27 July 2011

In which I share my opinion of several movies: The Gangster Edition

I really like movies, not surprisingly, considering my chosen profession.  I am also very opinionated about movies, as anyone who has gotten into a conversation with me will no doubt attest.  I also like movies that are atypical of my age group; I eschew rom-coms for gritty, dark and violent tales of vengeance (mm, tasty).  I do like the occasional film where no one dies violently/horrifically/strangely, but if there's some blood splashin' around, I'll probably like it more :)

SCARFACE (1983) (4.75/5) 
This is one of my favourite movies and I can't believe I only saw it for the first time a few weeks ago (oh was I missing out!).  There's a lot to be said about going into a movie with an open-mind.  When you hear "Scarface" you think of Al Pacino going "Say 'hello' to my little friend!" and shooting lots of people.  Sure, that happens, but there's so much more to the movie.  This is a tragedy of Shakespearen proportions.  Yeah, that's right, Shakespeare*, my friends.  There is so much irony in this film- the characters continually make choices they think will make their lives better when, in actuality, they are making their lives so much worse.  His rise to power and consequential downfall reminded me of Macbeth and his self-delusion as to his wife is on-par with King Lear**. 
This is script writing at it's best- there are no irrelevant characters or scenes, everything provided pushes the action forward. Seriously, I love this movie.
"Say 'hello' to my little M16 with a M203 40mm grenade launcher barrel-attachment!"
Me gushing aside, it does have it's flaws. Michelle Pfeiffer's nose has always scared the shit out of me and the heavy 1980s score can be grating (it could be worse, when the movie was re-released, the studio wanted de Palma to replace the score with modern gangsta rap).  If you can ignore the obnoxious music and go into this with an open mind, you have a hidden tragic gem on your hands.

Fun fact: They say "fuck" a lot in this movie.  226 times, to be exact, which averages to 1.32 per minute. 

* There's even the fine Shakespearen tradition of siblings possibly having the hots for each other!
** Dude, that "her womb is polluted" bit- straight out of act I scene 4 of Lear.

Marlon Brando + Al Pacino = go watch it.  Oh, you wanted more than that?
I've watched this movie twice in the last three days. I watched it once, I really liked it and would probably have given it a 9 out of 10 right there, with my only complaint being the beginning was a little slow and some of the actress seeming miscast (more later).  I watched it again with my siblings in an attempt to make them culturally relevant (that, and my sister is also in love with young Al Pacino.  Lord, those eyes!... but I digress).  On the second time around, what I thought dragged stuck me as being brilliant- the framing that introduces Vitto Corleone (Brando),  and the perfect set-up of the familial relations during the wedding scene.
All I can say is, there is a reason this movie is number 3 (number 2 on the 2008 republishing) on the AFI's "100 years... 100 movies" list and its number one gangster film. 
This is not your typical gangster film filled with drugs and prostitution and racketeering.  The violence in the movie is rather sparse, considering its length, and as a result, always shocking (the contrast of the baptism scene is, again, brilliant).  This is really a story about a family that just happens to be in the mafia. 
There are so many classic quotes in this movie that alone make it worth watching ("I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." "It's not personal, it's business." Or my personal favourite, "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.")
"I'm sorry, you just said something, but I was too busy thinking 'it's Diane Keaton!' to listen."
The me not gushing stuff: Diane Keaton seems out of place to me as Pacino's girlfriend, but I don't know if that's because she's Diane Keaton and when I see her my brain goes "Annie Hall!"  Every time I heard her voice I went, "Oh, that's Diane Keaton."  That said, I suppose she adds a certain innocent, "all-American" quality that starts on par with Pacino, then eventually becomes his foil.  I'm still not a fan of Talia Shire as his sister.  Fun fact, Shire is Coppola's sister (cough nepotism cough).  I found her to be incredibly annoying, any sort of emotion from her comes out as whining.  (Side note, I found the final scene with her to be oddly reminiscent of Scarface...  When he goes "She's hysterical,"  I expected one of his peons to announce that they got some pills in her and she'll be okay.)  Fortunately, she's not in the movie enough to ruin it. 
Minor quibble- I was very confused during the wedding scene- I didn't realize that the movie takes place in the late 1940s.  I thought, because of the way the bridesmaids were dressed and the hair that it was the '70s (I actually have an identical bridemaid's dress from the '70s.) and when they referred to "the war" they were talking about Vietnam.  Then Al Pacino shows up in a WWII uniform and my brain exploded.  Historical fashion accuracy wasn't cared about in film until very recently, so I can't hold it against the movie, but seriously, I was really confused.


This movie seemed like it was perfect for me.  Gangsters! Prohibition! Al Capone! Sean Connery!  Directed by Brain de Palma (Scarface) and written by David Mamet (that playwright with the stuff where they say "fuck" a lot)!  I was really looking forward to it when Shane and I popped it in the xbox.  Right before we did, we debated whether we would stop the movie to watch Deadliest Warrior when it came on TV, or if we would just watch it off the DVR when we were done with the movie.  We decided to just start the movie and go from there.
Right from the beginning, The Untouchables succeeded with flying colours making perfectly serious scenes hilarious.  In the very first scene a little girl walks into a bar after the bartender says something about how he's not going to work with Capone.  The gentleman he was talking to gets up and leaves, "forgetting" his briefcase.  As the bartender converses with the girl about her mother (clue number two of what's going to happen- oh no, the girl has a family!) she notices the case and picks it up. "Hey mister, you forgot your briefcase! Hey mister--" cut shot to exterior view of the bar and BLAM!  Horrific, right? How could those meanie-pants gangsters blow up a little innocent child (with her having a mother and all!)?!  Shane and I laughed our butts off.  The problem is you knew what was going to happen the entire scene, and a scene of dread was not accomplished.  The entire movie was filled with scenes like this.
The most bizarre was one of the last, involving a baby in a carriage, a staircase, and a gunfight (which part of this sentence does not belong?).  As Costner and the bad guys shoot it out, a baby in a carriage goes tumbling down the staircase (in slow-mo) while miraculously avoiding getting shot.  Not only was the sequence one of the most painfully long, it quickly became implausibly hillarious.
The score was also bizarre.  Happy, excited music would play when horrible things were happening (that bridge-in-Canada part, anybody?).
The filmmakers seemed to have realised that there were no women in the movie, and wrote in a lame role for some unfortunate actress to play Costner's wife.  The inclusions of those scenes added nothing to the movie and further messed-up the pacing.
"Come on, Costner! I'm acting my nuts off here!" "Mm... bacon."
And then there was Kevin Costner.  I used to Nicholas Cage was the worst actor ever.  I take it back.  Kevin Costner gets that title.  I have never seen more lifeless acting- there were continual close-ups of his face after something horrific has happened and there would be NOTHING THERE.  He might as well of been thinking about what he was going to eat during lunch break.  As the movie continued, Shane and I started filling in his thoughts for him, "Mmm... spaghetti." "I'm really feeling some pie right now." 
Perhaps the move damning part of the movie was when Shane and I stopped it ten minutes early to take a break to watch Deadliest Warrior- we who never interrupt a movie.
I could go on for quite a while about how bad this movie was, but you get the point.  If you're drunk and want to watch something funny, go for this.  If you are sober and want a good gangster movie... just watch The Godfather again, okay?

You're mocking me, aren't you?
Confession: I really wanted to like this movies. Really really.  I'd been meaning to watch it forever and finally got around to it.  People would give me shocked expressions when I'd admited I'd never seen it and ensure me that I'd love it. 
I didn't.
At all.
I fast forwarded bits of it, and I didn't even finish it.
I don't understand why this is on AFI's best gangster movie list.  I guess it's because of the non-linear storyline ("oooh, artsy!") and all of the non-necessary dialogue ("oooooh, people talk for ten minutes about non-relevant shit, how life-like!" Sweetheart, if I want to listen to hours of drugged-out people talking about nothing in particular, I'll ride the metro).
Part of my problem, no doubt, is I can't stand 90% of the actors in the movie.  Uma Thurman, John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson, Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman are high up there on my "I Can't Stand..." list.  Uma's on there twice. 
Someday, I'll try to finish it so I can talk intelligently about why this film blows chips, but for now my biggest complaint:  I didn't care about any of the characters.  I could not have possibly cared less if they succeeded, or were graphically eaten by bionic velociraptors.  Actually, bionic velociraptors would have been great.
What Pulp Fiction lacked

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