Tag Archives: Robert DeNiro

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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Lasting Impressions

I love good impressions. Some targets are so classic (Walken, Nicholson, Cagney) that it’s hard to add a new wrinkle to them after all this time.  Other times you nail someone so well, you can’t get away from it, and if something happens to make that impression taboo…well, you’re Vaughn Meader.

Not too many people do impressions any more as a full time endeavor; Jim Carrey was one of the most brilliant impersonators I ever saw but even he walked away from it. You can even see that someone as well-known as Frank Caliendo is getting stale by almost being compelled to constantly do John Madden. Having him play a show and not do Madden is probably like the Rolling Stones trying to get offstage without playing “Satisfaction”.

The days of full time impressionists like Frank Gorshin and Rich Little surviving outside the casino circuit seem to be long gone, so we just have to find people who drop a few in their act.

 stand-up-comedy

Even though it’s pretty mean spirited, I don’t think I’ve laughed harder all year than watching Anthony Jeselnik do Dane Cook.

When someone has the gift, they have the gift. Kevin Spacey rules.

And I know Christopher Walken impressions are a dime a dozen, but Kevin Pollack is the master.

Gilbert Gottfried does Andrew Dice Clay.

And finally, an old classic: Andrew Dice Clay does Eric Roberts, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, Robert DeNiro, and Al Pacino. The gestures are better than the voices for Pacino and DeNiro, but he nails Travolta and Stallone, and that has to be the best Eric Roberts impression I’ve ever seen.

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Things I Learned From Award Shows, Part Two

More snarky observations from the weekend, as the Hollywood Elite shook the Santa Monica sand out of their shoes (well, those with any Indie cred, anyway!) and headed to Red Carpet Land for the Big Show…

The 81st Annual Academy Awards

I'd like to fawn a friend...

I'd like to fawn a friend...

  • Sorry, Eric Roberts. For one night, at least, Hugh Jackman Is The Man.
  • Nice to have five former Oscar winners help present each acting award. But was that an introduction or a coronation? Did it really take fifteen minutes to fawn over Best Supporting Actress nominees? It looked like they were inducting a new member into The Skull And Bones Society.
  • Millions of dollars to reconfigure the theatre, douse it in brilliant lights and wire it to the heavens with cameras, screens and special effects. And the first time they try to use it, some stagehand forgets to open the curtain. (It’s a union job, smart money says he was probably in an oil drum in the Pacific by midnight)
  • Why did people think that Hugh Jackman – a singing, dancing Broadway veteran – couldn’t sing and dance? Great ten cent sets for the Best Picture tributes, but none funnier than the tribute to The Reader.
  • Anne Hathaway Is The Man.
  • Ben Stiller was only the second best faux Joaquin of the weekend, but still funny.
  • More actor fawning from prior Oscar winners. It’s a good thing that after the huge salary, the legions of fans, the constant media attention and the stroll down the Red Carpet through a crowd of sycophants, these poor people were able to get great seats and have their egos stroked by having lavish compliments spread over them with a trowel.
  • Is there a stupider question in the universe than “Who are you wearing?”
  • Judd Apatow Is The Man. (Or maybe Seth Rogen? No, no…James Franco!)
  • Having the two-time Oscar winning cinematographer tell his collegue to “suck it”.
  • Christopher Walken disappointingly did not do his Christopher Walken impression.
  • No Jack Nicholson. What, was there a Laker game?
  • Queen Latifah has a great voice, and “I’ll Be Seeing You” is a classic song. But when paying tribute to deceased Academy members, silence is golden.
  • Slumdog Avalanche.
  • Robert DeNiro on Penn: “How did Sean Penn get all those jobs playing straight guys” and he “gently reasons with the paparazzi”. Funnier than most of Bob’s last dozen comedies.
  • Good night for Oscar Dads. Heath Ledger’s father gave a heartfelt and passionate speech, and Kate Winslet’s Dad’s whistle was the highlight of her speech.
  • Has Jerry Lewis ever been that humble? Or succinct?
  • Speaking of Kate, I do admire her always solid work, but if I don’t see her at a podium again for a while that will be just fine. (At least she toned down the breathless “I am so shocked” routine). I suppose I have to blame Ricky Gervais for this. Will she be “playing a mental” next time out?
  • I am Woool-verrrr-iiiiiiine!”
  • Tina Fey and Steve Martin: Master class on comic timing.
  • Philip Petit. I bet that humility and a cool magic trick will be remembered more fondly than leaping over the backs of chairs.
  • Bill Maher (following an emotional moment in the show): “Great. Everyone’s crying and now I have to go on!”
  • Sean Penn’s speech.
  • A. R. Rahman running offstage after each win, much to the surprise of the presenters and usherette.
  • In a world where we have so many movie trailers, how did the tribute omit Don LaFontaine?
  • The Jimmy Kimmel promo was brilliant. It’s possible to like Tom Cruise when he’s not being Scientologish.
  • Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Full list of winners here.

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