This true story tells the story of street cop Frank Serpico, a man who idealistically joins the Police department in New York, but as time transpired learns that many of the cops around him take money to ‘look the other way’. As it goes against everything he believes a cop is, Frank chooses to investigate the corruption from the inside which at the same time puts a target on his back.
This gritty drama boasts a versatile and compelling turn from Al Pacino in a role that put his name on the map following his break out turn in The Godfather. Directed by Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon) with authenticity, using mostly no name actors to aid the realism, this was a little drawn out … yet I found the story gradually pulled me in and I became quite absorbed after a while. It’s certainly a fascinating and eye-opening tale that’s enhanced by Pacino and its 70s atmosphere.
However there are some weak support performances, with occasionally wooden line-delivery … and in these more politically correct times, having only black people portrayed as crooks is jarring – yet such things reflect the times the movie was made I suppose. The threat and danger Serpico was also meant to be experiencing didn’t come across that well either. Yet as another solid Pacino role and an absorbing true story – overall I still had a good time with this.
The Blu-ray on Eureka’s ‘Masters of Cinema’ label, boasts an impressive, restored image with intact grain that brings out no end of detail and depth. The movie is presented in both its original mono and a new 5.1 soundtrack, both of which are clear and effective. Extras consist of some behind the scenes featurettes, a photo gallery with a commentary by the director, a trailer and a nicely detailed booklet. I’d have appreciated a commentary, and the lack of any appearance from Al Pacino is disappointing. A mostly decent treatment for a well regarded movie that although not exactly a classic for me, this release makes it worth a look.
My self proposed challenge continues and is going fairly well. When going into this I didn’t intend it to be one of these movie marathons , generally taking a moderate pace to it whilst still intending to get it done well before my June 30th limit. I think I’ve done well so far and have reached letter F next, which is going to be one of three movies, depending on mood.
So for letter C I went with the underrated Al Pacino gangster thriller ‘Carlito’s Way’, a movie that offers up a rather romantic take on the crime thriller and boasts a solid turn from Pacino as well as Sean Penn. Director Brian De Palma is on fine form delivering his signature style, if somewhat toned down compared to other works, and a whimsical vibe aided by Pacino’s reflective narration. Next was D, and here I went for one of the less appreciated Die Hard sequels, namely ‘Die Hard 2’ which to be fair is a solid entry, with a similar tone to the first movie but on a bigger scale with Bruce Willis again on wise-cracking form. For E I went with the Tom Cruise sci-fi actioner ‘Edge of Tomorrow’, a clever and particularly fun movie with a great central concept and good support from a badass Emily Blunt. Director Doug Liman takes the classic Groundhog Day premise and marries it perfectly with alien invasion battle sequences to deliver solid thrills.
So onto letter F which should be interesting. It’s been good rediscovering movies from my Blu-ray collection, but also see myself discovering some movies I happen to own but haven’t got around to watching. So there will be a few first-viewings during this challenge. I may write full reviews for those entries, we’ll see.
There’s a moment early on in Martin Scorsese‘s 3hr + epic when Robert DeNiro meets with Joe Pesci‘s mobster. Could I hear The Godfather theme playing gently in the background? If so, nice nod to a genre you helped immortalise Scorsese.
I was hyped for this. A crime drama with some of the biggest names in crime dramas reuniting for the first time in years? Where do I sign? Based on true events, DeNiro plays Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman who gradually rises up the ladder, going from blue collar worker to petty thief to mob enforcer to right hand man of infamous politician Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). At the same time his story is told by an elderly Frank in a nursing home. One of the much talked about things with this movie was the ageing and especially de-ageing technology used to showcase various characters during different timelines. It’s clever stuff if not entirely successful and did take a bit of getting used to – especially when a (I’m guessing) 40-something Frank still carries himself like an awkward older guy at times, lacking the stature of the same actor in say Heat or Goodfellas. It’s a technology that I’m afraid struggles to hide the fact this movie should probably have been made years ago.
DeNiro is still great though and goes through a plethora of emotions to portray Frank, someone who’s not your everyday mob villain but a family man and a human being. In the closing scenes especially, portraying an elderly man with lots of memories and regrets, I’ll admit I came close to shedding a tear. It’s the ending that elevates this into the realms of potential ‘classic’ even if some sections in the middle revolving around Hoffa’s political dealings dragged and well, got a bit boring. Al Pacino is far from disappointing though, but I can’t say I was all that taken by the man he was portraying. On the other hand, Joe Pesci’s mobster is great and made me wish this guy still made movies and proved much more layered than the usual psycho routine he’s famous for.
It’s also a bit too long. The Jimmy Hoffa stuff, admittedly important to the story could have been trimmed down, and some scenes are drawn out. However this isn’t a zippy, snappy gangster movie but a thoughtful story of one man’s life, and for that it mostly succeeds. Martin Scorsese gives the movie a classy feel, with eye catching camera work, his trusted great choices in music and a great attention to detail. Overall, a must for fans of crime movies and for anyone wanting to see these screen legends deliver the goods one more time.
Quentin Tarantino is for the most part probably my favourite director and has had very few missteps in a career that’s spanned over twenty years and so far 9 movies (if you count Kill Bill 1&2 as one movie). So it was with some degree of excitement I sat down to see his latest. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Rick Dalton, a washed up Western actor reaching the end of his career and along with best friend and stunt-double Cliff (Brad Pitt), they attempt to continue working in an ever changing industry. Meanwhile, a religious cult threaten to shatter the glitz and glamour and bring the Hollywood dream and sixties with it, to an abrupt and bloody end.
With knowledge of the real life murders and that of Charles Manson’s cult I thought this was perfect material to get the Tarantino treatment. Imagine my surprise then to discover that that aspect barely fills up even a quarter of this long, drawn out movie’s 160 minute run time. Which would be excusable if what we get otherwise pulled me in at all. Here, Tarantino is at his most self-indulgent and selfishly nostalgic, revelling in a Hollywood I’m guessing many of us won’t even recognise, name dropping tv actors I’d never heard of and even doing a deserving to those I had (Bruce Lee is pretty much relegated to gag-fodder). Margot Robbie turns in an appealing, sexy but otherwise redundant performance as Sharon Tate, wife of director Roman Polanski and the most famous victim of the Manson Family murders. Even the dialogue lacks the usual flow and zip of a Tarantino script, that whilst natural sounding, in a movie that basically has little to no actual plot, it really needed to shine. Also, if your idea of entertainment is to watch Margot Robbie for longer than necessary watching herself in a movie theatre, or countless women show off their bare feet, Brad Pitt drive (and drive) around Los Angeles or feed his dog, and DiCaprio cough a lot … then more power to you. The ending will also divide audiences for sure yet I suppose I get what Tarantino was going for … even if it kind of pissed me off.
So, Tarantino’s apparent ‘love letter’ to late sixties Hollywood somehow does the unfathomable and makes the behind-the-scenes lifestyle of the movies actually look boring, Pitt & DiCaprio are fine, but even they look like they’re only here to do a friend a favour and collect a pay cheque. It’s real redeeming feature then is often impressive camera work, because shock – even the soundtrack gets a bit annoying. Definitely the director’s weakest effort since Death Proof – and at least that was more fun. Disappointing.
Sometimes there is a reason you don’t get around to watching a particular movie. Maybe it’s just passed you by, other movies have caught your interest more … or something is trying to tell you, it’s not really as good as you’ve heard. This is one such movie.
Johnny Depp plays undercover FBI agent Donnie Brasco who gets embroiled in the goings on of a gang in New York and gets mentored by aging mobster Lefty (Al Pacino). Based in a true story this is of course an intriguing set up and makes for at first engrossing viewing. Pacino this time around isn’t playing the boss, the main guy, but more an always overlooked and fairly disgruntled ‘hood with one eye on a boat trip out of town, and another on the boss’s job. It’s definitely an interesting change of pace for the usually loud and brash actor. Depp is the confident, slightly cock-sure guy who thinks he’s got it all under control, as his family life begins to fall apart and he gets pulled further and further into the underworld. Michael Madsen is on hand as the guy everyone fears and looks up to.
Depp & Pacino’s friendship holds this together well, but isn’t the most convincing, as Lefty seems to take much of Donnie at face value despite many moments that should have lead him to question the guy’s identity. There is however plenty of tension as Donnie juggles his family life with that of the mob and tries to keep one step ahead of everyone else as the FBI increasingly pressure him for results.
The biggest issue is the supporting cast. The surrounding actors are plucked from the poor-man’s mob actor barrel, lacking much of the menace or presence of a Joe Pesci or Harvey Keitel. British director Mike Newell goes for a realistic style and avoids much of the grandeur or energy of other great mob movies like Goodfellas. With only smattering of violence and a script that often felt like it was satirizing the world it was depicting (how many times do we hear ‘forget about it’ ?), something about this just never came to life. Add an ending that seriously lacked the big pay-off I’d been lead to believe was coming … and I came away rather disappointed.
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