Tag Archives: Joe Pantoliano

T.G.I.F. – Ten Twisted Tales

And we would have gotten away with it too, if you had never seen a Scooby Doo episode before.

"And we would have gotten away with it too, if only you had never seen a Scooby Doo episode before."

One of the biggest problems with film and television is predictability; after watching thousands of hours of sitcoms, dramas and movies I can often see the next plot point coming along like it has beepers and a blinking light. It’s not so much that the plot is redundant – although it often is – but that the brevity of the material (especially commercial television) doesn’t allow for proper story arc and character development.

So often what happens is either the director/writer cheats, or the information is presented in such an obvious manner that you’re almost being told “hey, this is a clue!”. Of course people have the attention span of a gnat these days, so maybe I’m overworking the issue. But here are two key rules you can usually count on:

  1. If an odd fact is introduced – like a character being left-handed or a man just quit smoking – pay attention. It’s probably a critical piece of information and not just padded dialogue.
  2. If within the first five or ten minutes a character looks to have opportunity and motive, that character probably didn’t do it.

Few writers/directors would be crass enough to have the killer or key plot fact come sailing in out of left field at the eleventh hour, that’s just not fair. But a well-played twist requires what I’d call  sleight-of-mind…laying everything out there but being clever enough to not point at it with a floodlight.

An example of a well-presented twist is The Sixth Sense. (SPOILER ALERT…) At the end of the movie, when it was revealed that a key character was dead, I immediately recalled a scene where he was at dinner with his wife, had a conversation and even touched hands. But when I replayed the scene, I noticed that they in fact did not touch – their hands passed within a second of each other – and there was no eye contact. And then there was the revelation about the use of the color red. Then finally, the most obvious clue of all – “I see dead people“. Well played, M. Night Shyamalanit was all right there in front of me and I missed it. Too bad you have been unable to hit the mark since then.

So for this Friday’s exercise, ten recommended movies that I think did the job well. Some will be very familiar, a couple are stone cold classics, but I’ve avoided the real obvious ones like Psycho, Vertigo, Fight Club and The Shawshank Redemption. These aren’t my ten favorite movies, but I’d watch any one of them again in a heartbeat, and if you haven’t seen them I suggest you immediately add the omissions to your shopping list or Netflix queue.

In alphabetical order:

no idiots

Angel Heart:  Probably a little more obvious than most (Robert DeNiro’s character’s name) and a little overwhelming with visual pizazz, but the end(ing) justifies the means. One of Mickey Rourke‘s better performances.

A Beautiful Mind:  Having two dynamic actors like Russell Crowe and the great Ed Harris was huge; they could not have sold this premise with pedestrian performances.

Donnie Darko:  So was it a horror flick, a religious allegory, a knock on conservatism, a time travel epic, a fable or a study of hallucinatory madness? Yes.

The GameDavid Fincher is more famous for the brilliant Fight Club but this tense and clever story keeps you wondering what and who you can believe. Michael Douglas, Sean Penn and a large supporting cast do the script justice.

House of GamesDavid Mamet, a master of words and misdirection, at his peak. Joe Mantegna and Lindsay Crouse deep in the world of con men and grifters where not everything is what it seems to be.

MementoChristopher Nolan directed and wrote the screenplay based on his brother’s short story, and Guy Pearce provides a brazen and brilliant performance alongside Joe Pantoliano. Told backwards, like Nolan’s prior film Following.

Once Upon A Time In America:  Maybe my favorite gangster movie of all time, and considering how perfect a movie Goodfellas is, that’s saying something. Sergio Leone directs a star-studded cast but you have to pay close attention.

Primal Fear:  I’m normally not a Richard Gere fan but he’s great in this one as his arrogance is his downfall. This film launched Edward Norton’s career (an Oscar nod in his first real role) and made me fall in love with Laura Linney.

Session 9:  One of the truly atmospheric horror movies of recent times, far from the gorefests that are passed along as horror movies today. This is creepy and unnerving, and even David Caruso is good in it. Director Brad Anderson now works on Fringe.

The Spanish PrisonerMamet again. Everytime you think you know what’s going on, you really don’t. It’s like watching a magician show you the trick but then repeatedly doing it again. The final scene makes me wonder if Mamet didn’t intend the entire movie as a con, but I change my opinion every viewing.

fingers crossed

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Music Flicks

After writing about The Boat That Rocked the other day, I thought about other music-related movies that I really enjoyed and found that I had several favorites that I could watch over and over again and enjoy almost as much as the first time. These aren’t concert films – those are obvious repeat performers – but movies about pop music. I’m also focusing on the more modern era (forgive me, Sal Mineo). Plus the movie has to be good (sorry, Tommy) . A few are obvious commercial favorites (is there anyone who doesn’t quote Spinal Tap?) but a couple of these must be off the path; I find most people have never heard of them, let alone seen them.

But hey, that’s a large part of why I do this, to share information about what knocks me out and hopefully expose people to a great band, film or book they might have missed. I highly recommend every single one of these, and hopefully there’s at least one you haven’t seen that you will take a chance on. Enjoy some great movies with great music, whether it’s a library rental, a used copy on Amazon or circling the listing in TV Guide when you see it. Without further ado (you’ve had just the right amount of ado so far, right?) and with apologies to The Committments and The Rutles, here they are in alphabetical order…

Almost Famous : Cameron Crowe drew upon his own story to craft this brilliant peek behind rock’s curtain, from the groupies (sorry…Band-Aids) to the roadies and the madness that is rock’n’roll. Great music and wonderful performances from the leads and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s great turn as Lester Bangs.

A Hard Day’s Night : The Beatles. Need I say more? “I’m a Mocker”

Hedwig and the Angry Inch : Absolutely the best rock opera ever. John Cameron Mitchell’s brilliant performance and Stephen Trask’s music are a perfect match, and both the musical and the movie soundtracks could stand on their own as great music. But the film is phenomenal.

The Idolmaker : Ray Sharkey should have won the Academy Award for his performance as a teen idol Svengali. Great performances from Paul Land, Joe Pantoliano and Peter Gallagher.

A Mighty Wind : The Spinal Tap of folk music and another perfect movie from Christopher Guest. Tremendous performances from everyone, but Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as “Mitch and Mickey” were brilliant. How did this song not win the Academy Award?

Rock and Roll High School : The Ramones. Need I say more? “Things sure have changed since I got kicked out of high school”.

Spinal Tap : Absolutely hilarious, with pitch perfect performances from the three leads and an amazing array of bit parts and cameo roles, like Paul Shaffer as Artie Fufkin and Bruno Kirby as the Sinatra-loving limo driver (the extended deleted scenes are priceless). Here’s a song so good I like it even though it’s parody.

Still Crazy : I think the common thread in all these movies is perfect casting. Bill Nighy is wonderful as the fragile lead singer and you can’t go wrong with comic geniuses Billy Connolly and Timothy Spall. But the story is as heartwarming as it is funny and the music is phenomenal.

That Thing You Do : Tom Hanks nailed the screenplay about a one-hit-wonder band and even wrote many of the songs that the other acts in the “galaxy of stars” performed. The main songs benefitted from pop wizards like Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne) and Mike Viola, but the perfect casting was only exceeded by the movie’s heart. One of my favorite films of all time in any genre.

Velvet Goldmine : Glam fans will lap this up – an Eddie and The Cruisers type plot in the world of glitter and decadence, with Ewan McGregor and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as thinly disguised Iggy Pop and David Bowie plus great performances from Christian Bale and Eddie Izzard.

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