Peter Eramo Reviews: Knight and Day

To its credit, Knight and Day does not pretend to be something it is not. It never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously nor does it try to outsmart its audience. Rather, James Mangold’s action-comedy-romance-spy flick aims to simply entertain and please its audience without worrying all that much about thorough characterization, realistic dialogue or sensical plot lines. In what has so far been a severely disappointing summer blockbuster season filled with uninspired, derivative titles that I have no desire in wasting my time with, I chose to see one that isn’t a sequel or in 3-D (the flavor of the month) or based on a silly TV show. And you know what? It kinda did the trick.

Sure, the movie is clearly a vehicle designed for two of Hollywood’s bigger stars in Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.  And their chemistry on-screen here is quite strong (although I thought they were terrific opposite one another in the oft-maligned Vanilla Sky as well). As for its supporting characters, the film doesn’t bother developing them at all which is a shame when you have the talents of Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis and Paul Dano at your disposal. Unfortunately, they are used mainly as background to our two stars here, as the script gives them all very little to offer its viewers.

Cameron Diaz plays simple gal (who knows her cars) June Havens, whose life is turned completely upside down when she meets the mysterious Roy Miller (Cruise) on an airplane to Boston on her way to her sister’s wedding. They strike up some friendly, flirtatious banter and she goes off to the restroom to try and figure out the best protocol in luring in this handsome fish. What she doesn’t know is that Miller is a secret spy and she is not supposed to be on this particular flight. From here on out, Miller spends the entire film protecting the innocent girl’s life across the globe while June spends most of the film trying to figure out if Miller is truly her ally/protector or if he’s some crazed, paranoid agent-gone rogue as others would have her believe. Cruise’s special agent is always smiling and is ever so kind and complimentary towards June as he goes about protecting a specialized battery that never loses power. Created by young genius Simon Feck (Dano), the battery is in high demand and everyone is killing to get their greedy hands on it.

There are some very funny scenes here between Cruise and Diaz and the action scenes are filmed especially well, including the many chase scenes involved (one featuring bulls in Spain that is quite impressive to watch). Cruise is very tongue-in-cheek throughout, and for this film, it certainly works. He has done comedy and he has done a lot of action, but has never really had the opportunity to do both of them at once and he gets to do that here in the same way that Cary Grant used to do. He is charming throughout and delivers all of the absurdity with such sincerity that it is hard not to laugh. Diaz is also up to the task; very sweet and funny. After taking a truth serum, she is clearly upset and tells Miller that he doesn’t look so happy to see her again — this, while being shot at from all angles. Of course Miller walks through a hail of misfired bullets to show her just how happy he is to see her again. And if you can go with that, then you will certainly enjoy this movie. My problem here is that, as good as Diaz is, I felt she was all wrong for the part – too able to take on the task. I think the film would have been better served if they had cast someone not as strong as her – an actress who is much softer and who would be more believable as being the complete opposite of Cruise’s super spy. I mean, she’s a Charlie’s Angel, for Christ’s sake. Since they didn’t go that route, they should have then done a much better job at making her seem more out of her league — more helpless and feeble.

Overall though, the film does what it sets out to do and that is simply to entertain a summer audience. It doesn’t bore and never lets up, going from one action sequence into another. Many times, the writers never even have to worry about showing how the duo manages to get out of a life-threatening situation as Miller keeps drugging June and the screen simply goes to black and we see June awaken in an entirely new setting. I’d say if you are looking to take your brain out for a little while, kick back with some buttery popcorn and just have fun, then I would surely recommend Knight and Day. Cruise looks to be having a lot of fun here and it is nice to see him back in the action genre after a few years — and with so much slim pickings out in multiplexes right now, this may be your best bet.

Director:  James Mangold
Year:        2010
Rating:    

To view the trailer for Knight and Day, please click here.

Fan Poll: What is Your Favorite Tom Cruise Movie?

Well, Knight & Day didn’t have a very impressive opening weekend at the box-office (opening at #3 and taking in a modest $20.5 million) — but Tom Cruise still remains one of our bigger movie stars and has a very impressive resume since breaking into movies in 1981. I thought with his new film out, in addition to the new listing on the LAMB website yesterday featuring a number of great articles/reviews on the actor (LAMB Acting School 101: Tom Cruise), that now would be a nice time to ask you, the movie fan:

What is your favorite Tom Cruise movie? Take a second and cast your vote now!!!

What is Your favorite Tom Cruise Movie?
Risky Business
Top Gun
Rain Man
Born on the Fourth of July
The Firm
Interview With the Vampire
Jerry Maguire
Mission: Impossible
Minority Report
The Last Samurai
Eyes Wide Shut
The Color of Money
A Film Not Listed Here

View Results

Create a MySpace Poll

This should be pretty interesting because in previous polls, there seemed to be a clear odds-on-favorite. Here, I really have no idea which movie is going to pull it out.

To check out the LAMB Acting School 101: Tom Cruise feature, just click on this link for some terrific articles and reviews on the actor from other film bloggers! I will post the results in a few days…

The Top 5 Films of Tim Burton

I am excited about this particular posting, because it is the first one on the Magic Lantern Film Blog by a contributing writer, William Buhagiar. Last week, I posted a review of Alice in Wonderland and in it I mentioned that Tim Burton’s films are hit-or-miss with me. Of course he remains one of America’s most visually stylistic directors and there are certainly a number of his films which I greatly admire and enjoy. However, in my opinion, there are too many that miss the boat and I personally cannot put him in the upper echelon of today’s filmmakers. Mr. Buhagiar though feels quite differently, as Burton remains his most favorite film director, which is why I am so thrilled that he decided to write a list of the Top 5 Tim Burton Films. He certainly can speak to Burton’s films better than I can, so it makes complete sense that he’s the one creating the list here and not me.

Buhagiar is a film student (New York Film Academy) and is a serious movie buff of films both past & present and in a variety of genres. I am also pretty sure he knew more about film than his own H.S. film teacher, as I’m not entirely sure how much you can learn about cinema from reading Us Weekly. In any case, I always enjoyed speaking and debating with William about movies, actors, & directors. I hope that he will enlighten us with another film List or article in the near future. Here it is….Tim Burton’s Top 5 Movies from contributing writer, William Buhagiar:

#5. Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Two words that immediately make me shudder: horror movie. At this point, it’s common sense that the genre is a barren wasteland overflowing with generic and repetitive cinematic trash. Yet Sleepy Hollow actually accomplishes what a successful horror film ought to: it startles, haunts and thrills the audience. Johnny Depp gives yet another brilliant (and highly amusing) performance as Ichabod Crane alongside Christina Ricci, Michael Gambon and a stellar ensemble cast. With a clever script written by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en), Burton’s gift for projecting psychological phobias in visual fantasy ultimately delivers a wonderfully entertaining, eerie and unforgettable story. And believe it or not: it’s a horror movie.

#4. Big Fish (2003)

Many critics argued upon its release that this was Burton’s finest. With great performances by a strong cast, (Albert Finney being the terrific lead) Big Fish is another Tim Burton classic; a story of father-son relationships that balances all of the fantasy elements you would anticipate in a Burton feature along with contemporary family drama that had previously been a genre he hadn’t yet ventured into.

#3. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Considering the more recent stage-to-screen musical adaptations, Sweeney Todd is arguably one of the most unique. Burton couldn’t have been a more appropriate candidate to bring the story of the murderous, revenge-obsessed barber and his cannibalistic meat pie-baking Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter, one of modern Hollywood’s finest scene-stealers) to the screen. Naturally, the title role went to Johnny Depp, who was subsequently nominated for an Oscar for his haunting performance. For the many movie-goers who are biased against the typical dull cinematic musical, and prefer to spend their $10 on films sans show tunes, Sweeney Todd is a picture that may shift their perspective. Surprisingly thrilling, highly entertaining and visually gorgeous, Burton’s artistic vision was well-executed for this project. Let’s face it: what other movie features throat-slitting and human meat pies accompanied by song?

#2. Ed Wood (1994)

Tim Burton’s biggest failure, and also his greatest triumph. Ed Wood was a box-office disaster and yet the critics raved. Why Burton chose to create the biopic of Edward D. Wood, Jr., unanimously considered the worst film director of all time, is obvious. Burton grew up on his movies. He describes Wood’s films as “incredibly dreamlike…personally, I wouldn’t call them ‘bad,’ they had a very unique otherworldly quality about them.”

Johnny Depp (naturally) plays the wide-eyed and relentless Ed Wood, who continues to pursue his artistic dreams despite a series of absolute failures. During one particular sadly-comical scene, Wood stands at a payphone waiting for feedback regarding his directorial debut, Glen or Glenda, (an homage to Wood’s actual affinity for dressing in women’s clothing) and Depp, with a madly enthusiastic smile on his face, states: “Really? Worst film you ever saw? Well, my next one will be better!” The most astonishing aspect of that scene is Wood’s smile is never erased, despite the critical opinion of his film.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking and inspiring focus of the story is that of the relationship between Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi, played by Martin Landau, who scored the “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar for his performance. When Wood and Lugosi coincidentally meet while Lugosi is shopping for his ideal coffin (“This is the most uncomfortable coffin I’ve ever been in!”),  Wood is beyond star-struck, pestering him with questions, offering him a ride home, constantly expressing his admiration and discussing the roles Lugosi played that captivated him as a child. (Allegedly, Burton’s focus on the Lugosi-Wood friendship was an homage to the relationship between Burton and his own childhood hero, Vincent Price.) Wood constantly wrote roles (in putrid B-movies) for Lugosi, who was, at the time, considered by Hollywood to be a washed-up has-been heroin addict. He was removed from rehabilitation numerous times due to his inability to pay for treatment. Ultimately, Lugosi’s addictions led to his death, which Burton couldn’t have depicted with any more respect.

Although Wood holds the reputation of being the “worst film director” of all time, Burton crafted a film that ultimately pays great respect to the man rather than mock him. Sure, his eccentricities are showcased in comedic fashion, but really, don’t they deserve to be laughed at?

#1. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands is the closest we’ll ever come to a Tim Burton autobiography. Burton has very often described growing up in Burbank, California as being a desolate, lonely and frustrating environment. He claims to have had a certain disability in properly communicating his twisted, fertile imagination to those he was surrounded by with mutual understanding from others. The adolescent Tim Burton spent most of his time in complete solitude, privately viewing marathons of sci-fi B-movies, old Hammer horror movies, along with the 1930’s Universal horror classics dominated by Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., among others. Despite his efforts, Burton could never quite get his message across to the prim, “Crabtree & Evelyn” suburbite residents that he was surrounded by. He was certainly a misunderstood outsider, unable to communicate, and desperate for acceptance. But he was an extraordinary artist. And thus, Edward Scissorhands was born. Beginning as a sketch drawn when he was fifteen, Burton conceived the idea of a man with scissors for hands, an obvious symbol of his communicative handicap (the original sketch is now on display at the Museum of Modern Art).

In a suburban world parallel to the one Burton was raised in (only dramatically cartoonized into a visual environment of pastel houses, perfectly trimmed lawns and neighbors who spend the majority of their days gossiping about others), a kind Avon saleswoman, Peg Boggs, (Dianne Wiest) seems to be having a difficult morning selling her make-up products. Dismissed by a housewife who is in the midst of seducing a plumber and a teenage girl who happily applies toenail polish then admits to having no money, she decides to drive up to a ghoulish mansion atop an enormous hill out of desperation.

Here, Peg discovers a timid, lonely “creation” named Edward (Johnny Depp), who to her great shock has scissors for hands. When she inquires about this, he quietly whimpers, “I’m not finished.” Peg asks about his mother…and receives no response. When asked about his father, Edward once again barely gets the words out, “He didn’t wake up.” So Peg decides to take Edward home and introduce him to civilization – with an ultimately heartbreaking outcome.

The film is no tear-jerker; it’s not a melodramatic “Nicholas Sparks” story where an over-the-top tragedy is inevitable. And yet I can remember being 4 years-old and openly weeping by the end of the movie. Sure, it may be a bit ridiculous, but this is simply one of those movies that are guaranteed to generate a few tears from me every time I watch it.

Edward Scissorhands is Tim Burton’s magnum opus. Burton created a story that perfectly channeled his feelings of isolation and of misunderstanding. Essentially, Tim Burton is Edward. The film remains a universal classic to those of us who grew up watching it. Such a unique piece of imaginative artwork is absolutely unforgettable, and when it comes to the best of Tim Burton, Edward Scissorhands has the market cornered.

Gimme 5: Cast Away Theme

The only merit I feel that the over-long, over-dull film Cast Away really has is that it suits my own personal needs for this week’s “Gimme 5” feature. So here it is: you are stranded on a remote island all by yourself. It’s just you alone and a bunch of coconuts. And ok, fine…I’ll throw Wilson on the island with you just to keep you company. What 5 DVD’s would you want packed in your knapsack? Or, to really stick with the Cast Away theme, which 5 DVD’s would you want preserved in one of your FedEx boxes?

And don’t worry about where your power/electricity is coming from. Just pretend it’s like that overly pretentious, style-over-substance TV show that just went off the air (Thank God) where things just popped up on the island without any reason or logic attached to it whatsoever. So what 5 movies could you not live without on this tropical haven all by yourself???

Gimme 5 Movies You Want With You on A Deserted Island!!!

I will start:

1. The Godfather (gotta have my Brando/Corleone fix)
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3. Annie Hall Hannah & Her Sisters (this Woody film actually has an uplifting ending)
4. Scenes from A Marriage (not sure I’d survive without some Bergman)
5. It’s A Wonderful Life (to inspire me and keep me cool on those 95 degree days)

Now, it’s YOUR Turn!!!

Peter Eramo’s Open Letter to Tom Cruise

It has been widely reported that Tom Cruise is in talks with Paramount Pictures and MTV Films to reprise his role as the foul-mouthed, hip-hop loving Les Grossman (from Ben Stiller’s hilarious 2008 film, Tropic Thunder). However, it won’t be in another scene-stealing supporting role but rather, a movie revolving around the Grossman character — Les Grossman’s own movie. I absolutely loved Tropic Thunder (voting it the #1 comedy of the decade in a recent list published on this website) and feel that Cruise’s performance in it helped make it the great success that it was. When I read about this possibility, I became worried. I’m not usually one for writing letters to actors at all, but I feel it my professional duty as a writer of film and tremendous fan of the fictional role to write one now. The reputation of Grossman is at stake! So here is my letter to Tom Cruise:

 

Dear Mr. Cruise:

First, I would like to start by telling you that I have enjoyed so much of your work over the years and think you have created some of the most memorable film roles in the past 20+ years. Growing up, I remember loving your work in Risky Business, opposite the legendary Paul Newman in The Color of Money, and yes, I even enjoyed Cocktail immensely (still proudly ranking high in my favorite “guilty pleasure” films of all-time). I thought you were quite brilliant in Rain Man and gave a moving and unforgettable performance in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July.  I thought your superb work as Frank Mackey in P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia was daring and courageous, helping to make it the masterpiece that it is. And of course, as you know by now, you stole the show in Tropic Thunder, showing us your funny side by playing the now famously vile, money-hungry, vulgar movie executive Les Grossman. Your resume is certainly an impressive one and still, you remain one of America’s most bankable stars. What I have always found so impressive is how you’ve always managed to balance your enormous celebrity, while at the same time, apply yourself to your craft as an actor in such demanding roles and working for some of our most talented filmmakers (Kubrick, Spielberg, Redford, Levinson, et al). Though you are one of Hollywood’s biggest “movie stars” you still manage to push yourself as an actor and I certainly admire that. With that said, I feel that, in the wake of your recent appearance on the MTV Movie Awards and your ongoing discussions concerning the “Untitled Les Grossman Project,” I need to voice my tremendous concern to you at this time.

I understand all of the reasons you might have for wanting to actually go through with starring in such a vehicle — well, money for starters. It’s almost always about the money (didn’t you have to scream that loudly into a phone once to Cuba Gooding, Jr.?). I understand that if you are planning on gunning for that Oscar which has eluded you thus far, that starring in such a raucous comedy gives you the ability to show everyone your range. Also, playing the Les Grossman character helps to continue to build massive goodwill with the movie-going public who may remember you jumping on Oprah’s couch like a sophomoric wild man and knocking Brooke Shields down a couple of pegs because you don’t believe that people should be taking prescription medication as it goes against what you personally may believe in. I also understand that many simply like seeing you having fun at your own expense. I get all of that. And yet, I still think it’s a terrible idea.

Spin-offs, for the most part, usually suck. There are too many examples of the failures (U.S. Marshals, The Scorpion King, Beauty Shop, etc.) and very few, if any, that can be called good movies. Les Grossman had, what? Ten minutes of screen time in Tropic Thunder? Maybe 15 minutes at most. That was the perfect amount. It left us wanting more. It still keeps us wanting more, which is why it’s so damn good. The old comedian’s adage is to “Leave them wanting more.”  Starring in a full-length film revolving around Grossman will only kill it. It will turn into a “Saturday Night Live” sketch which is funny for 4 minutes and turn into a terrible 100 minutes of disappointment (see just about any SNL skit-turned-movie). What also made Les Grossman such a great screen character was the element of surprise. When it was playing in theatres, very few even knew that you were even in it, let alone heard of such a character. I know when I saw it, I was completely taken by surprise and I loved every minute of it. Now, that surprise factor is completely gone only to be replaced by high expectations that most likely cannot be met.

To put it simply, making such a movie would be overkill. And as a big fan of your work (despite having to sit through Far and Away and Days of Thunder), I feel that you are better than that and have so much more to offer to your fans. You already make the big money, so it can’t just be about the financial reward here. You can make that money doing just about any other film. Don’t kill the Golden Goose, Mr. Cruise…it was great for the small part it played in Stiller’s wonderful comedy and will always be remembered. A full-length feature will only hurt the legacy of the character that you brought to remarkable life.

Thank you for reading this. I hope you have a very successful opening weekend with your new film. If you need any further career advice, then I’m always here…you know where to find me.

Yours Truly,

Peter Eramo, Jr.

The Top 10 Greatest Movies to Win the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar

A few weeks ago, I created a Top 10 List of what I think are the worst films to “win” the Academy Award for “Best Picture.” The terrific website ListVerse was kind enough to pick it up and what followed was a barrage of comments (over 400+ in less than 48 hours) that was great fun to read. Comments ranged from highly complimentary to others that were, well…not so nice and aimed at yours truly. No matter. That is what is such fun about these lists and what I was hoping for when I began my Magic Lantern Film Blog — a place for film lovers to speak passionately about the films that they love and hate, a place where people can have healthy debates with one another…quite simply, a place for movie geeks like me to communicate. A handful of those commenters suggested that rather than be so negative, that I create a Top 10 List of those “Best Picture” winners that I found to be the most deserving. I thought that was a fair point and that is what you see here – The Top 10 Greatest Movies to Win the “Best Picture” Oscar!

This list was a bit easier for me to compile, especially the Top 3. What I found to be most difficult was trying to squeeze in so many wonderful films that took home the award in just ten slots. Sadly, a few of them didn’t make the cut, though I wish there was more room. My criteria? Well, first it has to be a superb, timeless movie; a film that, looking back, you can still tell that it was the best in that respective year. A movie that if it didn’t win “Best Picture,” you’d say, “Really? That didn’t win?” Second, it had to be (in my opinion) the best of the films nominated in that year. If I thought another film was better, then it didn’t make the list (i.e. I think “JFK” is far superior to the victorious “Silence of the Lambs“). Finally, I looked at the competition each winning film faced and what the movie had to beat out (have you ever looked at all fantastic films battling it out in 1939?). When all was said and done, I came up with these 10 magnificent Oscar-winning films. I hope this brings just as much reaction and discussion as the prior list. 

10. The Best Years of Our Lives (dir. William Wyler, 1946)

Wyler made some truly unbelievable films (“Mrs. Miniver,” “The Heiress,” “Jezebel” and the Oscar-winning “Ben-Hur” which could have easily made this list), but for some reason, few cite this one as being one of his greatest. I first saw this film only three years ago and was completely blown away by it — and the war-film genre is not one of my favorites. Winner of 7 Academy Awards, this is the film that beat out “The Yearling” and the classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” and in my mind, deservedly so. The movie centers on three WW II veterans who come home to Smalltown, America from the war only to find that everything has drastically changed. Wyler and screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood aren’t concerned with showing us any scenes of the men in battle, but are wholly invested in showing us the crisis that each man faces upon his return. Sixty years later, the movie leaves a lasting impact on its audience and the cast is stellar. Frederic March won an Oscar for “Best Actor” here and Harold Russell, who plays Homer, a man who lost both hands during the war, won “Best Supporting Actor” — both great to watch. Teresa Wright and Myrna Loy also give heartfelt, riveting performances here. I was so impressed with how real everything seemed to feel and, like another film on this list, did such a beautiful and poetic job at showing the psyche of a post-war nation. All three stories blend so brilliantly together, I wish it had continued even longer than its 160+ minutes. For some reason, I am under the impression that many have not experienced this American classic. If you are one of those, you should put this in your queue right away.

9. Annie Hall (dir. Woody Allen, 1977)

You can count the number of comedic films to win “Best Picture” on two hands and this one is arguably the best of the lot (unless you want to debate “The Apartment,” which I could understand). I look at it like this – people bitch and complain that Stanley Kubrick, Charles Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, & Robert Altman never won an Oscar. Fine. The same would be said for Woody Allen if one of his movies never took home the golden statue. “Really? How could that be possible?! He never one after all those great movies?” Now of course if you’re not a Woody fan, you won’t like this selection. I had to find room for it. It is one of the all-time greatest comedies and stands as the seminal turning point in the filmmaker’s career. Diane Keaton created one of film’s greatest screen characters here (“Lah-di-dah”) and the chemistry between the two is a marvel and tremendous fun to watch. A classic love story filled with some of Woody’s greatest one-liners (“I don’t want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light”), there are also moments of great drama and depth. I know “Star Wars” nuts think that their film got robbed. I understand that it was a ground-breaking film and changed the way movies were made. When a comedy wins, most don’t find it deserving. I like “Star Wars” very much, but to me, it looks a bit dated now and perhaps that’s because special effects has grown by leaps and bounds. I just know “Annie Hall” (which I believe is his 2nd greatest movie) will be looked at as one of cinema’s greatest comedies decades from now. It also doesn’t sell out at the end and gives a realistic portrayal of a relationship gone sour. I can watch this anytime, anywhere…so it makes the list.

8. Terms of Endearment (dir. James L. Brooks, 1983)

I think James L. Brooks is one of the finest, most clever screenwriters we have and there are usually about 10 classic lines in each of his best works. Here, after years of writing successfully for television, he made his directorial debut and, after winning 5 Oscars, has become a modern-day classic. I know many poo-poo this movie, though I am not sure why. Perhaps because it is overly sentimental and falls under the genre of “tear-jerker,” but I think that’s just silly. It’s a beautifully woven story with rich and fascinating characters. I love that it always makes me cry when Emma (Debra Winger) has to say good-bye to her two sons or when her mother Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) is screaming for someone to help medicate her daughter. The chemistry between Jack Nicholson (as the vain ex-astronaut turned playboy, Garrett) and MacLaine is so strong and they are simply a delight to watch. Their first date is one of the great screen dates and Jack gets to do his thing throughout, which is enjoyable to watch. But even he goes through a maturation process that leaves the viewer quite moved. The core of this film however, rests in the mother-daughter relationship, which is funny, conflicting, heart-breaking…the stuff of real life. Brooks gets top supporting performances from a young Jeff Daniels (what a cad!), Danny DeVito, and John Lithgow. The movie strikes the ideal balance between comedy and drama and flows into one another so effortlessly. I find this to be such a charming, slice-of-life film. You’ve heard the old adage, “I laughed, I cried.” Each time I watch this movie, I find it to be the epitome of that very saying.

7. Schindler’s List (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1993)

Simply put, a glorious piece of filmmaking. Splendid cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, a stirring score by John Williams and Michael Kahn’s adept editing help create this engaging and important work of art. I have not read the Keneally book (though most of my students have), but Steven Zaillian’s screenplay brings this chilling and inspiring true story to life in such a skilled, crafted way. There are many films focused on the Holocaust, and though this may not be my favorite one, it is surely the one that most people point to as being the quintessential “Holocaust film.” Liam Neeson plays Oskar Schindler, who starts off as a vain and avaricious businessman who uses the Jews as cheap labor to start a factory in Poland during WW II. Slowly, he begins to see first-hand, the horrors endured by the Jews and begins a quest in trying to save as many lives as possible. In the end, he composes a list of over 1,100 Jewish people who he rescued from death. I know there is a lot of praise & glorification being thrown around throughout this list, but that is because these are 10 magnificent films that stand out among literally thousands. Here is one statement though that is in no way hyperbole — Ralph Fiennes, in bringing to life Amon Goeth, created (in my estimation) the most vile screen villain ever put on film. In Goeth, we witness the true evil a human being is capable of. He is terrifying, unpredictable and oh-so genuine. He wants so desperately to be admired and liked as Schindler is; the way he looks at himself in the mirror, the clumsy manner in which he tries to “pardon” a Jew that he so desperately wants to kill, the blunt manner in which he shoots another human being…Fiennes does it all with impeccable authenticity. The film didn’t have much competition that year, but I don’t think it really matters. No matter what movies were released that year, Spielberg’s movie (winner of 7 Oscars) was taking home the grand prize…it’s that remarkable an achievement.

6. The Deer Hunter (dir. Michael Cimino, 1978)

One of the great war films ever made, Cimino’s epic examines the lives of three close friends, all working-class factory workers in Pennsylvania, who decide to enlist in the Army during the Vietnam War. Before they go, Steven (John Savage) marries his pregnant girlfriend and the first act of the film shows us the wedding, which also serves as a farewell party for the bridegroom and his friends Michael (Robert DeNiro) and Nick (Christopher Walken). I know many people to find this part of the film to be a bit slow and lengthy, but I take the glass-half-full approach and say that Cimino and screenwriter Deric Washburn do an incredible job in developing their 3-dimensional characters. Plus, a lot of what is here is essential when you get further into the movie. The second act picks up and we are thrust into a prisoner-of-war camp where the three friends are detained in nightmarish conditions. The final act shows the horrific effects that war has on people and their surroundings. The film is graphic, daring, sincere and deeply affecting. Wonderful performances all around. A young Meryl Streep is so good here (a real shock, right?); sometimes she doesn’t even speak a line and we know exactly what she is thinking. This is also when DeNiro and Walken weren’t just cashing in checks and really immersed themselves in their craft — and both are spectacular here. A shell-shocked Walken in the hospital trying to answer what his name is — or those haunting Russian roulette scenes are images that I have yet to forget since I first watched this film. “The Deer Hunter” shows us a quaint small town in America, the merciless horrors of war and the daunting effects that it has on the people who served and those who are close to them. A 5-time Oscar winner (beating out “Midnight Express“), it remains one of the most powerful films ever made.

5. On the Waterfront (dir. Elia Kazan, 1954)

Winner of 8 Academy Awards, “On the Waterfront” is one of the great American film ever made. Having been nominated for “Best Actor” the previous three years, Marlon Brando finally won his first Oscar in his fourth consecutive year being nominated playing Terry Malloy, an ex-prizefighter turned longshoreman who witnesses a murder and struggles with himself to stand up to a corrupt union boss (a terrific Lee J. Cobb). Watching Brando’s transformation of this character is something to behold. Like something out of an Arthur Miller play, Budd Schulberg’s screenplay is authentic, powerful and enduring. On top of the flawless performance by Brando, Rod Steiger, Karl Malden and Eva Marie Saint turn in moving performances as well. The controversial film does not seem to have aged at all either, though the politics of the time may not be the same as today, especially in the aftermath of HUAC and Kazan’s highly publicized “naming of names. It has been said that Brando didn’t even want to work with Kazan after he named names of some of his close friends. Thank God he did do this. Close friends and collaborators, Miller and Kazan always wanted to do a film together covering the corruption on the docks – but never got to after HUAC. Miller did “The Crucible” and here, Kazan answers back with a statement of his own in this brilliant piece of filmmaking.

4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (dir. Milos Forman, 1975)

Milos Forman’s powerful, disturbing and, at times, humorous film is a brilliant adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel.  Jack Nicholson has been outstanding in so many roles, but this may be his very best work to date. Here, he plays the rebellious Randle P. McMurphy who is serving time at a state mental hospital and instantly tries to challenge all authority. In doing so, he tries to recruit the other patients to take on the dictatorial rule of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) who is more despot than nurse. Every time he tries to have a little harmless fun (playing cards, watching the World Series), he is stopped by this oppressive woman. This film is a modern classic, featuring great supporting performances by Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Ted Markland, and Vincent Schiavelli. Brad Dourif is painful to watch as Billy Bibbit who is terrified of Nurse Ratched and the haunting image of his mother (who we never see). Fletcher is perfect in this role and creates one of cinema’s most despicable characters ever. Every note she hits is just right and her toe-to-toe scenes with Nicholson are akin to watching two heavyweights battle it out. McMurphy’s scenes with Chief Bromdom are also a treat to watch. The symbolism of McMurphy as a Christ-like figure, though more perceptible in the novel, are still quite evident here, albeit in more subtle fashion. What starts out as McMurphy trying to get out of work and prison by pretending to be insane, slowly morphs into something dark, perverse and terribly unsettling as he begins to win over the patients one by one. Forman manages to hit so many notes here, and just when things seem to be jubilant and hopeful, it all crashes down and your stomach is in knots. The film had pretty fierce competition for the “Best Picture” prize and was the first to win the 5 ‘major’ Oscar awards since 1934 and in viewing it, you can easily see why.

3. The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

This could just as easily be #1 on this list as I find it the second best film ever made. Coppola’s masterpiece lost out to “Cabaret” in a number of categories, but thankfully, it took home the one Oscar that mattered. Marlon Brando, back at the top of his game. Exceptional performances by Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, James Caan, and Talia Shire. The coming out of Al Pacino, playing one of the most complex characters in movie history in Michael Corleone, the dutiful war-hero son turn immoral Don. I have seen this film more times than I care to mention and it never gets dull to me for a second. A young Coppola handles this film with such subtlety and such grace, showing audiences the inner workings of a mafia family before “The Sopranos” and others of its ilk romanticized it to the point of being cartoonish and false. The Corleone family, on the other hand, rings quite authentic. The transformation of Michael is mesmerizing to watch; Brando meeting with the heads of the five families after declaring that the war stops here; the infamous horse head under the sheets; Carlo finally paying for Sonny…I can go on and on with another thirty or forty moments and it won’t be enough. An iconic film score, a great screenplay adaptation and glorious cinematography by the legendary Gordon Willis help make this a film you simply can’t refuse.

2. Gone With the Wind (dir. Victor Fleming, 1939)

I watch this film and cannot believe that this was made 71 years ago. What a gorgeous piece of filmmaking this is – a grand achievement on such an epic scale. When you think of “classic” films, this must surely be one of them. And still, to this day, it remains the #1 box-office success when you adjust for inflation (besting “Star Wars,” “E.T.,” and “Titanic” among others). Here, we are given Vivien Leigh in one of film’s most iconic roles, doing a masterful job as Scarlett O’Hara. We witness her epic tale through one of the most turbulent periods in this nation’s history. She is truly one of cinema’s most enduring characters, as she goes through so many transformations in her life – and Leigh pulls it all off seamlessly. On top of her duties to the Tara plantation, we watch the love story between her and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), an immortal story in itself. The film gives us so many classic lines that we all know by heart and never ceases to feel new and timely. Many would probably put this as #1, and I couldn’t call them crazy. On top of being such a fantastic film, look at the competition it beat out in 1939! I don’t think there has been a stronger list of nominees since: “Stagecoach,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Dark Victory, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Of Mice and Men” are just a few and these are all unbelievably great movies. What do they say? “They don’t make ’em like they used to.” Sometimes I think they’re right.

1. The Godfather: Part II (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

For my money, the finest American film ever made. How many sequels can you say are just-as-good if not better than the first? Not many at all. I believe this one actually outdoes the masterpiece released in 1972 (though by only a very slim margin). It also beat out stiff competition that year with terrific films such as “Chinatown,” “Lenny” and “The Conversation.” I love the backstory of young Vito Andolini coming to Ellis Island and his rise to becoming Don Corleone which includes the assassination of Don Fanucci. The Little Italy scenes showing us a mesmerizing Robert DeNiro (as the young Don) taking on all of the subtle nuances of Brando are a pleasure to watch. Meanwhile, we watch as the character of Michael (Al Pacino in perhaps his greatest performance) sinks deeper and deeper into the bowels of evil, while tightening the grip on his crime family in Las Vegas. Coppola had so much to lose here, but more than delivers and the performances again, are extraordinary. The late John Cazale gets more screen-time as Fredo (poor Fredo – “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart”), the legendary acting teacher Lee Strasberg makes his screen debut as Hyman Roth, and we are also given terrific supporting performances from Michael Gazzo and Bruno Kirby. A wonderful job of storytelling here and I catch something new each time I watch it. This was a no-brainer #1 for me because I haven’t seen a better film so far and thankfully, it took home 6 Oscars, including “Best Picture.”

P.S. — My apologies to “Midnight Cowboy,” “All About Eve,” “Braveheart” and “From Here to Eternity” — all remarkable 4-star films in my book and all deserving of winning the coveted Best Picture Oscar. As I said in my intro, I wish there was room for all of them. I just couldn’t omit the ten that you see above.

Invictus: A Truly Under-rated Sports Film

[THIS IS NOT A MOVIE REVIEW]

Yes, Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus is about much more than rugby. South African President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) uses the sport, and the nation’s team, as a means of uniting a terribly divided nation. The film opens with Mandela being released from Robben Island as a political prisoner of nearly 26 years. His release also marks the end of apartheid in South Africa, sparking mounting tension among the Afrikaners and black natives. But what I was struck by in watching this under-appreciated film was what a great sports film this actually is.

Eastwood doesn’t get bogged down with all of the politics and he is certainly not concerned with hitting you over the head repeatedly by telling us how apartheid is bad and Mandela is a wonderful human being. Any political messages that do seep in are done with careful sleight of hand and delicate subtlety. The film is concerned with one thing — how President Mandela used his country’s underdog rugby team to help bring his segregated nation together.

There are some truly wonderful, inspiring sports films (Rocky, Hoosiers, Remember the Titans, et al), but I can’t think of many that illustrate just how sport and the beauty of competition can bring an entire country together. Perhaps Miracle, which showcased one of the biggest upsets in sports history when the United States’ hockey team won the Olympic Gold Medal. The film was ok, but I felt it could’ve been much better than it was. Now I don’t know squat about rugby — but that didn’t stop me from getting swept up in the drama and the terrific run that the South African Springboks go on.

Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar, the team’s captain. The team, made up mostly of white Afrikaners, stinks. For black South Africans, the team’s name and logo represent a dark history and they want to change that. They refuse to show the team any support, even rooting for opposing England to beat them. Meanwhile, the World Cup of 1995 is less than a year away. Mandela makes it a point of showing everyone just why it’s so important to retain the team’s name, logo and colors.

Based on true events, I was caught up in the team’s magnificent, exciting run to the World Cup. Eastwood doesn’t get caught up in the melodrama that most sports films fall victim too; no cliche film shots or trite dialogue here. He also doesn’t use the captain (Damon) as the team’s star player on the field at all. It’s a total team effort. And you don’t have to know anything about the violent sport that is rugby to enjoy the film or the many scenes where games are in progress. In a match against the heavily favored New Zealand team, Pienaar speaks to his team in a huddle over the craze of 62,000 screaming fans telling them that this is their destiny. A riveting moment and Eastwood does a brilliant job at capturing the mood and pulse of the nation during this entire match.

I think when people think of Invictus, they think of a movie about Nelson Mandela. True, the film does show what an inspirational figure he was to his people (and Morgan Freeman is pretty damn brilliant in it), but it does so in such an understated way. For me, I thought this film showed us what sport and competition is all about and that is why I feel it should not be overlooked when movie fans discuss great sports movies. It shows us both the savageness and the grace of rugby, the essense of teamwork and just what something simple like a sports team can do not just for a small town or even a state, but an entire country. Especially with the craze going on right now with the World Cup of Soccer, this is a film that any fan of sports should watch.

The Versatile Blogger Award!

OK, since I have only been doing Magic Lantern Film Blog for a few months, I’m kind of new to this and just found out about “The Versatile Blogger” from a couple of other sites. And to my fellow film bloggers, I still have no idea what a “Meme” is!!! Help me out here! 🙂

The Rules for the Award are:

1- Thank the person who gave you this award
2- Share 7 things about yourself (see below)
3- Pass the award along to 15 who you think fantastic for whatever reasons! (if not 15, as many as you can)
4- Contact the blogs you picked and let them know about the award.

So, ok…thank you to the 3 guys at the very cool, very diverse Go, See, Talk movie blog. Also a big thank you to Aiden at the clever and witty Cut the Crap Movie Reviews film blog. Your nominating me has given me undue pressure I now place on myself — and just more work to do on this gorgeous weekend – so thanks for that! 

Seven things about myself that most may not know? Hmph…this is tough as I tend to be an open book. I’ll try to stick to everything movie-related here.

1- I have to give much credit to my friend, Lorne for becoming a HUGE Woody Allen fan. Before Lorne was able to convince me back in high school, I didn’t see much to Woody Allen and never cared for his work. Perhaps I just didn’t “get him” at the time. Now he is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers who always gets my $10 when a new movie of his comes out. Thanks, Lorne! And Woody – how about making a really great movie again…and soon!

2- Jackie Gleason was my hero growing up. I wanted to be him. I think he was the main reason why I became a theatre student and became so heavily involved in acting, directing, writing, etc. More than just a wonderful comedian, I found him to be an extraordinarily talented actor who never really got his due as a film star. Brilliant in The Hustler and gives a wonderful performance in Gigot, as well as Nothing in Common. I think Gleason is the reason I started smoking at a young age. Thanks, Jackie! You are always missed…

3- I used to trick-or-treat with my next door neighbor who I had a severe crush on for only about 12 years or so. I distinctly recall one year when the two of us went to see a double feature of Grease and the PG-version of Saturday Night Fever. After trick-or-treating in our own neighborhood on Halloween, we decided to reap everyone’s mass quantities of leftover Halloween candy by trick-or-treating in a different neighborhood on November 1st. We put on sad faces and told people that we were away visiting grandparents in Florida and never got to trick-or-treat. We went dressed as Danny and Sandy from Grease…and boy did we hit the motherload!

4- The first movie I can remember seeing in the theatre was the delightful Pete’s Dragon at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Another early memory was when I was 7, my father took me and my younger brother to see Superman. He had me and my brother waiting on line while he went to find a parking spot. we waited and waited and my brother was perfectly fine. I don’t know why, but I started to freak out thinking dad left us and wasn’t coming back. I think I started to cry as my mind began racing as to where he went and what would become of us. Our rotten father had abandoned us!!! A few minutes later, my father walked up and was so upset at my wuss-like behavior that he took us home. No Superman that night. What a shameful display…

5- I love Roadhouse. I’ll just let you take that in for a minute and absorb that. And I’m a fuck-you-up if you laugh at me! And if I can’t, Sam Elliott will come hunt you down and do it for me…

6- I once dated the niece of director Armand Mastroianni, who is known mostly for a few horror movies, including He Knows You’re Alone (1980) which featured the feature-film debut of one Tom Hanks. Mastroianni has since directed for a number of successful television shows and has another film in the works. He appreciated my fascination and admiration for Marlon Brando and I remember him taking down a beautifully framed poster of Brando from off his wall and giving it to me as a gift…one of my most prized possessions. I have always remembered that kind gesture.

7- Not film, but still relates…the only fan letter I think I ever wrote was to Kim Fields — yes, Tootie on TV’s “Facts of Life.” I just thought she was so hot! The show was shit, but I had such a huge crush on this woman. Sadly, she never returned my letter, professing my admiration for her work and her smokin’ good looks. The hurt still festers. Oh, yes…I did send Marlon Brando a couple of birthday cards too…although I’m sure he didn’t look quite as attractive on roller skates as Kim Fields.

Now for those film bloggers who I think are doing an extraordinary job. These are movie sites I try to visit each day and see what everyone is writing about — and to read their opinions on all things movie related. Apologies to those if someone else has already nominated you…

  • Top 10 Films — a very fun, in-depth site with a lot of intriguing Top 10 Lists. Covers a wide array of genres & makes for great debate.
  • Movie Mobsters — Great design/layout; knowledgeable, excellent writing and a lot of fun to read. I check it out daily always love to read Heather’s comments on everyone’s blogs.
  • CinemaFunk — Aaron’s site is a great read for film fans. Some great analysis on movies, past and present. Easy-to-navigate look to the site with helpful links throughout. An intelligent read.
  • Dan the Man’s Movie Reviews — Dan is very young, but he knows his movies…and more importantly, he knows how to write about them. Nicely laid out site, highlighting current movies and old ones too.
  • Kicking Up the Darkness — Evan only posts occasionally, but he knows his movies. He’s a witty writer and a horror buff. So for any horror movie fans, you may want to check his site out. Has a nice Top horror movies of the decade list which is a good one.
  • CinemaObsessed — Angie and Chantale are two funny gals! A wide variety of stuff here including movie news, funny 89-second film reviews and their own witty take on everything going on in film.

That’s about it. Every other blog I know has already been cited (and I’m sure these have been also). Hope I did this thing correctly. As always, your pithy comments are always encouraged. Hope everyone has a great Father’s Day!!! Now what the hell is a meme….

Gimme 5: Movies So Awful You Wanted A Refund!

It’s time for Friday’s “Gimme 5!” feature!!! Last week’s was the first one posted here on Magic Lantern Film Blog, and it went over pretty well. Got some excellent feedback from movie-lover’s on their Top 5 favorite comedy films. What I personally love about this is that, if I have never seen a particular movie, I will add it to my rental queue based merely on the suggestion of you, the movie-lover. It’s quick, it’s fun — and hopefully will spark further debate and interaction on this website.

So now on to this week’s topic – Your Personal Top 5 Movies that you felt were so horrifically bad that you wanted a refund. I mean, you leave the movie theatre and have this desperate urge to write hate mail to the entire creative team involved. No need for any long write-ups or anything. Just gimme your list of 5.

Now this isn’t for films you think are over-rated (that’s a completely different topic). There are those movies I personally did not like at all that many film-lovers admire greatly (i.e. “The Hurt Locker” or “A Few Good Men”), but I wouldn’t think to include it on this particular list just for the sake of trying to stand out or make a feeble point. No…this is for films you found embarrassingly dreadful with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Have Fun!

Gimme Your Top 5 Movies So Awful You Wanted A Refund! I will start…

1. Caddyshack 2                                                     
2. Runaway Bride
3. 9 Songs
4. The Brown Bunny
5. Even Cowgirls get the Blues

Now It’s Your Turn!!!

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Alice in Wonderland” (***)

I recall that there was so much anticipation to this film — ‘The film that Tim Burton was born to direct’ was what everyone was saying. Then, when it was released earlier this year, I hadn’t heard many positive things about it at all (despite its massive box-office intake), so I decided to stay away from it. Sadly, I did not get to witness this gorgeous looking film on the big screen, but I am glad that I did get around to watching it as I found it to be a pretty enjoyable film.

Tim Burton is hit-or-miss with me. Though certainly a great visual director who has his own unique style, I always felt he needed better screenwriters to collaborate with as many times it is the screenplay that I find to be weak, though he has made terrific films in “Sweeney Todd,” “Big Fish” and “Ed Wood.” Here, he re-creates his own bold interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s seminal work with an adapted screenplay by Linda Woolverton. Rather than having an Alice trying to figure out who she is not (as in the book), this Alice (a fresh young face in Mia Wasikowska) is seeking to find out who she is as a 19 year-old budding woman. In the process, Burton gets to explore the complex nature of dreams as Alice is never quite sure if she is awake or will wake up at any moment.

Alice is betrothed to an idiotic fop of an English nobleman who she really has no love for. The first few minutes pretty much beat you over the head with showing you how independent and unique she is — too much so. At her engagement party where she is debating whether or not to say “Yes” to this clod, Alice escapes and falls down the proverbial rabbit hole, entering the magical world of “Underland.” Filled with strange and unique characters – a tyrannical queen, talking animals, bandersnatches, knights and such – Alice finds that she is there for one reason…to slay the treacherous Jabberwocky and restore the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to her rightful place on the throne.

The film is a visual delight filled with wonderous art direction, make-up, and computer effects in addition to Colleen Atwood’s imaginative costume design for these surreal characters. Danny Elfman’s score, though fitting, is quite easy to point out, as much of his work for Burton’s films sound very much alike. While in Underland, the movie is a treat to watch — it’s the beginning and end of the film, when Alice is in “the real world,” that the film falls short.

The performances here are wonderful and fun to watch.  As the despotic Red Queen with the enormous head, Helena Bonham Carter is deliciously fun. She is incredibly bossy here (“I need a pig!”) and barks her orders in quick, firm fashion. Though quite villainous, Carter does display a great sense of insecurity and envy towards her sister, the White Queen. You almost feel bad for her…almost!  Hathaway does a fine job as the White Queen who is committed to her altruistic vows. She doesn’t get to chew the scenery like her co-stars, but does an admirable job and has the right look/air of playing the good queen. The voice work of Alan Rickman (the Blue Caterpillar) is superb, which should be of no shock to anyone. His baritone voice is smooth and melodic and creates a great sense of mystery here. Stephen Fry plays the voice of the magical Cheshire Cat and he too is wonderful to listen to.

Of course the highlight here is Johnny Depp playing the infamous Mad Hatter. I’m not sure what to say about Mr. Depp other than the fact that I find him to be one of the handful of actors working today that truly immerses himself in a role and commits to the craft of performance in full force. A close friend and “student” of the late Marlon Brando, you can tell that much of Brando’s approach wore off. Depp has an uncanny chameleon-like ability and here, he comes up with his own unique interpretation of the Mad Hatter. He is sweet and gentle one moment, and forceful and a bit sinister the next. His lispy voice and eccentric manner (as well as his make-up and costume) fit the legendary character very well. He also plays a great protector to little Alice and there is a very sweet scene between the two when Alice has to say good-bye to her new friend. I found myself feeling great empathy for him throughout the film. There is also an incredible scene between Depp and Carter when he is brought in to her as a shackled prisoner. Great fun to watch!

This is a very engaging coming-of-age story where Alice has to figure out who she is, what she wants and has to find her “muchness” that she has apparently lost. Wasikowska, an actress I was not familiar with, does a nice job at playing the very demanding role where much of her work is done against a green screen – and her chemistry with Depp is strong.

All in all, I was upset that I didn’t get to witness this event on the big screen and I don’t see where all the negativity comes from — unless it was that expectations were set so high that Burton had to create a masterpiece in order to satisfy everyone. This film is not a masterpiece, but it is a very entertaining film that takes on its own interpretation while keeping the tone and feel of the book everyone knows. And though it does have a few flaws, I enjoyed it immensely.

Rating:   
Director: Tim Burton
Year:      2010

To watch the film trailer, please click here

Peter Eramo Reviews: “The Greatest”

The Greatest” is the directorial debut of Shana Feste (based on her own screenplay) and revolves around a married couple trying to get over the tragic loss of their oldest son Bennett, who was about to set off to college. Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon play Allen and Grace Brewer, the couple who handle the grieving process in completely different ways. This is not breaking new ground as we have seen this on film many times before. Allen is a math professor who finds comfort in numbers and equations and cannot understand the unpredictability of the real world, let alone cope with this loss in a healthy way…he bottles everything inside, though gives off the impression that he is playing the sturdy rock so the family doesn’t crumble apart. Grace needs to talk about her dead son and find out every tiny bit about the way he died or she’ll just lose it. Bennett was the one victim of a terrible car crash and the truck driver who hit him (Michael Shannon) has been in a coma ever since. Grace visits him constantly, reading to him as she waits for him to wake up so that she can have all of her questions about her son’s last 17 minutes of life answered. She will not rest until she gets this closure.

An unexpected visitor comes to the house in the name of Rose (Carey Mulligan), who is pregnant with Bennett’s child. Though she must be extremely bright as she was accepted to go to the prestigious Barnard College, she seemingly has nowhere else to go because her mother has serious issues. The Brewers take her in and that brings more difficulties to the already troubled household. Johnny Simmons plays their younger son, Ryan, who always played second fiddle his brother, the golden child.

There are some very tender moments throughout the film and fine performances are given by this impressive cast. However, it is handled with a very heavy hand at times and falls victim to being a bit too melodramatic in spots. I never really bought into Rose’s dilemma of having nowhere else to live. Also, her relationship with Bennett was a bit uneven. We are led to believe that the two met (from afar) as freshmen in high school, exchanged intense glances towards one another — and never spoke until the very last day of school during their senior year. On top of this, when they do speak, they sleep together right away for one time and she is pregnant with his child. I found this to be a bit far-fetched, although the way Carey Mulligan explains the courtship is very romantic and quite sweet.

It is nice to see Brosnan in this role and watching it is a bit unsettling knowing of the similar tragedy in his own life. His demeanor is kind and understanding and we can immediately empathize with him. Each character seems to have their own moment of catharsis, but I felt Brosnan’s was a bit forced and could have been handled with more subtlety. His chemistry with Sarandon is very good. We have two veteran actors here in very demanding roles and they play well off one another. Sarandon’s Grace sees everyone as a threat, including Rose. It is tough to feel sorry for her because in her grief, she doesn’t show much love for those around her and is brutally honest about her feelings towards her son’s lover. Mulligan is a terrific choice for Rose and does a great job with her. She is a breath of fresh air and we immediately like her. Simmons gives a terrific performance as the younger son who has also been going through severe pain in losing his older brother, though his parents don’t really seem to be helping him cope very well at all. They just want to make sure he’s not taking drugs anymore.

So though there are some nice moments and the very last scene is a very sweet way to end it, I felt the movie was uneven. There are some terrific films that deal with families getting over the loss of their child, but I don’t think I would include this one – though I have no reason to think it is not authentic or true to life. Feste has surely done her research regarding the complex subject matter and the characterization all rings quite true. Perhaps the film would have fared better in the hands of a more experienced, adept director.

Rating:   
Year:       2010
Director: Shana Feste

Peter Eramo Ranks: The Top 5 Performances of Marlon Brando

For my money, Marlon Brando was the greatest actor the silver screen has ever seen. A student of the famous Stella Adler Studio, there was simply no one better. Before James Dean and the method actors that would later follow, Brando brought a completely new style of naturalistic and instinctive acting to film. With his debut performance in “The Men” (1950), he was the very first of his kind…a forefather, a godfather of method acting in cinema. As a high school student, I was an obsessive fan of his, taking in as much of his performances as I could. As a theatre major in college, Brando was the epitome of everything I looked up to in an actor. To me, he could do anything he set his mind to; look and sound and play any part whatsoever. I remember feeling devastated when he passed away at the age of 80 in 2004, but I always have his films that I can pop in at anytime and relish in the viewing of watching a true actor at work. His resume is not as vast as most as he never seemed to love what he did, which is a shame. Many consider him to be a tremendous waste of talent because of this and I can understand that. Brando was a complex man with many passions. Sadly, for all his God-given talent, it didn’t seem like acting was ever one of them.

I have of course seen every Marlon Brando film, some of them many times. Even in the “stinker” movies he was involved in (and there were a few), he still managed to shine and give a wonderful performance. This is a list of what I believe to be Brando’s Top 5 screen performances of all-time. It is NOT his Top 5 movies, because then I would surely put “The Godfather” at #1. This is simply judging what I think were his greatest achievements as an actor in his too few 39 film roles.

#5. Col. Walter E. Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” (1979)

“We must kill them. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig… cow after cow… village after village… army after army…”

I was tempted to put another here (like “Sayonara” or “Mutiny on the Bounty“) for a number of reasons. One is his short amount of screen time, but more importantly, Brando’s approach throughout seems less than stellar: he came late, he came grossly overweight, he never read the book, he didn’t know his lines, he had Francis Ford Coppola read the book aloud to him and was a bane in his director’s side during the entire process. Having said that, he does give one of the most memorable performances in screen history here. Coppola managed to get around the weight issue in how he shot all of his scenes. Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is given the assignment of finding and killing Col. Kurtz on his remote compound and to “terminate with extreme prejudice.” So the entire film is building up to Willard finally meeting this enigmatic, psychotic Colonel. The character resonates within the viewer’s psyche before we even meet him. And when we do finally see him, Brando does not disappoint. He is a madman, a philosopher, a war hero, an intellect, a God among his people. He commands your attention in each scene he is in and creates a haunting, complex figure in Col. Kurtz.

#4. Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)

“You think I’m gonna interfere with you?… You know, maybe you wouldn’t be bad to interfere with.”

He was the talk of Broadway when he created the role in 1947 (under the direction of Elia Kazan) and blew audiences away with his animal-like ferocity and fresh approach to the craft of acting. With Kazan directing the film and a stellar cast around him (all 3 won Oscars), Brando stars in only his 2nd film and now becomes the new Hollywood sensation. His iconic cry of “STELLA!!!” is now embedded in the most memorable moments in film. His brutal taunting towards (and rape) of his unbalanced sister-in-law, Blanche (Vivien Leigh) is a fascinating watch. You’ve never seen a dinner table cleared in this fashion before. Here, his huge presence is tormenting throughout and you never know what Stanley’s next move is going to be. What Brando does is amazing though — he manages to bring some tenderness and helplessness to this seemingly despicable man. His love for his wife is clear to see, even though he sometimes has a funny way of showing it. I never get tired of this film and can watch him play this part anytime. This is one of those rare parts that, when a newer actor tries to re-create it on stage in some revival, he’s already got his first foot in a ditch as it can never measure up and will always be held up to comparisons of what Brando did here.

#3. Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront” (1954)

“You think you’re God Almighty, but you know what you are? You’re a cheap, lousy, dirty, stinkin’ mug! And I’m glad what I done to you, ya hear that? I’m glad what I done!”

Many put this at #1 and I would have no problems with that as he is absolutely phenomenal here in his first Oscar-winning performance. Brando plays an ex-boxer here, a man who coulda been so much more, who coulda had a better life, who “coulda been a contender.” Instead, he is now a longshoreman who is struggling with his conscience to stand up to a corrupt union boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) after witnessing a murder by Johnny’s men. He meets the dead man’s sister (Eva Marie Saint) and when he begins to fall for her, he begins to have second thoughts about everything he once thought. The scenes he has with Father Barry (Karl Malden) are terrific, as we get to watch two friends play off one another yet again. The scene in the car opposite Rod Steiger breaks your heart and is now properly viewed as being a scene for the ages. Terry Malloy is a complex character, with so many layers. Brando is so subtle and so brilliant that he manages to show us each and every one of those layers. If you have never seen this “Best Picture” winner and you consider yourself a student of film, then this is a must-see.

#2. Don Vito Corleone in “The Godfather” (1972)

“But I’m a superstitious man. And if some unlucky accident should befall him, if he should be shot in the head by a police officer, or if should hang himself in his jail cell, or if he’s struck by a bolt of lightning…then I’m going to blame some of the people in this room. And that, I do not forgive.”

I don’t even think I need to write anything here. Brando. Godfather. Done!  The man was only 47 when he filmed this. No one at Paramount wanted him involved with this project. Thank God Coppola got his way. It is not only one of the top 3 best pictures ever made, but Brando is nothing short of sensational here as the patriarch of the Corleone crime family. He rightfully wins his 2nd ‘Best Actor’ Oscar here and creates a character that will be well-remembered for as long as there is such a thing called movies. The way he looks down Santino’s body and tells the undertaker, “Look how they massacred my boy” gives me chills. The way he feebly waves his hand at Tom when he learns that it was Michael who did the killings; the way he tells Tom that “this war ends now”; the beautiful scene he has outdoors with Michael; his improvised scene with the orange peel in his mouth; how he scolds Sonny for airing his thoughts out loud…you want me to keep going??? There’s about 50 more! It’s all ingenious, all exceptional and done by a virtuoso of the craft of acting.

#1. Paul in “Last Tango in Paris” (1973)

“Even if a husband lives 200 hundred fucking years, he’ll never discover his wife’s true nature. I may be able to understand the secrets of the universe, but… I’ll never understand the truth about you. Never.”

I look at this film as the greatest film actor giving his greatest screen performance — it is raw, uninhibited, courageous, multifaceted, daring, and vulnerable. Director Bernardo Bertolucci helps in letting Brando strip himself of everything but his emotions in this superb film. There is no hiding here, and it is in this performance that we see Brando the person most clearly. He brings everything of himself into the difficult role of Paul, the American expatriate who meets the beautiful young Parisian, Jeanne. His wife has just committed suicide and his insides are now swarming with rage and grief. He begins a sordid, dark and mysterious love affair with Jeanne where names are forbidden and sexual pleasures are the only fare on the menu. Brando’s monologue towards his dead wife is genuine and masterful. When he does open up to Jeanne for a brief moment with an anecdote about his childhood, it is riveting to watch. I can watch this film anytime because (1) I just love the movie and (2) I get such a thrill out of just watching Brando do his thing. It’s a spellbinding watch and one of the greatest performances ever put to film. Just watch this entrancing monologue and look at the myriad of emotions this guy goes through so seemlessly, so effortlessly. It’s a wonder to watch…

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