First Look at Coen Brothers’ “True Grit”!!!

Well, it took long enough, but the first teaser trailer for the highly anticipated Coen Brothers film, True Grit was finally released! The movie, a bold remake of the classic 1969 film, comes out Christmas day. The mega-awesome Jeff Bridges (that is “The Dude” to you and me) steps in the mighty big boots left by John Wayne, in his Oscar-winning role as Rooster Cogburn. Matt Damon, Barry Pepper, and the young Hailee Steinfeld co-star. Interesting to notice here how this 1-minute teaser is edited. Not much focus is on Bridges at all. Rather, the spotlight is placed on newcomer Steinfeld and her story of revenge. As is always the case with the films of the Coen Brothers, the music here sets the mood/tone quite brilliantly. I also love the click of the gun as the title of the release date appears at the very end. Do I smell Oscar nominations? I can’t wait!!!

Peter Eramo Reviews: “My Dog Tulip”

I have always preferred animals to people. Perhaps growing up with dogs as a child and having my own dogs since then have helped to perpetuate this feeling. There is something to be said for having a long, miserable day at work and coming home to a furry, four-legged friend wagging its tail, wanting nothing more than to shower you with wet, sloppy kisses and having its tummy rubbed. This is unconditional love…an ideal picture that comes to mind when I think of the old adage, “man’s best friend.” Some of my most favorite moments of the day are at night when I am curled up on the couch with my pug, Lily, watching a movie together, or the night’s ballgame. These are quiet moments, but, snuggled up against one another, the connection is always there and never taken for granted.

So it goes without saying that I was very much looking forward to seeing Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s delightfully heartfelt and at times, profound animated film, My Dog Tulip. The film is based on the acclaimed 1956 memoir by the British writer, J.R. Ackerley and chronicles the old bachelor’s real-life 15-year relationship with his German shepherd, Tulip (named Queenie in the book). The film begins with a witty quote from the author — “Unable to love each other, the English turn naturally to dogs” — and manages to maintain this clever wit throughout the film.

In short, My Dog Tulip tells the story of a very unlikely friendship between a cloistered human and his devoted animal. Ackerley was already in his 50’s when Tulip entered his life. He worked as a writer for the BBC and, somewhat a loner, never really had much in the way of friends. He certainly never had his own dog before. That is, until he took the 18-month old German shepherd from a family that couldn’t really handle her and kept her locked up for most of the day. In doing so, he obviously takes on much more than he ever expected.

The film is narrated by Christopher Plummer (as Ackerley) and chronicles much of their life together. From their long walks together and trips to various vets (one voiced by Isabella Rossellini), to a tug-of-war battle of wits with Ackerley’s meddling sister (Lynn Redgrave, in her last role) over Tulip’s affection to trying to find a mate for Tulip — it is all accompanied by what Ackerley’s most innermost thoughts are concerning his kindred spirit, and done so with such candor, insight and good humor. Plummer does an exceptional job narrating the story — and really, who couldn’t sit and listen to that wonderful voice for 83 minutes?

I must say that I feel we have all been spoiled with the “newer” animated films that have come out the last few years in that they take full advantage of all that technology has to offer. Most of these computer-generated films look quite impressive and dazzle the eye with its uncanny resemblance to real-life images. It was enormously refreshing to see the handmade animation used for My Dog Tulip. About 60,000 drawings went into the making of this film — though no paper or plastic was used. Taking 3 years to make, the Fierlingers used computers for their drawings and, unlike studio cartoons, the result is a more antiquated looking quality to the art. The drawing itself though is wondrous to watch — at times funny and at others, really delving into the psychological images of what our narrator is thinking.

Of course, dog lovers will enjoy and appreciate this film more so than others. I wouldn’t recommend the movie to anyone who doesn’t love our little canine friends as they might simply be bored and not “get” the whole “dog thing.” For those who love dogs, but are afraid to see any movie about animals fearing that it might be too sad, I would say (without using any spoilers here) to fear not. The film never borders on the tragic and does not touch on morose subject matter. However, the film is not for children. Not only is most of the humor on a more “intellectual level” than most animated films, but there are also a number of images illustrated and feelings expressed that may not be suitable for children.  What the film does is show (very well) the inseparable bond between Ackerley and Tulip — a closeness that he never thought he’d ever experience in his life. Tulip provides this for him, and seeing that warms the heart. In speaking of his ever-faithful dog, Ackerley tells us, “She offered me what I had never found in my life with humans: constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncritical devotion, which it is in the nature of dogs to offer.” A sincere and thoughtful remark — and a charming, funny and intelligent little film.

Directors: Paul and Sandra Fierlinger
Year:         2010

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Jack Goes Boating”

For such an over-populous and forever busy city, New York can be a pretty lonely place to live for any single person. Whether you are attractive and reaping in the dough or a bit homely and hold a tedious, low-paying job that not many aspire to, if you don’t have that special someone wrapped around your arms, the City That Never Sleeps can go to bed pretty damn early. Enter Jack (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an overweight, unkempt, pot-smoking, socially awkward limo driver who leads a pretty quiet, meek existence amidst the millions that inhabit the Big Apple. He likes reggae music for its upbeat vibes, dons knotted dreads under his unappealing winter hat and isn’t much of a talker, even to the social elite that he chauffeurs around the city. But he has a good-natured and devoted best friend in Clyde (John Ortiz) who looks out for his best interests and sets his timid friend up on a blind date with a gal who works in his wife’s office at Dr. Bob’s Funeral Home.

Such is the premise of Jack Goes Boating, the new indie film that marks the directorial debut of Hoffman and based on the 2007 off-Broadway play by Bob Glaudini. Hoffman originated the role of Jack in the staged production that was mounted at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre and he brings back Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega (who plays Clyde’s wife, Lucy) to reprise their stage roles for the film. Hoffman obviously feels a close kinship to the material and to its emotionally delicate characters and this much is clear in the film adaptation. Oscar-nominee Amy Ryan, not part of the staged play, slips in to play Connie, Jack’s love interest. When Jack firsts meets the equally shy Connie at a low-key dinner set up at Clyde & Lucy’s apartment, he immediately takes a liking to her and is inspired to alter his lifestyle just a bit…for the better, I might add. Connie mentions wanting to go on a romantic boat ride when the weather gets warm; she brings up the fact that no man has ever bothered to cook a meal for her before. Of course, Jack wants to be the man to give her that boat ride and cook her a feast to remember. The only problem is…he can’t cook and he can’t swim. Jack must really like her though because in no time, Clyde is teaching him how to swim at the public pool and he hires someone to teach him how to cook. Ahh, those first stages of love can be oh-so-inspiring. As the film shows the blossoming relationship between Jack and Connie though, we see the slow disintegration of Clyde and Lucy’s marriage, which makes for an interesting combination.

The performances here are all solid, with Hoffman at the center as the lovable eccentric with so much love to offer. Amy Ryan fits the role of Connie nicely and the two work quite well off one another, especially in their more intimate scenes together. The relationship here constantly reminded me of the one between Robin Williams and Amanda Plummer in The Fisher King, and the juxtaposition of the two couples and the directions they are going in reminded me of Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives — two pretty damn good films to be reminded of, if you ask me. The focus on these four characters and all of their emotional hang-ups and oddities is handled with subtlety and care. Hoffman also takes advantage of using the magical backdrop of Manhattan in wintertime, with some very charming scenery. But in the end, some plays are meant to stay plays.

I could never quite put my finger on what makes a successful adaptation from the stage to the silver screen. Some (like Glengarry Glen Ross and The Night We Never Met) make the transition quite seamlessly and make for some wonderful movies. Others (Hurlyburly and American Buffalo), well…not so much, despite top-notch performances. Some stories are just better suited for the stage. Sometimes the magic that the confines of the theatre brings is lost when brought to the big screen. Such is the case with Jack Goes Boating. Now, I never saw the staged production, but it is such an intimate little piece that I would imagine it made for an enchanting and charming night of theatre. As a feature film, this simple story with its complex characters gets lost in the translation. A big part of this problem is Glaudini’s screenplay, based on his own play. The dialogue throughout feels stilted and very “stagey” — a heightened sense of awareness that works well on a small stage, but doesn’t make for good movie-speak. I know that Hoffman fell in love with the play and its script, but perhaps someone else could have adapted it with greater success and more realism because many times I felt that this is not the way these characters would speak in real life. Yes, we do get to see what’s going on inside of Jack’s mind — something you can’t really get with the theatre — and Hoffman shows us what his character is visualizing in his mind’s eye, whether it be under water in the pool or on top of a bridge with traffic streaming below him. It works to an extent.

Another problem I had was with the soundtrack. Hoffman floods the film with an over-abundance of music which sometimes takes away from what is going on in the scene or just makes for an awkward fit. The reggae song, “Rivers of Babylon” though is central to the film and the essence of what makes Jack tick — and this is used very well, except for the when it is used to lure Jack out of the bathroom after throwing a violent tantrum that comes pretty much out of left field.

I very much wanted to love this film going in. After seeing the trailer a couple of months ago, I was very excited for its release — and the trailer does make it look like a quirky and charming love story. And, at times, it is. However, for me, as a whole, it just wasn’t enough and falls disappointingly short. There are too many uncomfortable moments to sit through that take away from enjoying the experience of watching Jack’s ride. Lucy is also a difficult character to like and I feel that in more capable hands, the audience would be able to empathize with her at least a little bit. Here, she gets none of our sympathy and we are left feeling very sorry for poor Clyde. I would think that fans of Philip Seymour Hoffman would appreciate and enjoy this film — and this character is right up his alley — and yes, it is at least more original than most of the romantic comedies being released nowadays, but in the end, I am not sure that is enough to give it my recommendation.

Director:  Philip Seymour Hoffman
Year:         2010

Weekend Humor: “The Social Network”

In honor of the upcoming release (10/1) of the widely anticipated David Fincher film, The Social Network, I thought this would be a pretty appropriate video to post this weekend. As you know, the film tells the story about the birth of the insanely popular Facebook website. I stumbled across this video that spoofs the motion picture and does a pretty good job at citing all of the annoyances that come with being on the Facebook website (pokes, relationship status, FarmVille, and “what the hell do I do with an electronic drink?!”). The “critic quotes” are very funny too. Lots of good-looking movies finally starting to come out so enjoy and have a great weekend!!!

FaceBook: The Socially Challenged Network

Gimme 5: Dream Dinner Invites!

After a one-week hiatus, the “Gimme 5” is back & ready for your feedback! Reminiscent of the IFC program “Dinner for Five” (hosted by Jon Favreau) where celebrities sat around eating, drinking and sharing their stories about projects past and present, I thought it would be a fun and interesting question to ask you — who is your dream guest list if you had the choice of having five Hollywood celebrities over to eat, drink and be merry with. The artists can be dead or alive. Ideally, they should be five people you consider fascinating and would want to spend an evening with.

So…Who Is Coming To Dinner???


Here Is My Guest List…

#1. Marlon Brando
(not only my all-time favorite actor, but a fascinating & complex human being. I loved hearing him speak)
#2. Jackie Gleason
(he would probably drink everyone under the table, but he has always been one of my heroes…and oh, so talented)
#3. Charles Chaplin
(I don’t think he & Brando would speak to one another, but he is one of the handful of geniuses in the history of cinema)
#4. John Cassavetes
(A true maverick and the father of independent film; I could listen to him for hours)
#5. Woody Allen
(my only invitee still living; I would have SO MANY questions to ask!!!)

Now It’s YOUR Turn!!!

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (**)

What do you get when you get master visionary David Lynch producing a film by filmmaking maverick Werner Herzog? You get the 2009 film My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, a film inspired by the true story of deranged Mark Yavorsky, a talented actor who was so inspired by Aeschylus‘s Oresteia that he stabbed and killed his own mother. Though the film (now finally out on DVD) is based on this horrific real-life event, Herzog takes much poetic license with it and, along with co-writer Herbert Golder, decided to create their own portrait of this delusional man (who was later found “not guilty by reason of insanity”) and Herzog even states that “about 70% of the script” is loosely made up.

Golder, a classics scholar, was fascinated by the subject years ago and began a relationship with the killer, Mark Yavorsky (who was living in a trailer at the time), writing a screenplay in the process. Herzog was intrigued by the story and though several lines in the movie are taken directly from the files surrounding his case, they made the conscious decision not to connect much to the real Yavorsky, but instead focus on the poetry of Yavorsky’s madness rather than the clinical facts. All sounds for a very intriguing and interesting movie, right? We have LynchHerzog….a psychotic killer who is so removed from reality that he slays his own mother with a special, antique sword. Great! Overall though, it is quite a disappointment despite some rather captivating moments in small doses.

Michael Shannon plays the deeply disturbed Brad McCullum (his name changed here) and the film opens with the police being called to the scene of the dead body of McCullum’s mother. The rest of the narration jumps back and forth between the scene of the murder and the “hostage situation” taking place and recent events in Brad’s life that have led to this most unfathomable of murders. The detective in charge (the dynamic Willem Dafoe) tries his best to take control of the situation and in doing so, learns bits and pieces about his prime suspect from his fiancé (Chloe Sevigny) and the man who was directing him in The Orestia, Lee Meyers (Udo Kier). There are bits and pieces of bizarre and surrealistic Herzog-ian moments thrown about, and yes, some that did remind me of David Lynch, and the pace is typically very deliberate.

Dafoe doesn’t really get much to do at all except gather information and seem somewhat helpless at times. Michael Pena (who plays his partner) is given even less to do and I am still not sure why he was cast here. Udo Kier does a fine job and stands out, showing great sympathy and a tremendous curiosity about his troubled actor throughout. Sevigny is well cast here; she usually bothers me, but here, it wasn’t so much her performance that troubled me, but why this woman was planning on marrying this nut-job within a month’s time to begin with that left me scratching my head. We are given no signs or reasons to suggest any love that this woman might have for him. The flashbacks between the two mainly show him making her feel ill at ease and perhaps a danger to her. So I wish that was explained in some detail, or at least give us a glimpse of this guy’s cute-and-fuzzy side, ya know? The wonderful veteran actress, Grace Zabriskie is outstanding as McCullum’s terrifyingly doting mother. She is right out of Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart here and fits perfectly in Herzog’s exploration. The mother-son relationship is touched upon and we do see glimpses of a love/hate relationship (as a middle-aged man, he is still living with her), but I wanted to see more between the two. I have only seen Michael Shannon steal scenes in smaller, supporting roles in the past, but he is the center of it all here and carries the film quite nicely. As we saw in Revolutionary Road, Shannon can play these disturbed characters quite well, though here there is more of an element of danger, darkness and unpredictability. He is a true paranoid, feeling the whole world is against him. We don’t know what he will do or say next and when he tells a neighbor to kill him (“Kill me now before it happens”), we feel that this character simply cannot help himself and is being forced by something bigger than him.

The performances are fine. I had a problem with the approach and felt that they should have perhaps connect more with the real-life story. I would say that unless you are a great fan of the daring and stylistic films of David Lynch (who had little-to-no creative input, but was the catalyst for getting this project off the ground) or Werner Herzog, stay away from this film. Even then, I’m not so sure how many will think highly of this particular effort. I am a tremendous and loyal fan of both and I couldn’t help but feel somewhat let down.

Rating:      ** (out of 4 stars)
Director:  Werner Herzog
Year:         2009

Magic Lantern Milestone: My 100th Post!!!

So here it is! Magic Lantern Film’s first real milestone — my 100th post on this website!!! I thought I would take a moment and reflect on my mighty blog and share some thoughts with you. First, as you know, I have always had a tremendous love for film. Ever since I was little, I have had an immense passion for theatre and motion pictures. But that isn’t what compelled me to start this website. I never even really gave the idea much thought, if any at all. Last year, I was inspired by a friend of mine who posted his “Top 10 Horror Films of the Decade” on his personal movie blog. He had posted it on Facebook and I gave it a read. I never looked at a film blog before this. I thought, “That’s pretty cool. I would love to start my own, especially as I tend to have rather loud opinions of my own on anything movie-related.” So I asked some questions, created a WordPress account, and wrote my very first post on December 26, 2009The 10 Best Films of the Decade (2000-2009).

I didn’t write another post until February, exactly two months later. I had no followers, of course (with the exception of a couple of close friends and family members). I didn’t realize at the time that it was something I wanted to keep up on a semi-regular basis. For this second post, I wrote about my personal thoughts on the nominations for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards. It wasn’t until April 2010 that I really began to immerse myself into this blog. I started learning a bit more about WordPress and graphics and such; I began to write movie reviews and add other features to the site (movie polls, and the weekly “Gimme 5” feature that was given to me by Raul Duke). I saw that a few of the other sites had Podcasts, so I thought to do something a bit different. I started my own Video Web Rants to try to do the same thing, but on a more personal level (I need to get back to doing that more often and I certainly will, especially as the Oscar race begins to heat up). I started finding other film blogs and reading their opinions. I had no idea that there were so many movie bloggers out there! An entire sub-culture of people who have the same passion for movies as I do — and we communicate regularly on each other’s sites. All of these terrific movie blogs with voices of their own — all intelligent, creative, distinct, and pretty damn good writers. It has been my pleasure to get to know all of these movie lovers a bit via cyberspace. I won’t name them all, but my BlogRoll lists a good number of these excellent film blogs and the knowledgeable people behind them.

The blog takes up a good deal of my time and very often I get frustrated, wondering why I am even doing this. I don’t get paid (yet). The audience is a bit limited. I could be doing any number of other things. But then I get a few comments on a particular post, or people chime in on a weekly “Gimme 5” and it all seems worth it. I love going to the movies…I love writing about movies; I enjoy creating these Top 10 Lists, despite how much time it takes to research and write it all out.

It is also amazing to see just how many visitors the Magic Lantern Film Blog gets. Since March 2010, the number of visits to the site has grown exponentially each and every month — and it has continued to grow. That is very encouraging to me and puts a smile on my face when I see the statistics. I hope that trend continues. I also hope to keep adding to the site, bit by bit. A few goals I have for the near future are (1) to hire someone (much more knowledgeable than me) to create a new layout to the site and make it look much more appealing (2) to be linked to sites such as Amazon, Netflix and such where readers can make purchases (3) to produce the video web rants on a regular basis with much higher quality (4) connect to even more film bloggers and their sites, and (5) to continue the trend of having more and more people find the blog and to find it interesting enough to keep coming back to it.

So that is it! 100 posts. Sounded like a round enough number to resemble some sort of minor accomplishment. I hope to get through the next 100 in much quicker fashion. Thank you to everyone who has visited the site and many, many thanks to those who have bookmarked it and continue to read on a regular basis. As always, I would love to hear from you — your own thoughts and opinions on writing a blog, or any honest thoughts you have about this one in particular. I am always looking for constructive criticism to help make this site even better. Any questions you have, I’ll take those too.

Thanks again!!!

Weekend Humor: “The Shining” as a Rom-Com???

Oh, my God…when I saw this, I could not help feeling that the legendary Stanley Kubrick was turning over in his grave!!! I think his 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, The Shining remains one of the scariest movies ever made — and I think many would agree with this (except, of course, Mr. King). Those twin girls, Grady the butler, that wicked woman in room 237, the eerie bartender, and of course, a demented Jack chasing his lovely wife up the stairs with a baseball bat…it all makes for a terrific horror movie, right?

Now, how many of you have watched this frightening film and wondered, “Hmm…this would have made an even better romantic comedy”? Most all of you, am I right? Well, here is a trailer to give you a good idea of what The Shining would have been like as a traditional rom-com. It is great stuff — and very, very funny. The use of music here (especially the Peter Gabriel track) is very clever, the editing is nicely done and the narration hits the mark as far as capturing the lame/trite goofiness that often accompanies these type of films.

Thanks so much to Nora who was sweet enough to send this my way!!!

DVD Hidden Gem: “Cemetery Junction”

I know each Friday I post the “Gimme 5” feature, but I’ve been busy this week and thus, lazy in writing new posts (only one this week). I felt a bit guilty about neglecting my blogging duties & decided to skip the “Gimme 5” — just this week, even though it is one of my favorite aspects of this blog and where I get your much appreciated input. Rest assured, there will be a new one next Friday…

Can I just say that Ricky Gervais is slowly becoming one of my most favorite talents in the film industry? His stand-up is hilarious and smart, his TV series “Extras” was a riot, his performance in Ghost Town was heartfelt and witty — and his trifecta as writer/director/actor of last year’s The Invention of Lying was a comedic triumph (as I voted it one of the Top 10 films of the year). Gervais is a breath of fresh air in an industry that seems stale and unoriginal. Don’t believe me? Take a look at all the movies we had to pick from this past summer. A complete disappointment, in my book.

Now comes the delightful  Cemetery Junction, which was released earlier this year in the U.K., but I don’t recall seeing it in any theatres here in the States. Gervais co-wrote and co-directed the film with Stephen Merchant and I must say that it threw me for a bit of a loop. Going into it, I knew nothing about the story. I simply saw Gervais attached to it and decided to screen it. I cannot tell you how pleasantly surprised I was to see something completely different coming from him already.

Though there are some light-hearted moments and bits of comedy here and there, Cemetery Junction is, for all intents and purposes, a drama. It is a touching and at times, powerful coming of age story set in 1973 and revolves around young Freddie (Christian Cooke) who wants nothing more than to break free from the provincial, working-class town Cemetery Junction, a suburb of Reading. He wants to make it big, make money, and be a success. He sees the wealthy Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes), as being the very model of success and goes to him looking for a sales job, hoping to prove himself and work his way up in the company. Freddie’s two friends, Bruce (Tom Hughes) and Snork (Jack Doolan) aren’t as embarrassed about their stations in life and are pretty content with the way things are. Freddie’s ambitions obviously put quite a strain on their friendship and the core of the movie lies there. The three actors do a wonderful job at playing off one another and the strong script gives them each great depth and character. Bruce’s strained relationship with his alcoholic father makes for a very dramatic subplot and the scenes, though painful to watch, are well crafted and executed quite nicely. Doolan provides a lot of the comic relief as the nerdy, lovable loser. The scenes between him and the shy waitress are a pure treasure though and quite sweet.

Gervais and Merchant fill the story with many interesting characters that inhabit Cemetery Junction. Gervais himself takes a bit of a backseat here in the supporting role of Freddie’s working-class father. Of course, the scenes at the home featuring Gervais, his wife and elderly mother are pretty funny, especially the wise-cracking banter between he and his mother. Emily Watson also takes on a supporting role, playing the unhappy and under-appreciated, Mrs. Kendrick. The relationship between the Kendricks is a vital component to the film and Watson (as always) brings a quiet strength to her character. When she opens up to her daughter, it is a “coming out” of sorts and we instantly feel for her.

Gervais has said that he was inspired by the Bruce Springsteen lyric “It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win” from the classic 1975 song, “Thunder Road” — the idea of someone not wanting to be confined to such squalid and deprived surroundings; to set out and try to attain one’s dream of success. That is what is at the heart of this wonderful little film. He said that he felt the Americans have pretty much monopolized this idea in film and that he wanted to bring this coming-of-age tale to the screen from the point of view of the English, setting the movie in the very town he was raised in. The movie is now out on DVD and Blue-Ray now and I highly recommend people to see it. It is smart, touching, funny, and at times, unpredictable. There are great conflicts amongst the friends, their families, and a complicated love story between Freddie and his old school sweetheart Julie (Felicity Jones) that is brought to life in warm and genuine fashion. After seeing The Invention of Lying, I remember writing that I could not wait to see what Gervais would bring us next…in Cemetery Junction, he surely did not disappoint.

The 5 Greatest Performances by Al Pacino

I’ve written this before — in my humble opinion, Al Pacino is the greatest living film actor we have today. Olivier passed away in 1989 and Brando left us in 2004. The highly venerated throne is now occupied by Mr. Pacino. Not only must he be admired for his wide-ranging, iconic roles on the silver screen, but he always has enough respect for the craft of acting to return to his home, the theatre. In fact, he just finished playing Shylock in this past summer’s Shakespeare in the Park production of The Merchant of Venice. He will be reprising this role on Broadway in the coming weeks. Nicholson, DeNiro, even Day-Lewis (who I think is a close #2 to Sir Pacino) wouldn’t be caught dead on the New York stage — let alone do Shakespeare! This is what sets him apart — in addition to his phenomenal performances in two films by HBO (Angels in America and You Don’t Know Jack). He is much more versatile than most give him credit for. People think all he does is yell and scream — this is simply nonsense and a poor observation. I would ask those people to take another look at his strong work in People I Know, Scarecrow, Chinese Coffee and Frankie & Johnny as reminders. In any case, I took another look at his impressive resume and decided to come up with what I believe to be his Top 5 performances of all-time. They are not the five best films he was a part of, but 5 seminal feature-film roles, from my perspective. Give it a peek — and let me know where you agree and disagree…

#5. Ricky Roma (Glengarry Glen Ross, 1992)
You never open your mouth til you know what the shot is.

As brilliant as he is in Serpico and Insomnia, I just couldn’t omit this Oscar-nominated performance from the list. I think half the battle in performing in a work written by David Mamet is getting down the cadence and rhythm of the dialogue, which Pacino does here quite eloquently. The cast, as a whole, shines — and Pacino’s supporting role, blends in very nicely, though mostly apart from the rest of the lowly salespeople. His Ricky Roma is super-confident, suave, above the rules, and a great liar to those he dupes into buying swamp land in Florida. The way he manipulates Jonathan Pryce is a marvel to watch — and the way rips into Kevin Spacey (“Who ever told you you could work with men?!) is astounding.

#4. Lowell Bergman (The Insider, 1999)
To me, you are not a commodity. What you are is important.

This Michael Mann film is sensational and highly underrated. And Pacino’s turn as a producer for the widely respected “60 Minutes” news program is multi-layered, discreet and potent. His chemistry with Russell Crowe here is exceptional and you can feel the turmoil he is going through with this magnificent dilemma hanging on his very shoulders when CBS suits decide not to include a potentially damaging interview, leaving the research chemist (Crowe), dangling in the wind and afraid for his very life. Pacino spends so much effort trying to get Jeffrey Wigand to trust him…to open up and speak — and when he finally does, he feels a responsibility towards him; to protect and defend him. It is a terrific film that illustrates an interesting side of broadcast journalism — and watching Pacino work in this territory makes for great drama. It’s one of those movies that, if I catch on TV, I cannot turn away from it.

#3. Tony Montana (Scarface, 1983)
I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.

Brian DePalma’s movie has its flaws, but Pacino totally immersed himself into the vicious, drug-addicted, murderous (but loyal) gangster, Tony Montana. How many times have you heard people quote from this film (“Say hello to my little friend…”)? That’s all Pacino. The accent, the walk, the gestures…though the film might not be for everyone, he created a truly iconic character here. It’s amazing how much strength and power Pacino commands in such a small frame (about 5′ 7″) — but that’s what he does here. No one in their right mind is messing with this guy and if they do…well, you’ve seen the movie. Pacino pulls out all the stops in Scarface and he chews a lot of scenery — but it is all within reason and all justifiable when you think of the lunatic character he is playing. I love his commraderie with Manny (Steven Bauer) — that is, until he sees him with his sister. The scene with his mother is a powerful one — and his rapport with Robert Loggia and F. Murray Abraham is terrific. The film — and the character especially, have become symbols in certain sub-cultures of the society. This says something. It is an over-the-top performance, but not in a hammy way at all…he is an artist losing all of his inhibitions and delving fully into a frightening human being.

#2. Sonny Wortzik (Dog Day Afternoon, 1975)
The guy who kills me… I hope he does it because he hates my guts, not because it’s his job.

One of the great New York films of the 1970’s and, for my money, the best bank heist movie of all-time. This character is on edge from beginning to end — you never know when he’s just going to lose it…or, being the “brains” of the group, hold it all together. It is a tour-de-force, seminal Pacino performance in every way and what a way to follow his work in The Godfather: Part II. Here, he plays a man who has nothing going for him and nothing at all to lose. So he robs a bank to pay for his lover’s sex change operation. What ensues is a classic, suspenseful hostage situation filmed superbly by Sidney Lumet. Pacino here is intense (“Attica! Attica! Attica!!!“), vulnerable, even funny. In fact, there is a lot of humor throughout the film and part of what makes it so humorous is that Pacino plays it as straight as can be. The situation is so absurd, that this allows the humor to come about in natural fashion; not forced at all. Sonny is centerstage throughout, barking commands every which way (to Charles Durning, and the wonderfully talented John Cazale), trying to keep an eye on the prize and not lose control of himself or the situation. Pacino is doing so much all at once, you feel you kinda have to keep up with him. But it is all marvelous — and he creates a character that we ultimtely end up feeling great pity for…a testament to the great performance.

#1. Michael Corleone (The Godfather trilogy, 1972, ’74 & ’90)
If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.

What were you expecting…S1mone??? I put all three Coppola films together here or else three of the five slots would be taken up by The Godfather. And yes, I do include his excellent work in the vastly under-appreciated third installment. What can you say? Michael Corleone is one of the greatest characters in the history of cinema. A big part of that is surely due to Pacino. This made him. And to think that Paramount Pictures didn’t want this unknown anywhere near the movie. It seems ludicrous, even blasphemous to think of any other actor kissing the simple-minded Fredo (“You broke my heart, Fredo“), slapping Kay when she informs him of the abortion, shooting Sollozzo and McCluskey (look at those eyes sitting at that restaurant table), or marrying the beautiful Apollonia. Michael was supposed to be “the good son,” the war hero coming back home to make his father proud. As soon as he comes up with the idea to kill Sollozzo, his entire fate is changed. To watch Pacino subtlely develop this complex character from the original film to its sequel, and finally, the third film is one of the great accomplishments by any actor in silver screen history — and that is not hyperbole. It is riveting, majestic and flawless work.

Of course, other classics could just as easily be on this list — but 5 slots goes very quickly and again, I am looking at performance only. It’s a very challenging task, but I will take these 5 any day — and am eagerly looking forward to his future work, especially his turn as King Lear in Michael Radford’s upcoming film due out in 2012. I can absolutely get into that!

Weekend Humor: “Grammar Nazis”

If you have seen Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, then you will undoubtably remember that lengthy scene that opens the film — a memorable one to say the least. Terrific performances, great tension/suspense that builds, inspired dialogue and impeccable pacing. To recap, it is 1941, and SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, in his Oscar-winning performance) arrives at a dairy farm in France to interrogate Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet) to see if he is hiding a Jewish family. Landa uses his guile to persuade him to confess to hiding the family beneath his floor and then orders his soldiers to shoot the floorboards where they are hiding. The entire family is killed, except for Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), who runs off in the distance as Landa calmly watches from afar. A truly magnificent opening.

Which brings me to this weekend’s video, “Grammar Nazis,” a wonderfully creative spoof of this remarkable scene by College Humor Originals. Now we all know that Nazis surely have little tolernance to begin with, but here, Col. Landa’s pet peeve is — poor grammar! It’s funny, funny stuff. The short 3½ minute video is directed by Sam Reich, Ricky Van Veen, & Josh Ruben and is a delightful homage that had me laughing when I first saw it. Click on the link below to watch it!

Thanks so much to Tracey for sharing this with me!!!

Gimme 5: Awesome Sports Flicks!

Ah, yes! You can smell it in the air…that special time of year has come and the new NFL Football season is finally upon us, with last night’s Saints/Vikings game (God, I hate Brett Favre) kicking off the festivities! I know a few weeks ago I came up with my own Top 15 list of what I consider to be the greatest sports films ever made (click here to see the Almighty list) — but what I failed to do was get YOUR opinions on what your favorites are, as there are certainly many to pick from. Two things in life I have great passion for — movies and sports. It’s great when the two are put together to make an extraordinary, inspiring film — and this week, I’d like you to GIMME 5 of Your Favorite Sports Flicks! No surprises with my Top 5, as I will simply stick with the five I chose for my earlier list…this one is all about you and I wanted to time it right with the new football season! So huddle up, put your gear on, and…


Here are my Top 5:

#1. Rocky (1976)
(the quintessential underdog film. Totally inspiring!)
#2. Raging Bull (1980)
(DeNiro at his best; masterfully shot; a tremendous character exploration)
#3. Hoop Dreams (1994)
(powerful & genuine moments from 5+ yrs of footage – a cinematic triumph!)
#4. Field of Dreams (1989)
(A father & son reconcile, elements of fantasy, & the purity of the game of baseball…a magical film)
#5. The Natural (1984)
(I love Roy Hobbs & his story is one that makes you cheer throughout!)

Hoosiers could very easily be in my Top 5 as well. Love that movie!!!

Now It’s YOUR Turn!!!

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