4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Lance Henriksen 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, Lance Henriksen is 80 years old!  In honor of this day, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Dog Day Afternoon (1975, dir by Sidney Lumet)

Near Dark (1987, dir by Kathryn Bigelow)

Dead Man (1995, dir by Jim Jarmusch)

Mom and Dad (2017, dir by Brian Taylor)

4 Shots From 4 Films: In Memory of Martin Bregman


Long-time producer Martin Bregman died yesterday at the age of 92.  Bregman, who started out as a talent agent, was well-known for producing several of Al Pacino’s best films.  This edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films is dedicated to his memory.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Serpico (1973, directed by Sideny Lumet)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975, directed by Sidney Lumet)

Scarface (1983, directed by Brian De Palma)

Carlito’s Way (1993, directed by Brian De Palma)

 

 

Rest In Peace: Sidney Lumet


Sad news came across the news wire this morning as it was confirmed that one of the most esteemed filmmaker in America has passed away at the age of 86. Sidney Lumet was considered by many as one of the best filmmakers of all-time. He definitely is one of the best, if not the best, American filmmaker of all-time.

Lumet was quite prolific as a filmmaker since he began to work behind the camera starting in 1957 with the classic drama 12 Angry Men and ending with his most recent work in 2007 with Before the Devil Knows Your Dead. In between these two films he would direct another 43 films with all of them received positively by critics and audiences everywhere. He was the consummate professional and never waited for the perfect project to come along. He always went into a film project because he either liked the script or, barring being in one which didn’t have a script he liked, it had actors he wanted to work with or he wanted to test his abilities as a filmmaker with new techniques.

Sidney Lumet began his career directing Off-Broadway plays and summer stock productions. He would soon move into directing tv shows in 1950. It would be his time as a tv director where turn-arounds between episodes were so short that a director had to work quite fast that he would earn the reputation as a filmmaker who didn’t spend too much time shooting too many takes of a scene. Lumet became known as a filmmaker who would shoot one to two takes of a scene and move onto the next. Another tool he learned as a tv director that served him well once he moved into film was to rehearse for several weeks with his actors the script before starting up actual production behind the camera.

It was in 1957 when he finally moved into filmmaking with 12 Angry Men (itself previously a teleplay for a TV drama) which would catapult him into prominence in the film community. The film was well-received and still considered by many as one of the most influential films of its kind as it highlighted social injustice in a time when such themes were not considered profitable by studios and the people who ran them. This was the film which would help build the foundation of Lumet’s filmmaking-style as he would continue to use filmmaking as a way to tell the audience about social injustices not just in his preferred film location of New York, but in America and the world, in general. Some of the best films in American history were done by him during the 1970’s when he would take the chaos and public distrust of long-standing public institutions in the US and crafted three of the finest films of the 70’s and America as it was during that decade with Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and Network.

Sidney Lumet’s legacy as a filmmaker will continue to inspire young filmmakers long after his passing. He was a man who looked at filmmaking as an artform and not just a way to entertain the audience. His films never talked down or pandered to the very general public who watched them unlike some of the filmmakers working in the industry today. His legacy as being the consummate “actor’s director” meant that one didn’t need to be dictatorial with his cast and crew to create a great piece of filmmaking. That there were other ways to make a film and do it in such a way that everyone were still able to give their best without being alienated to do so.

My very first experience when it came to Sidney Lumet had to have been watching his Cold War classic, Fail-Safe, in high school history and it was one of those films which got me looking at film as something more than a form of entertainment. Here was a film that was entertaining but also one so well-made and acted that it’s ideas and themes were not lost. It opened up my eyes to the possibility of film as a medium that could be used to teach, raise issues to debate in society and highlight both the good and the bad of the human experience.

Sidney Lumet has made such an impact not just on those who were fans of films and grow up to become players in the industry, but also those people who would work in other fields of life whether they were lawyers, judges, police officers or politicians (professionals he would use over and over in his films throughout his career). Even Supreme Court Justice SOnia Sotomayor would look at Lumet as an inspiring figure in convincing her that she made the correct choice in choosing law as the path for her professional life.

I find it one of the most fitting tribute for Sidney Lumet that his time as a filmmaker and doing what he enjoyed doing the most became inspirational for people of all color, stripe and creed. This was a man who didn’t just take from the public but gave back just as much in the end. America has truly lost one of its best artists.

Serpico

The Hill

Dog Day Afternoon

Network

The Verdict

Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead

Film Review: Dog Day Afternoon (dir. by Sidney Lumet)


Last night, as part of my continuing mission to see every film ever nominated for best picture, I watched Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day AfternoonDog Day Afternoon was released in 1975.  Though nominated for best picture, it lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

In Dog Day Afternoon, Al Pacino plays Sonny, a nervous Viet Nam vet who, along with the dim-witted and possibly crazy Sal (John Cazale), attempts to rob a bank.  Unfortunately for him, Sonny doesn’t really know what he’s doing and literally within minutes of him first drawing his gun, the bank is surrounded by cops.  The robbery quickly descends into a hostage situation.  As Pacino negotiates with a NYC police detective (Charles Durning), a crowd of onlookers gathers around the bank and starts to cheer with every defiant word that comes out of Sonny’s mouth.  Sonny discovers he likes his new-found fame.  In the film’s most famous scene, he stands outside the bank and leads the crowd in a chant of “Attica!  Attica!”   Eventually, Durning learns that Pacino’s motive for robbing the bank was to steal enough money for his suicidal lover (Chris Sarandon) to get a sex change operation.  However, now that the robbery has failed, Pacino has a new plan.  He demands a flight out of the country.  Meanwhile, the hostages inside the bank start to form their own odd kinship with the two bank robbers and Durning finds himself being challenged by the F.B.I., who have a much more drastic plan for how to end the situation.

Dog Day Afternoon is a remarkable film, a dark comedy of desperation and human nature that, by the final scene, reaches a certain tragic grandeur.  Sidney Lumet (who made his directorial debut in 1957 with 12 Angry Men and whose most recent film, Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, was released 51 years later) was one of the most important (if underrated) filmmakers of the 1970s and he proves it here.  From the opening montage of New York City looking so wonderfully sordid at the height of the grindhouse era to Pacino’s bumbling initial attempt to rob the bank to the film’s violent and abrupt conclusion, Lumet captures your attention and, much like Al Pacino in this movie, he holds it hostage until the movie ends. 

Dog Day Afternoon is probably one of the best acted films that I’ve ever seen.  This is one of those films where every role — regardless of how large or how small — fills like an actual human being.  By the end of the film, you feel as if you know the bank managers and the tellers almost as well as you know Pacino, Durning, Sarandon, and Cazale.  Pacino is simply amazing here, giving a nervous, jittery performance as a character who manages to be both selfish and selfless at the same time.  Durning, meanwhile, is hilarious as the frazzled detective who finds himself steadily overwhelmed by the circus around him.  Much as you can’t help but root for Pacino no matter how self-absorbed he might act, you can’t help but sympathize with During, even if he is a member of the establishment.  As Pacino’s transsexual lover, Sarandon plays his role with a fragile dignity that prevents the role from becoming a stereotype.  However, for me, the film truly belongs to John Cazale who is both scary and oddly child-like as Sal.  As seen below, Cazale improvised one of the best lines in the movie when he replies to Pacino’s question regarding to which country Cazale wants to make his escape.

Now, this is going to be difficult for me to admit but, as thrilling as it was to watch Pacino shout, “Attica!  Attica!,” I honestly had no idea why that phrase was the one he chose to use to work up the crowd.  In fact, if I had written this review right after seeing (or while watching) the film last night, I probably would have doubled embarrassed myself by claiming that Pacino was shouting “Ateka.”  However, for once, I decided to be a responsible reviewer and I actually did some research as opposed to just going with my first conclusion.  So, as a result of this film, I can now say that I know about the Attica Prison Riots of 1971.

But what’s truly significant about that “Attica” chant is that it’s the only part of this film (beyond a few fashion choices) that feels dated.  As I watched the movie, it was easy for me to imagine myself jumping on twitter and seeing “#Attica” as a trending topic.  We’ve all seen the famous “Attica!” scene in countless compilations but what’s often forgotten is how that sequence ends.  When Pacino, obviously a bit star struck by all the attention, goes outside and start chanting a second time, he is suddenly tackled from behind by one of the bystanders who has decided to play hero.  And as Pacino goes down to the ground, the same crowd that was previously cheering him now cheers for the new object of their affection.  If nothing else, Dog Day Afternoon showed why sometimes we all need to escape to Wyoming.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (dir. by Richard Shepard)


Despite only appearing in 5 films and dying 8 years before I was born, John Cazale is one of my favorite actors.  You might not recognize his name but, if you love the films of the 70s, you know who John Cazale is because he appeared in some of the most iconic films of the decade.  Though he’s probably best known for playing poor Fredo in first two Godfather films, Cazale also appeared in The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter.  All five of his films were Oscar-nominated for best picture and three of them won.  All five are, in their own individual ways, classics of modern cinema and, though he was never more than a supporting player, Cazale gave performances of such unexpected emotional depth that he elevated each of these films just by his very presence.  Tragically, Cazale died at the age of 42 of lung cancer.  At the time, he had just finished filming The Deer Hunter and he was engaged to marry an up-and-coming actress named Meryl Streep.

I Knew It Was You is a documentary that both attempts to tell the story of Cazale’s life as well as pay tribute to him an actor.  While it fails somewhat to do the former, it succeeds flawlessly as a tribute.  The film is filled with footage of Cazale’s legendary performances and watching these clips, you’re struck by not only Cazale’s talent but his courage as well.  As more than one person comments during the documentary, it takes a lot of guts to so completely inhabit a role like The Godfather’s Fredo Corleone.  While other actors might be tempted to overplay a character like Fredo (essentially winking at the audience as if to say, “I’m not a weakling like this guy,”) Cazale was willing to completely inhabit his characters, brining to life both the good and the bad of their personalities.  Watching the clips, you realize that Cazale, as an actor, really was becoming stronger and stronger with each performance.  On a sadder note, this documentary make it  painfully obvious just how sick Cazale was in The Deer Hunter.  The contrast between the nervous, lumbering Cazale of Dog Day Hunter and his gaunt, unbearably sad appearance in The Deer Hunter is simply heart breaking.

The documentary is full of interviews with actors and directors who either worked with or were inspired by John Cazale and you’re immediately struck by the affection that they all still obviously feel for him even 30 years after his death.  Among those interviewed are Steve Buscemi, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, Sam Rockwell, and Richard Dreyfuss.  (I thought I knew every bit of Godfather trivia but I learned something new from this film when I found out that Richard Dreyfuss came close to being Fredo before Coppola saw Cazale in a play.)   Perhaps most interesting are the interviews where actors like Pacino, De Niro, and Gene Hackman talk about how acting opposite John Cazale caused them to give better performances than they might have otherwise.  If nothing else, it’s a good reminder that a classic film is, more often than not, a collaborative effort.

Where this documentary drops the ball is in detailing who Cazale was as a person.  Though everyone’s affection for him is obvious, we learn little about what drove the man who was so sad and tragic as Fredo Corleone.  Cazale’s upbringing is covered in about 2 minutes of flashy graphics and his untimely death (and his struggle to complete his Deer Hunter role) is also covered a bit too quickly.  There’s a fascinating and inspiring story there but this documentary only hints at it.  For reasons I still can’t figure out, this thing only lasts 40 minutes.  Even just an extra 15 minutes would have been helpful.

Hollywood director Brett Ratner is also interviewed and I imagine this probably has something to do with the fact that Ratner co-produced this documentary.  So, I guess Ratner is a Cazale fan and good for him but it’s still kinda jarring to see him there with directors like Lumet and actors like Pacino and De Niro.  Ratner, to be honest, is the only one of the people interviewed who actually comes across as having nothing of value to say.  Which isn’t all that surprising when you consider that Ratner is pretty much the golden child of bland, mainstream filmmaking right now.

Still, even if it never reaches the heights of Werner’s Herzog’s My Best Fiend, I still have to recommend I Knew It Was You as a touching tribute to a truly great actor.  As a bonus, the DVD contains two short films featuring a very young and intense John Cazale.  Watching him, you can’t help but mourn that he wasn’t in more movies but you’re so thankful for the legendary performances that he was able to give us.