10 Shots From 10 Horror Films: 1975 — 1977


4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we take a look at three very important years: 1975, 1976, and 1977!

10 Shots From 10 Films: 1975 — 1977

Deep Red (1975, dir by Dario Argento, DP: Luigi Kuveiller)

Trilogy of Terror (1975, dir by Dan Curtis. DP: Paul Lohmann)

Eaten Alive (1976, dir by Tobe Hooper. DP: Robert Caramico)

The Omen (1976, dir by Richard Donner, DP: Gilbert Taylor)

Carrie (1976, dir by Brian De Palma, DP: Mario Tosi)

Shock (1977, dir by Mario Bava, DP: Alberto Spagnoli)

The Hills Have Eyes (1977, dir by Wes Craven, DP: Eric Saarinen)

Suspiria (1977, dir by Dario Argento, DP: Luciano Tuvalia)

Eraserhead (1977, directed by David Lynch, DP: Frederick Elmes and Herbert Cardwell)

Shock Waves (1977, dir by Ken Wiederhorn, DP: Reuben Trane)

6 Shots From 6 Films: Special Al Pacino Edition


4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films is just what it says it is, 4 (or more) shots from 4 (or more) of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films lets the visuals do the talking.

With all the excitement (or not) surrounding the Oscars, it might be easy to overlook the fact that today is also the birthdays of one of the greatest and most iconic American actors of all time!  We cannot let this day end without wishing a happy birthday to the one and only Al Pacino!

In others words, it’s time for….

6 Shots From 6 Al Pacino Films

The Godfather (1972, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, DP: Gordon Willis)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975, dir by Sidney Lumet, DP: Victor J. Kemper)

Scarface (1983, dir by Brian DePalma, DP: John A. Alonzo)

Heat (1995, dir by Michael Mann, DP: Dante Spinotti)

The Devil’s Advocate (1997, dir by Taylor Hackford, DP: Andrzej Bartkowiak)

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019, dir by Quentin Tarantino, DP: Robert Richardson)

 

 

An Offer You Can Do Whatever You Want With #21: Carlito’s Way (dir by Brian De Palma)


It’s been a week so I guess it’s time for me to get back to reviewing mob movies, right?  Usually, I do my best not to take such a long break in-between reviewing films — especially when it’s a themed-series of reviews — but I just got busy this week.  It happens.  Luckily, even when we get busy, the movie’s remain ready to be watched and reviewed.

Last week, I reviewed Scarface and The Untouchables, two gangster films from Brian De Palma.  It only seems right to return to my look at the gangster genre by considering another Brian De Palma film.  Released in 1993, Carlito’s Way reunites De Palma with Scarface’s Al Pacino.  In Scarface, Pacino played a Cuban named Tony who was determined to get into the drug trade.  In Carlito’s Way, Pacino plays a Puerto Rican named Carlito who is desperate to escape the drug trade.

Carlito’s Way opens with Carlito getting released from prison in 1975.  He’s spent the past five years serving time on a drug conviction.  Originally, Carlito was sentenced to 30 years but his friend and attorney, David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn), managed to get the conviction thrown out on a technicality.  Now a free man, Carlito finds himself torn between two options.  He can either get involved, once again, in the drug trade or he can go straight.  Returning to his life of crime will mean once again doing something that he’s good at but it will also require him to deal with people who he can’t stand, like the sleazy Benny Blanco (John Leguizamo).  Going straight will mean escaping from New York with his girlfriend, a dancer named Gail (Penelope Ann Miller).  The problem is that it takes money to start a new life and there are people in New York who have no intention of allowing Carlito to leave.

Of the three De Palma-directed gangster films that I’ve recently watched, Carlito’s Way is probably the weakest.  De Palma has always been a frustratingly uneven director and Carlito’s Way contains some of his worst work and some of his best.  For instance, there’s a brilliant sequence where Carlito goes to a hospital to get revenge on someone who betrayed him and it is perhaps one of DePalma’s best set pieces.  But then there’s other scenes where DePalma’s trademark style feels rather empty and counterproductive.  Just when you’re starting to sympathize with Carlito’s predicament, DePalma will suddenly toss in a fancy camera trick and remind you that you’re just watching a film and that Carlito Brigante is just a character in that film.  That technique worked well in the satiric Scarface and the mythological Untouchables but it often feels unnecessary in Carlito’s Way.  

Al Pacino plays Carlito and, like DePalma’s direction, the end result is a bit uneven.  On the one hand, Pacino and Penelope Ann Miller have a likable chemistry, even if Carlito and Gail don’t really make sense as a couple.  On the other hand, this is one of those films where Pacino does a lot of yelling.  Sometimes it works and sometimes, it’s just too theatrical to be effective.  It’s hard not to compare Pacino’s performance here with his slyly humorous work in Scarface.  Tony Montana yelled because he genuinely enjoyed getting on people’s nerves.  The way that Tony expressed himself told us everything that we needed to know about the character.  Carlito yells because that was Al Pacino’s trademark at the time the film was made.

The best thing about the film is Sean Penn’s performance as David Kleinfeld.  Kleinfeld is one of the sleaziest character to ever appear in a movie and Penn seems to be having a good time playing him.  (Watching the film, I found myself wishing that Penn was willing to have that much fun with all of his roles.)  Penn doesn’t make Kleinfeld into a straight-out villain.  Instead, he portrays Kleinfeld as being a somewhat nerdy guy who thought it would be fun to pretend to be a gangster and who has snorted too much cocaine to understand the amount of trouble that he’s brought upon himself.  Just check out Penn in the scene where he’s dancing at a disco.  There’s a joy to Penn’s performance in Carlito’s Way that you typically don’t see from him as an actor.  He’s actually fun to watch in Carlito’s Way.

It’s a flawed film but fortunately, the movie’s good moments are strong enough to help carry the audience over the weaker moments.  The movie often threatens to collapse under the weight of its own style but it seems like whenever you’re on the verge of giving up on the film, De Palma’s kinetic camerawork will calm down enough to allow you to get at least mildly invested in Carlito’s predicament or Sean Penn’s amoral dorkiness will create an amusing moment and you’ll think to yourself, “Okay, let’s keep giving this a chance.”  Carlito’s Way may not be an offer that you can’t refuse but it’s still fairly diverting.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface (1932)
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone
  16. Love Me or Leave Me
  17. Murder, Inc.
  18. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
  19. Scarface (1983)
  20. The Untouchables

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #20: The Untouchables (dir by Brian DePalma)


“Let’s do some good!” Eliot Ness shouts as he and a platoon of Chicago cops raid what they believe is a bootlegger’s warehouse.

That line right there tells you everything that you need to know about the 1987 film, The Untouchables.  In real life, Eliot Ness was known to be an honest member of law enforcement (which did make him a bit of a rarity in 1920s Chicago) but he was also considered to be something of a self-promoter, someone who tried to leverage his momentary fame into an unsuccessful political career.  In the 50s, after Ness had lost most of his money due to a series of bad investments and his own alcoholism, Ness wrote a book about his efforts to take down Al Capone in Chicago.  That book was called The Untouchables and though Ness died of a heart attack shortly before it was published, it still proved popular enough to not only rehabilitate Ness’s heroic image but also to inspire both a television series and the movie that I’m currently reviewing.

None of that is to say that Ness didn’t play a role in Al Capone’s downfall.  He did, though it’s since been argued that Ness had little to do with actual tax evasion case that led to Capone going to prison.  It’s just that, in real life, Eliot Ness was a complicated human being, one who had his flaws.  In The Untouchables, Kevin Costner plays him as a beacon of midwestern integrity, a Gary Cooper-type who has found himself in the very corrupt city of Chicago in the very corrupt decade of the 1920s.  The film version of Eliot Ness has no flaws, beyond his naive belief that everyone is as determined to “do some good” as he is.

So, The Untouchables may not be historically accurate but it’s still an entertaining film.  It’s less concerned with the reality of Eliot Ness’s life and more about the mythology that has risen up around the roaring 20s.  Everything about the film is big and operatic.  In the role of Al Capone, Robert De Niro sneers through every scene with the self-satisfaction of a tyrant looking over the kingdom that he’s just conquered.  While Costner’s Ness tells everyone to do some good, De Niro’s Capone uses a baseball bat to keep his underlings in line.  He goes to the opera and cries until he’s told that one of Ness’s men has been killed.  Then a big grin spreads out across his face.  It’s not exactly a subtle performance but then again, The Untouchables is not exactly a subtle movie.  It’s not designed to be a film that makes you think about whether or not prohibition was a good law.  Instead, everything is bigger-than-life.  It’s a film that takes place in a dream world that appears to have sprung from mix of old movies and American mythology.

In real life, Ness had ten agents working under him.  They were all selected because they were considered to be honest lawmen and they were nicknamed The Untouchables after it was announced to the press that Ness had refused a bribe from one of Capone’s men.  In the film, Ness only has three men working underneath him and they’re all recognizable types.  Sean Connery won an Oscar for playing Jmmy Malone, the crusty old beat cop who teaches Ness about the Chicago Way.  A young and incredibly hot Andy Garcia plays George Stone, the youngest of the Untouchables.  Best of all is Charles Martin Smith, cast as Oscar Wallace, a mild-mannered accountant who first suggests that Capone must be cheating on his taxes.  There’s a great scene in which the Untouchables intercept a liquor shipment on the Canadian border, all while riding horses.  Sitting on the back of his galloping horse and trying not to fall off, both Oscar Wallace and the actor playing him appear to be having the time of their lives.  For Oscar (and probably for much of the audience), it’s a fantasy come to life, a chance to “do some good.”

The Untouchables was directed by Brian DePalma and his stylish approach to the material is perfect for the film’s story.  DePalma fills the film with references to other movies, some from the gangster genre and some not.  (In one of the film’s most famous sequence, DePalma reimagines Battleship Potemkin‘s massacre on The Odessa Steps as a shoot-out between Eliot Ness and Capone’s men.)  DePalma’s kinetic style reminds us that The Untouchables is less about history and more about how we imagine history.  In reality, Capone was succeeded by Frank Nitti and The Chicago Outfit continued to thrive even in Capone’s absence.  In the film, Nitti (played by Billy Drago) brags about killing one of the Untouchables and, as a result, is tossed off the roof of a courthouse by Eliot Ness.  It’s not historically accurate but it makes for a crowd-pleasing scene.

Big, operatic, and always entertaining, The Untouchables is an offer that you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface (1932)
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone
  16. Love Me or Leave Me
  17. Murder, Inc.
  18. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
  19. Scarface (1983)

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #19: Scarface (dir by Brian DePalma)


“Hello to my little friend!”

Hi, little friend….

BOOM!

The 1983 film, Scarface, is a misunderstood film.  As we all know, it’s the story of Tony Montana (Al Pacino), who comes to Miami from Cuba along with his friend, Manny (Steven Bauer).  In return for murdering a former member of Castro’s government, Tony is given a job working for Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia).  When it becomes obvious that Tony is becoming too ambitious and might become a threat to him, Frank attempts to have Tony killed.  However, the assassination attempt fails, Tony murders Frank, and then Tony becomes Miami’s richest and most powerful crime lord.  Soon, Tony is burying his face in a mountain of cocaine while making deals with a sleazy Bolivian drug lord named Alejandro Sosa (Paul Shenar).  Tony also marries Frank’s mistress, Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfieffer), though it’s obvious from the start the the only person that Tony truly loves is his sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio).  Anyway, it all eventually leads to a lot of violence and a lot of death.  Even F. Murray Abraham ends up getting tossed out of a helicopter, which is unfortunate since his character was a lot of fun.

Scarface is a famous film, largely because of Oliver Stone’s quotable dialogue and the no holds barred direction of Brian DePalma.  However, I think that people get so caught up on the fact that this is a classic gangster film that they miss the fact that Scarface is also an extremely dark comedy.  It satirizes the excess of the 80s.  Once Tony reaches the top of the underworld, he becomes a parody of the nouveau riche.  He moves into a gigantic house and proceeds to decorate it in the most tasteless way possible and there’s something oddly charming about this crude, not particularly bright man getting excited over the fact that he can finally afford to buy a tiger.  Towards the end of the film, there’s a scene where Tony rants while lounging in an indoor hot tub while Elvira languidly snorts cocaine and complains about the crudeness of his language and, at that moment, Scarface becomes a bit of a domestic comedy.  Tony’s reached the top of his profession, just to discover that it takes more than a live-in tiger and a wardrobe of wide lapeled suits to achieve true happiness.  So, he ends up sitting glumly in his office with a mountain of cocaine rising up in front of him.  “The world is yours” may be Tony’s motto but it turns out that the world is extremely tacky.  For all of his attempts to recreate himself as a wealthy and sophisticated man, Tony is still just a barely literate criminal with a nasty scar and a sour disposition.  The only thing he’s gotten for all of his ruthless ambition is an order of ennui with a cocaine appetizer.

I’ve always found Brian DePalma to be an uneven director.  He has a very distinct style and sometimes that style is perfectly suited to the story that he’s telling (i.e., Carrie) and sometimes, all of that style just seems to get in the way (i.e. The Fury).  Scarface, however, is the ideal story for DePalma’s over-the-top aesthetic.  DePalma’s style may be excessive but Scarface is a film about excess so it’s a perfect fit.  For that matter, you could say the same thing about Oliver Stone’s screenplay.  Stone has since stated that he was using almost as much cocaine as Tony Montana while he wrote the script.  The end result of the combination of Stone’s script, DePalma’s hyperactive direction, Pacino’s overpowering lead performance, and Giorgio Moroder’s propulsive score is a film that feels as if every minute is fueled by cocaine.  It’s not just a film that’s about drugs.  It’s also a film that feels like a drug.

Scarface is a big movie.  It runs nearly three hours, following Tony from his arrival in the United States to his final moments in his mansion, taking hundreds of bullets while grandly announcing that he’s still standing.  (Even after all of the bad things that Tony has done — poor Manny! — it’s impossible not to admire his refusal to go down.)  It’s also a difficult movie to review, largely because almost everyone’s seen it and already has an opinion.  Personally, I think the film gets off to a strong start.  I think the scenes of Tony ruthlessly taking control of Frank’s empire are perfectly handled and I love the scenes where Pacino and Steven Bauer just bounce dialogue off of each other.  They’re like a comedy team who commits murder on the side.  I also loved the “Take it to the limit” montage, which belongs in the 80s Cinema Hall of Fame.  At the same time, I think the final third of the movie drags a bit and that Tony’s sudden crisis of conscience when he sees that a man that he’s supposed to murder has a family feels a bit forced.  It also bothers me that Elvira just vanishes from the film.  At the very least, the audience deserved more of an explanation as to where she disappeared to.

But no matter!  Flaws and all, Scarface is a violent satire that holds up surprisingly well.  Al Pacino’s unhinged performance as Tony Montana is rightly considered to be iconic.  Pacino’s gives such a powerhouse performance that it’s easy to forget that the rest of the cast is pretty impressive as well.  I particularly liked the wonderfully sleazy work of F. Murray Abraham and Paul Shenar.  That said, my favorite character in the film remains Elvira, if just because her clothes were to die for and she just seemed so incredibly bored with all of the violent men in her life.  She goes from being bored with Frank to being bored with Tony and how can you not admire someone who, even when surrounded by all Scarface’s excess, just refuse to care?

Scarface is an offer that you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface (1932)
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone
  16. Love Me or Leave Me
  17. Murder, Inc.
  18. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Vilmos Zsigmod Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today, we pay tribute to the legendary cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond.  Born 90 years ago today in Hungary, Zsigmond got his start in the 60s with low-budget films like The Sadist but he went on to become one of the most in-demand cinematographers around.  In fact, of all the people who started their career working on a film that starred Arch Hall, Jr.,  it’s hard to think of any who went on to have the type of success that Zsigmond did.

Zsigmond won one Oscar, for his work on Close Encounters of Third Kind.  He was nominated for three more.  He also received a BAFTA award for his work on The Deer Hunter and was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Stalin.  He’s considered to be one of the most influential cinematographers of all time.

In honor of the memory of Vilmos Zsigmond, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Long Goodbye (1973, dir by Robert Altman, DP: Vilmos Zsigmond)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, dir by Steven Spielberg, DP: Vilmos Zsigmond)

The Deer Hunter (1978, dir by Michael Cimino, DP: Vilmos Zsigmond)

Blow Out (1981, dir by Brian DePalma, DP: Vilmos Zsigmond)

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1970s


David Niven at the 1974 Oscars

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1970s.

Dirty Harry (1971, dir by Don Siegel)

“Well, I’m all torn up about his rights….” Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) says after being informed that he’s not allow to torture suspects for information.  Unfortunately, in this case, the Academy agreed with all the critics who called Harry a menace and this classic and influential crime film was not nominated.  Not even Andy Robinson picked up a nomination for his memorably unhinged turn as Scorpio.

Carrie (1976, dir by Brian DePalma)

The Academy liked Carrie enough to nominate both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively.  The film itself, however, went unnominated.  It’s enough to make you want to burn down the prom.

Suspiria (1977, dir by Dario Argento)

In a perfect world, Goblin would have at least taken home an Oscar for the film’s score.  In the real world, unfortunately, Argento’s masterpiece was totally snubbed by the Academy.

Days of Heaven (1978, dir by Terence Malick)

If it were released today, Terence Malick’s dream-like mediation of life during the depression would definitely be nominated.  In 1978, perhaps, the Academy was still not quite sure what to make of Malick’s beautiful but often opaque cinematic poetry.

Halloween (1978, dir by John Carpenter)

“The night he came home!” should have been “The night he went to the Oscars!”  The film received no nominations and it’s a shame.  Just imagine Donald Pleasence winning for his performance as Loomis while John Carpenter racked up almost as many nominations as Alfonso Cuaron did this year for Roma.

Dawn of the Dead (1978, dir by George Romero)

If the Academy wasn’t willing to nominate Night of the Living Dead, there was no way that they would go for the film’s longer and bloodier sequel.  But perhaps they should have.  Few films are cited as an inspiration as regularly as Dawn of the Dead.

Up next, in about an hour, the 1980s!

 

Horror Scenes That I Love: Carrie Destroys The Prom


Today’s horror scene that I love comes from 1976’s Carrie.

This scene starts out on a note of happiness with Carrie (Sissy Spacek) and Tommy (William Katt) being named as Queen and King of the Prom.  Things, however, get a bit ominous when Sue (Amy Irving) notices that bucket of pig’s blood and Nancy Allen and John Travolta hanging out underneath the stage.  Things get even worse when the coach (Betty Buckley) refuses to listen to Sue and tosses her out of the gym.

And then suddenly, there’s blood everywhere and Piper Laurie’s chanting, “They’re all going to laugh at you …. they’re all going to laugh at you….”

Is everyone really laughing at Carrie?  I believe some of them are.  Norma is definitely laughing because I think the shot of the coach laughing is included to let us know that some of the laughter is strictly in Carrie’s mind.  Nothing about the character would lead us to suspect that the coach would laugh.  In fact, seeing as how the coach just threw out Sue, it’s debatable whether she would even be back among the crowd by the time the pig’s blood came down.

(Plus, would everyone be laughing even with Tommy, the most popular kid in school, lying dead on the stage?)

Anyway, regardless of whether they were all laughing or not, we all know what happens next!

4 Shots From 4 Mind Bending Films: Carrie, The Fury, Patrick Still Lives, Scanners


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

For today’s edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films, we celebrate films that demonstrate what the human mind can do when it’s angry and there’s stuff around that can explode.  These are….

4 Shots From 4 Mind Bending Films

Carrie (1976, dir by Brian DePalma)

The Fury (1979, dir by Brian DePalma)

Patrick Lives Again (1980, dir by Mario Landi)

Scanners (1981, dir by David Cronenberg)

Slashed To Thrill: Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL (Filmways 1980)


cracked rear viewer

Brian De Palma was a big deal back in the 70’s and 80’s, and his films like CARRIE, SCARFACE, and THE UNTOUCHABLES are still discussed. Yet works such as SISTERS, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, OBSESSION, BLOW OUT, and BODY DOUBLE seem unjustly neglected today, and some critics deride him for his over the top sex and violence. DRESSED TO KILL finds De Palma in full Hitchcock mode, an homage to PSYCHO that The Master of Suspense himself cited as more like a “fromage”, but one I find still entertaining.

The film begins with a sizzling hot shower scene with Angie Dickinson as Kate Miller, remarried mother of  science nerd Peter  (Keith Gordon, CHRISTINE ). Kate has problems in her marriage and with her own mom,  not to mention being a nymphomaniac! She’s seeing psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine ), but seemingly getting nowhere. We follow her to  New York’s…

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