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!

31-Day Movie Meme: by Peter Eramo

I see that all of my fellow film bloggers have been participating in the 31-Day Movie Meme, and it looked too fun NOT to participate, so I came up with my own responses to the “lightning-round” type questions being posed. Readers of this site might see some repeat answers, but if it’s a film favorite, I have to be consistent. I have no idea who started this particular Meme, but it’s been very entertaining reading everyone’s answers to the prompted questions thus far. I still have no idea what a “meme” is, but the ones I have taken part in have been quite enjoyable. Anyway, here are my own responses, for better or for worse:  

1. A Sequel That Shouldn’t Have Been Made:

Caddyshack 2 (was this truly necessary? A disastrous follow-up to a comedic classic.)  

2. A Movie More People Should See:

I think everyone should see the documentary, Young @ Heart. Absolutely uplifting and inspiring. You laugh one minute and cry the next.  

3. Favorite Oscar-Nominated Film from the Most Recent Ballot:

District 9 (For my money, the best film of 2009.)  

4. A Movie That Makes Me Laugh Every Time:

Arthur (Russell Brand will never come close to measuring up to the brilliance of Dudley Moore…and frankly, it is sad that he is even trying.)    




5. A Movie I Loathe:

Donnie Darko (a film for teenagers and college students who think that, by saying they love this film, it makes them intellectual and profound human beings. It’s junk people.)    

6. A Movie That Makes Me Cry Every Time:

The hospital scene in She’s Having A Baby, played to the sensational Kate Bush track, “This Woman’s Work.” Kevin Bacon is spectacular here and the beautifully edited montage of moments between husband and wife is gut-wrenching. Perhaps every husband’s nightmare, leaving him crippled and feeling helpless.

7. Least Favorite Movie by a Favorite Actor:

My favorite actor without question is Marlon Brando. Except for the hefty paycheck, I’m still not sure why he ever stepped near The Island of Dr. Moreau.    

8. Movie That Should Be Required High School Viewing:

As long as a proper lesson unit is created, with in-depth follow-up discussion, I think Edward Zwick’s Glory is a fine choice.    


9. Best Scene Ever:

The juxtaposing scenes in The Godfather, where Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) men are assassinating the heads of the five families as he stands in church, godfather to his nephew, renouncing Satan.    

10. A Movie I Never Expected to Like, but Ended Up Loving:

Fantastic Mr. Fox, the first Wes Anderson film I actually enjoyed.    



11. A Movie That Disappointed You:

I love Oliver Stone’s work, but was severely let down by W.    

12. Best Music Used in a Scene:

The way that Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” is incorporated into the bus scene in Cameron Crowe’s amazing Almost Famous is sheer brilliance — very moving and cathartic.   

13. Favorite Animated Movie:

There are so many great films to pick from, but I think Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant (1999) has to be my favorite.     



14. Favorite Black & White Film:

I’ll stick with earlier films here. A toss-up between The Bicycle Thief and Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight.    

15. Best Musical:

Alan Parker’s The Commitments is a sensational achievement with a phenomenal soundtrack.     

16. Favorite Guilty Pleasure Movie:

Serendipity (it’s friggin’ adorable…what can I tell ya?! Right Tara???)    

17. Favorite Series of Related Movies:

The Godfather Trilogy (what is the debate here?)    

18. Favorite Title Sequence:

I think the opening sequence of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers is brilliantly shot and cleverly edited. It surely sets you up for what you’re in for during the next two hours — a masterpiece of a film that is one of the decade’s very best films.    

19. Best Movie Cast:

Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan, Arkin, Jonathan Pryce, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin, and Kevin Spacey all shine in Glengarry Glen Ross. Everyone on top of their game and they speak the words of David Mamet like pure poetry.    

20. Favorite Screen Kiss:

You know all the anxiety and over-thinking that we go through before our first kiss with someone? Alvy Singer has come up with a working  solution to this problem.  Alvy and Annie are on their very first date. He is going to watch her sing at a small NYC club and later they’ll grab a bite to eat. Here is the classic exchange in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall:    


Alvy: Hey listen, gimme a kiss.
Annie: Really?
Alvy: Yeah, why not, because we’re just gonna go home later, right, and then there’s gonna be all that tension, we’ve never kissed before and I’ll never know when to make the right move or anything. So we’ll kiss now and get it over with, and then we’ll go eat. We’ll digest our food better.    

And they kiss. It’s nothing glorious; just a quick kiss on the lips…and relieves all the tension.    

21. Favorite Romantic Couple:

I am always touched by the purest form of love that is felt between Adrian (Talia Shire) and Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) — throughout the entire Rocky series (Adrian’s presence is overwhelming even in her absence in the final film).    

22. Favorite Final Line:

Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams…    

Ray Kinsella: Hey Dad, you wanna have a catch?
Ray’s Father:  I’d like that. 

23. Best Action Sequence/Scene: 

“If I say it’s safe to surf this beach, Captain, it’s safe to surf this beach!”

The brilliant helicopter attack in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, Apocalypse Now.    

24. Film Quote I Use Most Often:  

In A Bronx Tale, Lorenzo Anello (Robert DeNiro) tells his young son: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” It’s always stuck with me.   

25. A Movie I Plan on Watching:  

I have so many in my rental queue….I’ll just go with the newly released Red Riding Trilogy…looks awesome!    

26. Freakishly Weird Movie Ending: 

Since everyone is going with Mulholland Drive, I will choose The Rapture (one of the very best film endings I have ever seen…I distinctly remember not moving a muscle in the theatre as the end credits simply rolled with no musical accompaniment)    

27. Best Villain:

I will stick with who I believe to be the geatest screen villain, Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List.    

28. Most Over-Hyped Movie:

Did I hear something about an upcoming Avengers movie? Does anyone really think this will live up to the hype? (I could have easily went with Inception here too.)    

29. A Movie Seen More Than Ten Times: Annie Hall (DUH!!!)

30. Saddest Character Death: 

Selma (Bjork) in Lars von Trier’s depressing and magnificent Dancer in the Dark. At the end, she is strapped to a board and carried to the gallows after being convicted of murder she did not intentionally commit. She is hooded, and screams in panic, “I can’t breathe!” as the noose is being drawn around her neck. When she finally accepts her death, and, while waiting for the floor to fall out from under her, she begins to smile and sing. Haunting and terribly moving.   

31. Movie That Made Me Stand Up and Cheer: Remember the Titans

The Hollywood Draft: Peter Eramo’s Movie Pitch!

Anomalous Material is surely one of the most comprehensive film blogs out there, covering a wide array of everything film related. My blogging buddy Castor came up with a great idea for his 30-Day “Fantasy Pitch” Blogathon — it works like a Fantasy Sports draft, but instead of drafting athletes to make up our teams, about 25 film bloggers drafted actors, actresses and a director for a Hollywood movie pitch featuring the talent we drafted. It was a lot of fun seeing who everyone drafted and their reasons why. Since last week, each blogger/fantasy producer has been making his/her Hollywood pitch (one a day), complete with loglines, background information, themes covered and plot outline. They have been great fun to read – creative, intelligent, marketable, and unique (something Hollywood is lacking in spades if you look at what we just had to pick from this past summer).

I really love the cast I selected (and I entered the Draft pretty late actually) and the director I chose, who I think is ideal for the sort of movie I came up with. So I thought I would post my movie pitch here on the Lantern. If you would like to go directly to the link on Anomalous Material, just click here — there have already been a number of comments from my film blogging brethren and you can also get a look at the impressive website that Castor and Red have.

Here is my pitch posted on the Anomalous Material Film website: if you actually take the time to read this, I would very much like your comments and some honest feedback. Is this something you would see in the theatres? On DVD? Not at all? Let me know!


A family drama that examines the reuniting between Lenny, an aging father (who suddenly finds himself a widower) and his youngest son Frankie (a troubled single man in his mid 30’s), who is just beginning to put his life together after making some harmful mistakes in his past. Frankie talks his reluctant father into going on a journey that takes them across the States and into Europe – with the two growing to understand and appreciate one another as they never have before. We watch Lenny try to simultaneously cope with his heart-breaking loss and the introduction of Aniseh, a divorcee, who shows great compassion for him. Trouble awaits the two however, when they return home.

My Director: Lasse Hallstrӧm


I understand that this material does not make for a thrilling summer blockbuster film. But that is not what this movie is. As a producer or director, I would personally want to produce/direct the films that would interest me as a movie-goer. I’m not so interested in CGI or explosions…3D extravaganzas or superhero flick budgets. I am interested in a well-crafted story with terrific performances, where complex characters communicate and interact with one another and are forced to make difficult decisions. To me, that is high drama. This should be a poignant family drama – and I have secured the ideal director to bring his sure and subtle hand to this project, Swedish filmmaker, Lasse Hallstrӧm (My Life as A Dog, Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, and Once Around).


AL PACINO — my first draft pick and who I think is our greatest living actor working today. Mr. Pacino plays Lenny Gravini, a man in his late 60’s who has just lost his wife of over 40 years and now does not know what to do with himself. A blue-collar worker all his life, Lenny was a strong provider for his family…a good husband and father. The film is centered on him (it’s a vehicle written with Pacino in mind) – how he deals with the complicated relationships he has with his three sons (with Frankie, in particular), the loss of the only woman he has ever truly known, and the all of the new components that are suddenly introduced into his life.

ADRIEN BRODY — I think he would make the perfect son for Pacino, in both looks and demeanor. Here, he plays Frankie, the youngest of 3 sons to Lenny and Renata. Frankie has always been smart, but never did things the conventional way. He dropped out of college, started working at a job he hated – and was arrested for stealing money. He spent some time in prison and is seen as the “black sheep” of the family, though his heart is usually in the right place. Now, he lives in a small apartment by himself, working a modest clerical job and putting the pieces of his life back together. He is quiet, but dynamic. I’d like to see Brody get back to making some  exceptional films as he did a few years ago.

JESSICA LANGE — The lovely Ms. Lange plays Renata, Lenny’s wife who has died of cancer at the film’s opening.  Scenes with her are shown throughout the film (1) in flashbacks and (2) when Lenny speaks to her ghost in present time. Renata was a loving housewife and mother, but had a severe anxiety disorder and wrestled with own mental demons, causing much angst and torment to the four Gravini men. Ms. Lange is a favorite of mine and I chose her over Diane Keaton to avoid the Godfather references — and because I think Lange and Pacino would make for a very captivating duo.

SANAA LATHAN — plays Frankie’s girlfriend, Dalanie. She is a free spirit and loves Frankie very much, accepting him wholly, warts and all. She gives Frankie the room he needs when he takes to travelling with his father, but meets up with the two later. She has yet to meet any member of Frankie’s family and when she finally meets Lenny, she handles his old-fashioned racist views with grace, understanding and an open heart. I think the very versatile Ms. Lathan (terrific in Wonderful World) is a New York born actress who I certainly believe will start garnering more and more attention in the coming years — talented and simply stunning.

SHOHREH AGHDASHLOO — along their travels, Lenny and Frankie stumble on Aniseh, a divorcee who is on vacation by herself. She and Lenny strike up a conversation and instantly take a liking to each other, though Lenny is completely out of practice in the art of speaking to single women. Aniseh is a cultured, worldly, strong and intelligent woman. She is independent and works as a high-powered executive in a highly reputable marketing firm. She is beautiful and mysterious and throws Lenny completely off guard. An Oscar nominee with a commanding presence, I think Ms. Aghdashloo fits this role perfectly and would make for a very intriguing partner for Pacino.

 BILLY CRUDUP — Joseph has a snooty wife and two small kids of his own. He is a success in the financial industry and does very well for himself.  Joseph has outward resentment towards his dead mother and stopped feeling bad for his father a long time ago. He seemingly wants nothing to do with his brothers or his father and when Frankie goes to him for help or advice, he is reluctant to give either.


The central themes that the film touches upon are: family, coping with death, second chances, issues of race, love, loyalty, and experiencing new/wondrous encounters.


We open on Frankie (Brody) and his daily life – frustrated working a futile job in a cubicle, meeting with his parole officer at a local coffee shop, coming home to his small and unimpressive apartment. He is in the midst of trying to put his life back together. The only true happiness we see in him is when he is with his girlfriend, Dalanie (Lathan). They have a quiet dinner together and we see them together in bed. They speak of their future(s) and family, a subject that Frankie tiptoes around a bit. Dalanie is bright-eyed and optimistic – she wants Frankie forever, warts and all. They make love before turning in for the night. The following morning, Frankie is getting ready for work. It is very early and he is half-awake. Dalanie is still in bed, though awake as she converses with him. The phone rings. It is Lenny, Frankie’s father. He has called to tell Frankie that his mother has passed away. Frankie is paralyzed with shock.

The wake and the funeral of Renata Gravini. The main focus is on Lenny (Pacino), trying his hardest to get through it all. He is frozen and numb, looking older than he really is. Some relatives and neighbors pay their respects; he remains quiet & polite throughout, unsure of how to act. Lenny’s oldest son is apparently too far away and too busy to attend the funeral of his own mother (though sends a nice flower arrangement in his absence). Joseph (Crudup), the middle son, is there with his wife and 2 small kids (Lenny’s grandkids). Joseph is brusque and unsympathetic; he and his family can’t wait to get back into the car and back on the road. Frankie is not there for the wake – and shows up by himself at the funeral, but remains off in the distance. Lenny notices him from afar…and he is glad.

The aftermath of the funeral and Lenny at home. He is alone now for the first time in his life. He and Frankie have a talk – just small talk as both don’t really know what to say. Frankie is very compassionate, but not sure what to say/how to act. Lenny assures his youngest son that he is ok (he is lying) and Frankie goes. The next scenes are of Lenny completely helpless in an eerily empty house: making tuna sandwiches for dinner and eating quietly by himself, not knowing how to do his own laundry, watching TV in silence just for something to do, seeing mail made out to his deceased wife, cleaning the house in an awkward fashion, etc. Flashbacks of Renata (Lange) also take place here and we see Lenny having conversations with his dead wife in the empty house. Frankie calls to check in on him – he says he is fine. However, little by little he is letting himself go. He doesn’t know what to do with himself.

Late one night, Lenny impulsively gets into his car and drives. He drives quite a way and pulls up to Frankie’s apartment complex, but sees that it is late and decides not to go up to his door. He tries to get comfortable and passes out for the night. Early the next morning, Frankie notices his father’s car – approaches it and sees his father asleep. He taps lightly on the window and realizes the state his own father is in. Frankie knows that his father needs his help. He invites him in to his home.


SEEING THE STATES!!! This act focuses on Lenny & Frankie travelling the country. Lenny has never been anywhere and never really seen anything in the world. The two speak of always wanting to go to Cooperstown together (they share a love for baseball), but never did because of Renata. Renata and her disorders always kept Lenny from doing much of anything in his life and Frankie sees this as a new beginning. On the morning Frankie sees his father sleeping in his car, he very hastily decides to take his father to Cooperstown for a couple of days (he calls his work for the time off). From Cooperstown, the feeling is contagious and before they know it, the two are travelling to various landmark locations across the country – Lenny is living a new life and the two are certainly bonding throughout. Frankie checks in with Dalanie sporadically and Renata is still making her ghost-like appearances, though the mood grows more upbeat throughout. Lenny and Frankie see Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, National Parks, a baseball game in Los Angeles; they go to Washington DC and even Disney World! The two touch on many subjects and become best friends in a way. Frankie speaks of his relationship with Dalanie, but neglects to mention that she is black. It is important that we see Lenny being somewhat uncomfortable at the beginning of this journey and feeling a bit guilty, but slowly opening up and enjoying himself as time goes on. After a couple of weeks, the two return home.

Frankie goes back to his “normal” life, but wants to do more for his father. He goes to his brother Joseph for help and counsel. Frankie sees Joseph at his place of work — Joseph does extremely well for himself and is a great financial success (he always resented his mother and feels little love for her, if any at all. As far as his father goes, he stopped feeling sorry for him a long time ago). Frankie asks if Joseph could take his father in for a little while – until Frankie can take care of him. Joseph emphatically rejects this offer and in the end, is no help to Frankie.

Frankie visits his father and brings Dalanie with him for dinner. Lenny is very old-fashioned and doesn’t even realize his own racism, however subtle. Her being black throws Lenny off a bit and he even makes a few politically incorrect remarks, unaware of the faux pas. Dalanie takes it all in with tremendous grace and understanding – she is all heart here. Talk of their recent travels spurs on another impulsive decision — Frankie says that all three should go to Europe. Frankie tells both to leave everything to him (money/expenses – and his parole officer). He just has a few things to take care of and they can go by next week. The following week, all three are at the airport and on their way to their first stop – Milan, Italy.


SEEING EUROPE – AND SUFFERING THE CONSEQUENCES. Frankie ignores his parolee status and tells the two he has taken care of it. The three see the sights of northern Italy – Milan, Florence, Venice. They take an overnight train to Paris. When Lenny insists that Frankie and Dalanie go off together for a while, Lenny meets with the beautiful and mysterious Aniseh (Aghdashloo). She is an executive and a divorcee who is travelling by herself. Lenny and Aniseh spend the day together – it is the first time Lenny has ever been with a woman other than Renata. The two couples dine that evening and the feeling could not be happier. Lenny and Aniseh spend a lot of time together in Paris. She tells them of a home in northern France that is available. Before the trio leaves for home, they all decide to buy the house and live in France for good – nothing is keeping them at home and they are so happy here. Plus, Aniseh would be just a train ride away to see Lenny.

Back home – Lenny and Frankie are prepping to move to France for good. When Frankie heads back to his apartment by himself, he is arrested for stealing money once again (money he used to pay for their travels). Lenny is unaware of this. Joseph comes to see Frankie in jail and finally shows some sympathy by bailing his younger brother out. Frankie is going away for a few years this time. He doesn’t regret any of it this time. He feels that it was all worth it. Lenny comes to see Frankie and Frankie insists that Lenny move without him…that he’ll catch up with him before he knows it. Lenny refuses to do it – until Dalanie insists he take her with and the two of them will wait for Frankie’s release.

In the end, we see Lenny moving into his new home in France with Dalanie – the woman he initially thought was no good for his son just because she is African-American. Aniseh comes to visit and break in the new home – and Renata makes a final appearance with her husband, giving Lenny the closure he has so desperately needed. 


“Films That Defined Us!” Blog Event

Marc — who writes for one of my favorite film blogs Go, See, Talk! — is hosting a Blog Event that will post on his site this Friday, August 13th and he was kind enough to invite me to participate. The event is called Films That Defined Us and film writers from all over are taking part to list those movies that we saw at a relatively young age and helped to define our movie tastes. These are movies that, to quote Marc, really “set the bar” for us and made a lasting impression in our lives.

I came up with my own personal list of 5 films (in no particular order here) that have surely been essential works of art for me as a movie lover and have certainly been proud staples of any movie collection I have ever had. For those who know me, I’m afraid none of these will come as much of a surprise to you. For my film blogging amigos, hopefully this will achieve Marc’s objective in letting us see what makes each of us tick. After much thought and deliberation, here are 5 Movies That Surely Have Defined Me:

#1. Annie Hall (dir. Woody Allen)

I didn’t get into Woody Allen until later on…around high school. Then I began to devour all of his prose with friends at a local diner, see all of his movies, read film analysis on him. In doing so, this film sadly became my life’s anthem, through no fault of my own. Whenever someone needs to “understand me” better, I tell them to just watch this classic dramedy and they always come back lamentably with, “Oh…now I get it.” This is the consummate Woody Allen film — the colossal turning point for him as a filmmaker. It features Diane Keaton who is heavenly in this movie; she created one of film’s most memorable characters here. It is a profound movie in terms of how it addresses relationships – it makes you laugh out loud one moment and feel sadness the next. I have seen this movie more times than I care to admit over the past 20 years and it never gets dull for me. As far as comedies go, this one stands the test of time and truly set the bar for all of the newer comedies being released this past decade — all films that pale in comparison to Woody when he was at his peak.

#2. The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

My family never really raised me on movies or got me into watching films, though I wish they had. But one film that I do remember watching with my parents when I was younger was Coppola’s seminal tour de force whenever it would play on TV. I come from an Italian-American family, so I think that certainly played a part in their excitement in watching this film and explaining it to me when I was too young to actually absorb it all. To this day, so many years later, the first two Godfather films are my two favorite films of all-time and I think my early memories of watching them with my parents play a small part in that. To me, this is a perfect film with unbelievable performances across the board. Knowing all of the background information on how Coppola set out to make this masterpiece and his many battles with Paramount make it all the more inspiring for me. As a result of watching this film at a young age, Marlon Brando quickly became my favorite actor (still is). Watching his towering performance here, I made sure to watch every one of his films as often as I could (even the many stinkers) and research as much as I could on the complex man. Throughout the trilogy, the character of Michael Corleone, I think, is one of the very best ever put on film and I can envision no one better to do it than Al Pacino. I just watched it a few weeks ago and it brought back a few memories for me from years ago — and I was still in awe with each passing scene.

#3. Rocky (dir. John G. Avildsen)

The original “Best Picture” winner, as well as the subsequent Rocky II and Rocky III (both directed by Sylvester Stallone). I was 5-years old when the first film came out and did not see the film in the theatres, but I do remember playing the old vinyl record that my parents bought and loving the entire soundtrack. Bill Conti’s score is truly one for the ages. I listened to it often back then, and a few years later was hooked on Rocky Balboa. To me, this is the quintessential underdog story — in more ways than just sports — though it is, for me, the very best of all the sports movies. He came from nowhere…and rose from the ghetto streets of Philly to become the heavyweight champion of the world! Again, I think the whole Italian thing comes into play here…fuggedaboutit! Isn’t it a law that every Italian guy has to love Rocky? Perhaps every Italian guy secretly wants to be Rocky. I know I did when I was a kid. I do recall seeing Rocky II a few years later and then my parents took me to see the third one in a drive-in movie theatre. Rocky Balboa was an inspirational figure to me then and still is today. He is a hero and positive role model that always does the right thing; he has a strict moral compass, he loves his woman, he has tremendous heart and fortitude — and he even ended the Cold war single-handedly in the dismal Rocky IV. Thankfully, he rebounded nicely in the last installment, but those first three films for me always get my heart pounding and my blood racing.

#4. A Clockwork Orange (dir. Stanley Kubrick)

I remember seeing this flick and the profound effect it had on me as a kid when I first watched it. In many ways, Kubrick’s ultra-violent futuristic film was the catalyst for me looking to re-define what my taste in movies was. I wanted to see more films like this one! I hadn’t seen many like it at all and looked into more works from this maverick filmmaker and others like him. I sought out films from other auteurs such as Malick, Forman, Cassavetes, Polanski, and Altman. I even remember having A Clockwork Orange T-shirt in my younger days. At the time, I didn’t consider myself much of a film buff, but I believe this film started that journey for me as I realized what film, as an art form, can do…the weighty impact it can make on a viewer. This film haunted me in the very best of ways and I loved Burgess’ overall message in the “rehabilitation” of the classic character, Alex DeLarge (wonderfully portrayed by Malcolm McDowell). When I think of movies that helped to sculpt my more refined palette in my latter teen years, this is the one that always comes to mind first.

#5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (dir. Steven Spielberg)

I was 10 years old when this film was released (when movies actually played for months at a time in the theatres) and remember coming home thinking I just watched the most awesome movie ever! I mean, really…what kid didn’t flip out over this movie?! To me, it seemed to have everything — amazing action sequences, terrific special effects, a love story, an intelligent and valiant hero, a malevolent villain, and humorous one-liners. I couldn’t wait to see it again. It was pure entertainment. For my money, it is still one of the very best blockbuster films ever made. Nowadays, with CGI and more high-tech special effects, everything seems possible and it takes away from the experience a bit. Of course, there are special effects in “Raiders”, but it’s not so unbelievable here where it removes you from the emotion of the scene. The hat, the whip, the classic gun scene, the snakes….it is all classic Spielberg in one of his finest efforts as a filmmaker. Sadly, the franchise has taken terrible blows in the years that followed (aliens — really??!!) with three sub-par sequels; none even come close to sniffing the boots of the original and I think its writer, Lawrence Kasdan, has a lot to do with that. This one always takes me back to 10 years old and the excitement I felt when I came home that day — the testament to a timeless movie.

Review of HBO Films’ “You Don’t Know Jack”

The premiere of HBO Films’ You Don’t Know Jack” aired this evening to much press and media hype. Directed by Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson (“Rain Man”), the film stars Al Pacino as the infamous Dr. Jack Kevorkian – and it follows us from his days at being an unemployed physician in the early 1990’s, through the over 130+ assisted suicides that he aided in, and finally, the well-known trial that brought an end to his morally questionable practice.

Not only is “You Don’t Know Jack” an important piece of filmmaking (thank you HBO), but brings to the forefront such fascinating moral and ethical dilemmas about a person’s right to die that have always followed in the shadows of Dr. Kevorkian. Perhaps this is an odd choice of wording here, but the film is also a pleasure to watch – as it draws the viewer into this beguiling debate with each passing scene.

With the passing of Marlon Brando in 2005, and then Paul Newman three years later, Al Pacino may very well be the finest screen actor alive (although if you told me Daniel Day-Lewis, I wouldn’t put up much of a fight). Pacino shines here as he immerses himself into the man that is Jack Kevorkian – the slouched-over way that he walks, his voice, his eyes as he watches his patients slowly fall into a sleep that they will never awake from…as a biopic, much of the film rests on Pacino’s mighty shoulders, and he carries it in such graceful fashion all the way. Here, Pacino plays the Kevorkian that most of America has seen in the news and on interviews, but more impressively, he plays the Kevorkian that we never knew – his close relationship with his sister Margo (a wonderfully strong and funny Brenda Vaccaro), his ascetic lifestyle, his maddening stubbornness, and his supreme dedication to serve his patients and fight for the one thing he truly believes in…even if it killed him. This is thanks in part to Adam Mazer’s careful screenplay and his characterization of the man, to Levinson’s subtle direction, and of course to Pacino, who looks so effortless doing it all. The use of grey and pale blue color throughout the film, the precise use of close-ups and simple art direction all work very well.

The supporting cast is led by Danny Huston who plays Geoffrey Fieger, Kevorkian’s arrogant and successful attorney. The intimate scenes between the two are great entertainment. Susan Sarandon and John Goodman play colleagues who believe in what Kevorkian stands for and are there to assist him throughout his journey. Goodman has a great look to him and his sympathetic face works wonders on the viewer. In one particular scene (where he is helping Kevorkian with a suicide in which they may not have enough supplies), he is placing a plastic box around the patient’s head – the looks he gives to Kevorkian say it all and it is very moving to sit through.

There are some great moments in the film – when Kevorkian famously came to court dressed in a powdered wig complete with ball in chain, a confrontational scene between brother and sister in a local Bob’s Big Boy, a moment when Kevorkian finally lets himself open up to Janet Good (Sarandon) and tells a small bit from his past…it all works to add another piece to the Kevorkian puzzle. I was especially moved by the scenes with Kevorkian and his patients, as the videotape was recording their conversations. Levinson shoots these scenes as if they were homemade videos and it is quite effective. I don’t believe the movie works to manipulate your feelings about its subject one way or another. I don’t think viewers will watch this film and change their opinions on such a vital subject, though I do believe it is important for them to watch.

In the end, if you defy the rules long enough and go against the norm, you’ll end up getting the horns, which is what happens when Kevorkian submits his videotape of what was to be his last assisted suicide to CBS’ “60 Minutes” all but putting himself behind bars. This is what he always wanted – a chance to put the issue of euthanasia on trial and Kevorkian naturally defends himself. With no legal training whatsoever, Kevorkian’s case gets weaker and weaker. Geoffrey Fieger barks in the hallway, “It’s like watching a man hang himself!” The line is quite fitting as earlier in the film Kevorkian, at the dinner table, tenderly recites a line by Arthur Miller’s protagonist John Proctor in the brilliant play “The Crucible”:

“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”

It is a line that Kevorkian will incessantly (and deliriously) repeat when he is in jail and on his 19-day hunger strike. In the play, Proctor can go back home to live his life with his faithful wife and kids – if only he lies to the judge and says he has witnessed others in Salem trafficking with the devil. Proctor cannot do it…and he is hanged for it. He is, in many ways, a martyr – a man who is willing to die for what he believes in – Dr. Kevorkian is his descendent here and the comparison works nicely. I highly encourage you to see this film — a strong, weighty work by Mr. Levinson, his cast, and crew.

Year: 2010
Director: Barry Levinson


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