days. That’s why, sometimes, you have to dip into the past. There is plenty to see. The Sting is one of many golden oldies sitting on the shelf at Blockbuster that deserve much more attention than the underwhelming bunch of movies in theaters now are getting, so rent it now and give it some love.

Canopy Glow by Anathallo

One of my favorite albums of the year:


Over the last eight years they have been making music together, Anathallo’s sound has evolved slowly and subtly. Starting in 2001 with Luminous Luminescence in the Atlas Position and continuing with A Holiday at the Sea two years later, the band had adopted an almost avant garde twist to their orchestral indie flare. This trend continued with the Japanese folklore-centered Floating World in 2006. But in Canopy Glow, the band’s latest endeavor, their happy asymmetry has been slightly smoothed out in favor of a more streamlined yet still wholly original sound.

Still, the Anathallo touch remains strong in Canopy Glow. They follow the hypnotic opening track “Noni’s Field” with “Italo,” one of many tracks in which the dual male/female vocals from Matt Joynt and Erica Froman and the exceptional drumming lead the way. Other highlights include the flighty “John J. Audubon” and “Northern Lights,” which is a perfect example of art imitating life; the aurora borealis comes to life in this song’s droning glow.

The tone throughout Canopy Glow is relatively more somber than their previous works, especially Joynt’s vocals. The Chicago-based octet uses the piano and guitar in a much more traditional way than they have in the past, mixing a funky piano riff into the steady groove of “All the Same Pages.” It’s like they’re running for president: moving to the center while still holding on to some radical roots. In the end, though, it’s still the same Anathallo-the perfect mix of quirk, catchiness, and a whole lot of talent.

The War by Ken Burns

I’m still working my way through it, but I’ve already come to appreciate Ken Burns’ seven-part 2007 miniseries The War.

Burns explains in the making-of feature that he wanted to show the war not through historians but through average citizens, men and women and children from every corner of the country who endured the front lines abroad or did their part at home. He focuses on four towns—one in California, Minnesota, Alabama, and Connecticut—and uses interviews with the veterans and their families from those towns to make the enormous scope of World War II more intimate.

It’s a great historical record of the American involvement, delving deep into topics that are not often discussed like Japanese internment and the segregation of minorities in the Army. Burns employs his trademark use of photos, footage, and interviews in each scene. Some photos we’ve seen before, but most are new and show us a different view of what has become a very familiar war.

Norah Jones’ “American Anthem,” the series’ theme, is very good, though not as good as the theme for Burns’ The Civil War, called “Ashokan Farewell.” And while I really love David McCullough’s narration in The Civil War, actor Keith David’s here has quickly grown on me.

So if you have 15 hours to spare one these days, fill them with The War.

No Direction Home

Just watched Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary No Direction Home about Bob Dylan and I loved it. A great, detailed history of the moment and the man.

I must admit that I have not really gotten into Dylan that much until recently. I have a few of his records on vinyl—Blonde on Blonde is definitely my favorite so far—but now I’m inspired to dig deeper into his work as well as that of his main inspiration, Woody Guthrie.

My growing love of folk music was also boosted by this film. I’m fascinated by folk music’s impact on the 1950s and 60s culture, Dylan being a big part of that impact.

Either way, I’d highly recommend the documentary if you love music, history, or America. Or all of the above as I do.

Quantum of Solace


Not as good as Casino Royale. It was still quite enjoyable, though. I like the director Marc Forster’s style. Previously he directed Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland, and Monster’s Ball. He’s got quite the range.

I find that Roger Ebert’s criticism of the film is accurate, though I don’t hate it as much as he does. I agree that it was a little too much like the Bourne movies, and the plot was its weakest part. Quantum‘s predecessor was successful because it didn’t overload the audience with too many quick-cut chase scenes and Michael Bay-level suspension of belief. I also think the Bond girl(s) in Quantum were inferior to Vesper Lynd in Royale. The Bolivian woman had a back story fit for a soap opera (and delivered it like a soap opera star would too), though that doesn’t take away the from the emotional punch that comes out of the events surrounding the climax.

Still, I think Quantum works because it resolved Bond’s emotional storyline (“Bond” and “emotional” in the same sentence? Yes, and here’s why.) I look forward to the next one simply to see if it ends up becoming another standard self-contained Bond film. I wouldn’t mind if they kept up the thread they started with Casino Royale regarding Bond’s motivation for revenge and the continual molding of his character’s sometimes wild and sometimes humorous way about things.

Whatever gripes I have about the plot and the action scenes don’t overshadow my continued love of (and borderline man-crush on) Daniel Craig as Bond. He is so right for the role. I look forward to seeing him better the part for years to come.

1.21 Gigawatts!?

November 12, 1955.

Know the date?

Hill Valley, California. The Clock Tower. Struck by lightning. At 10:04 p.m.

53 years today.

Oh, yeah.


In honor of this historic day in the BTTF world, here is an appreciation I wrote for the school paper:


If I were asked to name what I think are the greatest films of all time, I might throw out a few high-brow titles like Rear Window or Casablanca or Taxi Driver. But if I had to name my favorite film, one that makes me love movies and makes me love being alive, it would be Back to the Future.

A silly overstatement, right? Not in the least. I first saw Back to the Future in middle school. Since then it has become my comfort movie. Everyone has one. Everyone has a movie they watch because it reminds them of their childhood or makes them feel happy. My sister watches Seven Brides for Seven Brothers because it got her through the grieving process after our grandma died. I watch Back to the Future because, like all those classic Disney movies, it reminds me of the goodness of my youth. Plus, it is simply a good movie.

You don’t realize it the first few times you watch it, but Back to the Future is an incredibly well-written movie. There are so many subtle things you don’t notice until you reach the BTTF-nerd status as I have. For instance, the mall is named “Twin Pines Mall” in the beginning. Then, after Marty, played by Michael J. Fox, comes back from the future, it is named “Lone Pine Mall.” This is because he ran over one of the two pine trees in Mr. Peabody’s front yard. (Remember when I mentioned the nerd status? I wasn’t kidding.)

The writing, especially the dialogue, is exceptionally smart, given that the movie was a big-budget blockbuster when it was released in 1985. The Doc Brown character, played by Christopher Lloyd, has many of the funniest one-liners as the eccentric scientist from the 1950s. He wonders what Marty’s strange suit is and Marty tells him it’s a radiation suit. He responds, “A radiation suit? Of course! Because of all the fallout from the atomic wars.” Later, Marty says his catchphrase “This is heavy” again and Doc wonders why: “There’s that word again: ‘heavy.’ Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the earth’s gravitational pull?”

The acting, as well, is spot-on. But did you know that Michael J. Fox was not originally cast as Marty? Eric Stoltz, who played the drug dealer in Pulp Fiction, was cast first and even filmed a few scenes, but the director Robert Zemeckis fired him (thank God) once Fox found room in his filming schedule for his popular sitcom “Family Ties.” Christopher Lloyd as Doc and Crispin Glover as George McFly were perfectly peculiar in their roles and Tom Wilson as Biff Tannen created one of the all-time greatest movie bullies.

But any movie can have clever writing and good casting. What makes me love it so? Honestly, I don’t know. The original music score is wildly fun and the 1950s sets are great bits of nostalgia, but they are just parts of the whole. It just has that X-factor that won’t let me forget how much I love to sit in a darkened room and watch a story unfold. This particular story just happens to zip around the space-time continuum with a slightly insecure, “Johnny B. Goode”-playing teenager and his lovably loquacious scientist friend.

If I can’t explain why I love the Back to the Future trilogy so much, I can simply show you. In addition to the posters from all three movies hanging on my wall, I have three different DeLorean die-cast, 1:18 scale model cars (one from each movie) and a pen and a key chain I bought from Universal Studios after taking the now-defunct BTTF ride. Yet my nerdness runs deeper: I also have a copy of the letter Marty writes to Doc which I made myself in junior high pinned to my bulletin board at home. Yeah, that’s right.

But the most amazing experience I’ve had with Back to the Future had nothing to do with the movie. When I was in eighth grade, my dad met a guy who owned a real DeLorean and asked him to dress up like Doc Brown, crazy wig and all, and cruise down my street and into my driveway. He leaped out of the car and yelled, “Chad, you’ve got to come back with me! Back to the future!” I jumped in the car and we drove around the city like crazy time-travelers. It was an otherworldly experience. (I now realize I never thanked my dad for. Thanks, Dad!)

To me, Back to the Future represents the incredible power of cinema. I feel like I take in the world through my senses when I watch it. I know that sounds crazy, but I can’t describe it any other way. I know that every one of us has a book or a movie or a song that has an invisible hold on our hearts and souls. Mine just happens to rock along to “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lieberman – Don’t Leave Him, Man

“With Malice Toward None, And Charity For All…”

I must say I’m pleasantly surprised about this.

By advocating for keeping Lieberman, Obama may rub some hardcore Dems the wrong way, but it shows he’s willing to show that he step above partisanship. He’ll be making many decisions in the next two months—before he has to make the BIG decisions—and so far he’s done well. We’ll see how it goes.

My Halloween

My Modern Europe professor offered two points extra credit on the next exam for anyone who wrote a page on their Halloween experience. Well, I needed the extra credit, so here it is. Also, sorry for the bluriness of the picture. It’s my Obama pose, by the way.

I must confess that, while I enjoy the perennial American holiday as much as the next Joe Six-Pack, I frequently forget to prepare for the holidays that need to be prepared for. My costume for Halloween, more specifically, never enters my mind until about a few days before. I’m normally told by someone what they’re costume is going to be, which prompts me to wonder the very same thing about myself.

This year was no exception. I didn’t actually begin thinking about my costume until the Tuesday before Halloween Friday. My first ideas were: John McCain, Jesus, Animal from the Muppets, or one of the guys from Flight of the Conchords. Then my sister suggested I go as “Muhna Muhna” from the Muppets simply because I look exactly like him, albeit without the lime green shag carpet sweater. This idea made sense, but I couldn’t pull myself to spring for a shag carpet for just a few hours of use. Some people call it being cheap; I call it being frugal.

So, on Halloween, about ten minutes before I was to meet some friends for our evening outing, I had the idea: I pulled out a plain white t-shirt and drew some primitive coins on the front with a Sharpie. I was, literally, “Change You Can Believe In.” Though I’m an Obama supporter, using his slogan was more sarcastic than sincere. I knew I would be explaining it to everyone all night, but I figured having a “costume” that made me laugh was ultimately most important.

Instead of going to a bar rotting of beer, vomit, and the loss of inhibition, I “trick-or-treated for the homeless” with Cardinals-On-Wheels, the campus commuters group. We canvassed Naperville asking for donations of non-perishable goods that we could donate to the local homeless shelter. We also secured a healthy booty of chocolate and sugary goodness for ourselves. That is, after all, what Halloween is all about.

Afterward we got together and rocked some board games and free food. It was a fun night full of fellowship, booze-free, that I actually remembered the next morning. That isn’t, apparently, what Halloween is all about.

Gosh! Idiot!

June 11, 2009. It is the first day I will be able to watch Napoleon Dynamite for the first time.

When that movie first came out in 2004, it was hyped up so much by my peers. Everybody recited the lines for about six months and I got really sick of it, as did everyone else eventually. I decided around that time that in order to allow myself the opportunity to enjoy the movie without being affected by the hype, I would wait five years to watch the movie.

Next June will be five years to the day of its theatrical release, so I guess I’ll find out then. I’m looking forward to it.

I’m pretty sure I already know all of the funny lines from it, courtesy of my high school peers. Although, Napoleon Dynamite, I’ve heard, is one of those movies you will either love or hate. Based on what I know about it, I think I’ll enjoy it.

If there is a movie that has been released for a while and has been hyped up way too much, but you haven’t seen it yet, I’d recommend postponing like I did. I know a few people who waited too long to see The Dark Knight and were let down because of the sky-high expectations set by those around them. You will get joshed by your friends for not seeing it, but it will be worth it.

What movies have you put off seeing because of its hype?

Good Listenin’






It’s been a good two days for me musically. First, I got the debut CD from Carla Bruni, the French First Lady, called Quelqu’un M’a Dit from the library. I can’t understand a word of it, but I love the sexy folk style. Now I just have to find her most recent album.

But what makes me more excited than sexy folk music from France is the fourth album from Copeland called You Are My Sunshine. I got it free in the mail from Tooth & Nail because I write reviews for a college music magazine called Hear Say. I freaking loved Eat, Sleep, Repeat and so far I’m loving this new album. I get to see Copeland on tour along with Lovedrug in a few weeks in downtown Chicago (also for free). Good stuff.

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