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Black Mass – Johnny Depp’s Joe Pesci Moment

FireShot Capture - Black Mass Official Trailer #1 (2015) - Johnny D_ - https___www.youtube.com_watch

If film actors are fortunate, in the course of their careers, they’ll deliver several choice performances, or even several moments within those performances, that become, to indulge in a cliche, iconic. They’re the yardsticks by which we measure everything else that they do. Think of Brando, and really just three or four films come to mind: A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, The Godfather…and maybe Apocalypse Now, although the last one is doubtful. Still, from that shortlist of work, we define Brando as the benchmark actor of his generation.

You can easily name other actors who, even with a fine, expansive body of work under their belts, are linked in our minds with a few signature efforts. Robert De Niro: Raging Bull, GoodFellas, and any other Scorcese film. Jack Nicholson: Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and A Few Good Men. Dustin Hoffman: The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy and Rain Man. One could easily make a bar game out of this, trading competitive triads of performances, with loser picking up the tab. A more engaging alternative to poker dice.

Of course, picking out three films for the most iconic names isn’t that difficult. For supporting players, it’s more of a challenge. Joe Pesci, for example, who came to the attention of American film audiences largely due to brilliant casting by Martin Scorcese (apparently, De Niro had spotted him initially). Pesci was perfect as Jake LaMotta’s brother in Raging Bull. But his performance in GoodFellas was on another level. And the defining scene of the performance…well I don’t think I really even need mention it. “I amuse you?” was the signature line in a scene that Pesci improvised. And it’s the kind of scene that younger actors, who grew up watching films helmed by the likes of Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola, can only dream of.

Lo and behold, Johnny Depp, whom I have come to grudgingly respect over the years, mostly because of his willingness to take on quirky roles, has found his Joe Pesci moment. In the new film Black Mass, which is based on the true crime book of the same title, Depp plays real life thug Whitey Bulger. This is the sort of role that De Niro or Pacino would have played 30 years ago. Unfortunately, those men haven’t found the secret to eternal youth, and now supporting roles as geriatric wiseguys or cranky fathers-in-law. But Depp is willing to attempt to fill those very large wiseguy shoes. Note in the trailer below how he even has his own Joe Pesci type moment in the new film. In a few brief moments, he travels an arc from flattering his dinner host, to making the man fear for his life, to letting him know he was only being toyed with…kind of. Check it out.



amnesiac_0If you like home-captivity pictures, this might give you your fix for the season. Who even knew this was a genre? But I suppose there’s a wide array of films that would qualify, including In Cold Blood, Desperate Hours, Funny Games, Misery and The Ref.

This might be a case of the trailer’s being better than the film, although even the trailer suggests enough hackneyed plot turns to make even the most jaundiced drive-in devotee wince. Still, it might be one of those films that’s so bad it’s good.

As a teenager in the Midwest, friends and I would convene in Tommy Cicero’s basement to watch Friday Fright Night on an old, orphaned black and white television donated to our informal film club by Tommy’s Uncle Louis. The television hadn’t actually belonged to Louis Cicero, who owned a used car lot in Blue Island, south of Chicago. It had just turned up in his mobile home office one day, delivered by a couple of Tommy’s cousins. (Tommy had enough cousins to fill half of the upper grand stands at Wrigley Field.) When Tommy asked his uncle where the TV had come from, Louis said, “Shut up and mind your manners.” And then he became more thoughtful, and said, “Look, there are three questions you should never ask a man: ‘How much money do you make?’ ‘How often do you get laid?’ And, ‘Where did it come from?’ Capiche?” Enough said.

For the next couple of years, every Friday night, Tommy’s basement became our private screening room. The movies were generally awful, yet this was a large part of their appeal. A grade B film might be close enough to being decent to make you frustrated. It’s like an itch in the middle of your back that you can’t quite reach. But a grade Z film is so far off the mark that one you’re compelled to keep watching, just to see how bad it can possibly get.

“A home-captivity picture boasting all the implausibility associated with that genre and nearly none of the thrills, Michael Polish’s Amnesiac casts Wes Bentley as an accident victim who doesn’t remember if the woman tending to him (Kate Bosworth) is his wife or not. Working for the second time without his brother Mark Polish, the director takes what should be a much more commercial tack than he did in 2013’s Jack Kerouac film Big Sur. But the would-be thriller is lifeless enough and bedeviled by enough peculiarities that, stars notwithstanding, commercial prospects are dim.”
–The Hollywood Reporter
Read the review here.


The Gift – Trailer

batemanMay I be excused for thinking, prior to watching this trailer, that this was a comedy? Perhaps this is a classic bait (or Bateman) and switch ploy. Lure an unsuspecting audience, who are largely expecting something consistent with the Bateman comedy oeuvre, and then once the doors are locked, give them 90 minutes of pure stalker terror instead. Then again, is it really terror, or more like a derivative yawn fest? Only the stalker-filmmaker knows for sure.

One thing is certain, it’s maximum exposure for Joel Edgerton, who wrote, directed and stars in the film. Frankly, Edgerton has been under my personal radar. A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals he’s been working steadily since 1996. Yet his tabloid star must be dim. The Wiki-entry for his personal life amounts to one line, which reveals that his brother Nash is a filmmaker and stuntman. Hmm.

Also starring Rebecca Hall, who was impressive in one of the Red Riding Trilogy films a few years ago, and the Tom Stoppard scripted version of Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy, Parade’s End.

Here’s the synopsis from STX Entertainment:

Simon and Robyn are a young married couple whose life is going just as planned until a chance encounter with an acquaintance from Simon’s high school sends their world into a harrowing tailspin. Simon doesn’t recognize Gordo at first, but after a series of uninvited encounters and mysterious gifts prove troubling, a horrifying secret from the past is uncovered after more than 20 years. As Robyn learns the unsettling truth about what happened between Simon and Gordo, she starts to question: how well do we really know the people closest to us, and are past bygones ever really bygones? (C) STX


Gone Girl

The first David Fincher film I saw was Alien 3. Or should I call it Alien cubed? I thought it was an interesting take on an already tired franchise. Fincher was busy during the nineties. On the heels of the Alien installment, he released a new film every couple of years. Seven, The Game, Fight Club and Panic Room all came in quick succession, and seemed destined to establish Fincher as a kind of Kubrick or Hitchcock for the Generation X cohort. Or was it Generation Y? It’s so difficult to keep track of the algebraic nomenclature used pop by sociologists.

But his career in the new millennium has been rather mixed. On the Scott WMT (Worth my time?) meter: Zodiac, yes. Benjamin Button, no. The Social Network, no. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, maybe.

Still, while he makes the occasional misstep, it’seems been no more so than say, well, Kubrick or Hitchcock. Or Sidney Lumet. Or Steven Soderbergh. Or Howard Hawks (weren’t some of those late westerns dogs?) Or John Huston (think Annie, or Victory, or The Kremlin Letter). And more than some of those illustrious names, Fincher has been pretty consistent about maintaining a recognizable, for lack of a better word, style, a term which I think encompasses everything from visual presentation to thematic treatment to the visceral feel of a film. Fincher has what all distinctive directors have: a highly evolved cinematic sensibility. Which is what brought Hitchcock and Kubrick to mind.

And now, with Gone Girl, he looks poised to register on the Yes side of the WMT meter again. Starring Ben Affleck (who seems to have found his metier, both as an actor and a director, in the crime genre), and Rosamund Pike (one of those actresses so distracting to look at, you can’t really tell if she can act), the film kooks at least compelling enough to download free from a bit torrent site. Just kidding!

Now I haven’t read the book — I never read books that seem destined for Hollywood — but you can read a review in the online Vanity Fair here. Caution, it’s a plot spoiler on steroids. The trailer gives away almost as much, but a bit more cryptically. Enjoy.


Oslo – Trailer

French filmmakers are always good for source material, as no one really wants to watch a French film; most people would rather watch a remake in their own language.  In the case of Oslo, Norwegian director Joachim Trier has retooled Louis Malle’s rendering of Pierre Drieu La Rochelle’s 1931 novel Le Feu Follet, and has added one thing that Scandinavians specialize in: gloom.

It’s the tale of one day in the life of Anders (played by Anders Danielsen Lie), a heroin addict who is permitted an evening’s leave from a rehab unit outside Oslo.  Is this a reward for good behavior, or a test of the progress of his treatment?  Considering the turmoil he experiences during his contact with the outside world, one wonders.

Says Peter Bradshaw, of The Guardian:

“Danielsen Lie gives an excellent performance as Anders: resentful, self-questioning, hopeful, vulnerable and angry. There is one outstanding scene in which one friend, a former hedonist, now a placid academic and married man, confesses his desperate boredom with life. Is there a way in which Anders can persuade himself that this boredom is preferable to his own state? A very rewarding and worthwhile film.”

Country:    Norway
Year:    2011
Language:    Norwegian
Runtime:    96 minutes
Producer:    Hans-Jørgen Osnes, Yngve Sæther, Sigve Endresen
Principal Cast:    Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olaf Brenner, Ingrid Olava, Johanne Kjellevik Ledang
Screenplay:    Eskil Vogt, Joachim Trier


Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Trailer

What would you do if monkeys ruled the world?  Of course, there are some who would say that they already do.  Of course, in the new film “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” there’s an obvious difference between fact and fiction: these apes are smart!

Just think of a world filled with furry bipeds who are smarter than you, almost as good looking as you, and who hang from trees by their opposable thumbs, and you might be conjuring up a nightmare.  Or, at the very least, the latest installment in a franchise that you thought had safely expired.

The tagline of the film is apt to be the rueful admonition, “They’re not people you know.”  Of course, this is a line that pops into my head whenever I see news coverage of the Tea Party, but that’s another story.

GCI is the product of the same outfit responsible for the effect in “Avatar,” but, thankfully, this doesn’t appear to be in 3D.  Much as I hate to admit in having an interest in cheesy sci-fi franchises, this one, in its latest incarnation, seems to have a certain appeal.  Perhaps its because it seems as though there might be a perverse joy to be had in watching a bunch of angry apes get their own back after all those years of being subjected to lab experiments in the effort to find a better cold cream.


The Perfect Host – Trailer

David Hyde Pierce – bet ya never saw this on Frasier!

Ever wonder what happened to David Hyde Pierce after “Frasier” ran past its shelf date? Well, neither have I, actually. But now a quirky little indieprod called “The Perfect Host” provides the answer, even if you haven’t been looking for it.

From the trailer, the film appears to be an uneasy blend of “The Desperate Hours” (Bogart’s verson, not Mickey Rourke’s) and “Pee-wee Herman’s Big Adventure.” It’s great to see D.H.P. break out from his role as the prissy TV brother of Kelsey Grammer to play a prissy dinner host who terrorizes a burglar.


A criminal on the run cons his way into the wrong dinner party where the host is anything but ordinary.

JOHN TAYLOR (Clayne Crawford) has just robbed a bank. He planned and executed it perfectly. It
comes as a shock to him then, when he discovers the robbery is all over the news and he has been identified as the perp. Injured from the robbery and now in a car known to the cops, John has a problem. He must ditch the vehicle and get off the streets.

WARWICK WILSON (David Hyde Pierce) has showered, shaved and is in the middle of preparing the dinner party that he will be hosting that evening. Warwick is a little surprised when the intercom of his slick Los Angeles home buzzes. The man on the intercom screen introduces himself as John, a friend of a friend, and in need of a favor.

Warwick, who prides himself on being a perfect host decides to take a chance and invites John in. As the night progresses neither man can conceal his true nature. What was assumed is turned upside down.

— Magnolia Pictures


Last Night – Trailer

I know this must be a sophisticated film because the four principal players speak with four different accents.  According to my research (which was minimal), “Last Night” is a joint French-American production, rather like the first Gulf War, and the recent enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libya.  As in those ventures, I have to assume that the Americans have assumed the leadership role, as the film was shot in English.

Of course, English would guarantee a naturally wider distribution, so it might be down to nothing more than that.  Werner Herzog has taken to shooting his films in English in recent years (one waxes nostalgic for Herzog’s golden era when he focused on low budget period pieces starring the late Klaus Kinski), and Woody Allen continues to shoot in English, even though he’s become, for all intents and purposes, a European filmmaker.

Kiera Knightly seems to be the centerpiece in this film (or maybe she’s simply the one who’s made the most indelible impression on my visual cortex), although the plot revolves around a quartet: young couple whose monogamous fortitude is unexpectedly tested, and a pair of young hopefuls doing the testing. Imagine “Eyes Wide Shut” shot in real time rather than slo-mo, and you’ll get the idea.

It’s all very symmetrical, which is probably the result of the French influence.  The trailer is cut teasingly, with  a downbeat ending implied, which is deinfinitely very French.  Imagine Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in this, with Ron Howard at the helm, and there would definitely be a larger portion of schmaltz baked into the mixture, along with a few more laughs.


Friends with Benefits – Trailer

Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. Mila appeaars to be thinking, "I hope he doesn't sing!"

It seems that Justin Timberlake is determined to become a film star.  Let me confess that I’m so estranged from the pop music scene that I had never heard of Timberlake prior to the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction that he participated in several years ago during their joint Super Bowl performance.

In fact, since I haven’t watched a Super Bowl cover to cover since 1967, I’m surprised that I ever got wind of the Jackson-Timberlake brouhaha.  If it weren’t for the fact that the right wing press made a banner issue out of it, it probably never would’ve found a place on my radar screen.

Is Justin Timberlake funny?  I can’t tell.  It’s like asking if Frank Sinatra was a good actor.  I’ve seen most of Sinatra’s films (the non-musical ones, at any rate), and whenever he’s on the screen, I can never forget the fact that I’m watching Frank Sinatra.  I always expect him to break into a song.

This holds true even for films like “The Man with the Golden Arm,” an adaptation of the Nelson Algren novel, in which Ol’ Blue Eyes plays a card dealer trying to kick the heroin habit.  Even when he’s writhing on the floor in a cold sweat, going through withdrawal, I expect him to snap out of it long enough to give us a snappy rendition of “Call Me Irresponsible.”

Of course, Timberlake doesn’t have the gravitas of the Chairman of the Board, but “Friends with Benefits” definitely tries to capitalize on his pop star rep, as you’ll see in the trailer below.  As to whether Timblerlake is funny, you be the judge.

From the trailer, it looks to me as though the funniest thing in the film is Woody Harrelson, who has a supporting role.  The hottest thing is definitely Mila Kunis, who I’d completely ignored until her recent appearance in “Black Swan.”  It’s amazing what a sex scene with Natalie Portman will do for your career.


The Secret in Their Eyes – Trailer

I saw this film recently, and was properly impressed.  I know, I was only a year late, considering it won the honors of Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in 2010.  The film is from Argentina, which makes something of a hybrid, half mainstream, half independent.

If the film had been made in this country, it might have starred a younger Al Pacino or Robert DeNiro, along with Catherine Zeta Jones or Angelina Jolie (if they could act), or perhaps Laura San Giacomo.  As it is, the Argentine production features Ricardo Darín and Soledad Villamil (the latter being a dark, sultry beauty who splits her time between films, television and a singing career – but apparently everyone in the Argentine film industry moonlights).

Darin I’d seen previously in “Nine Queens,” which was remade in this country as “Criminal,” with John C. Reilly in the leading role.  (I recommend both versions.  They’re along the same lines as David Mamet’s “Heist,” without the usual Mamet gingerbread.)

“The Secret in Their Eyes” co-stars Guillermo Francella, who is apparently the Rodney Dangerfield of Argentina.  You wouldn’t know it here.  He plays a convincing drunk (with a wry sense of humor, of course) on a collision course with an untimely end.

There are several good reasons to watch this film.  Watch it, you’ll discover your own.  If nothing else, it looks as though it might be a good prep for another Ricardo Darín vehicle being released in this country this year, “Carancho.”