Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Lenny (dir by Bob Fosse)

Yes, it’s true.¬† Long before the creator of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was even born, Lenny Bruce was a real comedian who was challenging the status quo and going to jail for using words in his routine that were, at the time, considered to be so obscene that they couldn’t even be uttered in public.¬† Today, of course, we hear those words and they’re so commonplace that we barely even notice.¬† But, in the 50s and the early 60s, it was not uncommon for Lenny Bruce to get arrested in the middle of his act.¬† Club owners could literally be fined for allowing Lenny Bruce to perform on their stage.¬† At the height of his fame, it was a struggle for Lenny to find anyone willing to even consider booking him.

Whether it was his intention or not, Lenny Bruce became one of the first great warriors for the 1st amendment.  It made him famous and a hero to many.  Many people also believe that the pressure of being under constant legal threat led to his death from a drug overdose in 1966.  Lenny Bruce was only 40 years old when he died but he inspired generations of comedians who came after him.  It can be argued that modern comedy started with Lenny Bruce.

Directed by Bob Fosse and based on a play by Julian Barry, 1974’s Lenny takes a look at Lenny Bruce’s life, comedy, legal battles, and eventual death.¬† As he would later do in the thematically similar Star 80, Fosse takes a mockumentary approach to telling his story.¬† Clips of Lenny Bruce (played by Dustin Hoffman) performing are mixed in with “interviews” with actors playing the people who knew him while he was alive.¬† Because the story is told out of chronological order, scenes of a young and enthusiastic Lenny are often immediately followed by scenes of a burned-out and bitter Lenny reading from the transcripts of his trial during his stand-up.¬† Fosse never forgets to show us the audience listening as Lenny does his act.¬† Most of them laugh at Bruce’s increasingly outrageous comments but, to his credit, Fosse never hesitates to show us the people who aren’t laughing.¬† Lenny Bruce, the film tells us, was too honest to ever be universally embraced.

The film doesn’t hesitate to portray Lenny Bruce’s dark side.¬† For much of the film, Lenny is not exactly a likable character.¬† Even before his first arrest, Lenny comes across as being a narcissist who is cruelly manipulative of his first wife, stripper Honey Harlow (Valerine Perrine).¬† As opposed to the somewhat dashing Lenny of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Dustin Hoffman’s Lenny Bruce comes across as someone who you would not necessarily want to be left alone with.¬† The film’s Lenny is a hero on stage and frequently a hypocrite in his private life but that seems to be the point of the movie.¬† Lenny argues that one of the reasons why Lenny Bruce could so perfectly call out society for being fucked up was because he was pretty fucked up himself.

As with all of his films, Lenny is as much about Bob Fosse as it is about Lenny Bruce.¬† As a director, Fosse often seems to be more interested in Bruce’s early days, when he was performing in low-rent strip clubs and trying to impress aging vaudevillians, than in Bruce’s later days as a celebrity.¬† (The world in which the young Lenny Bruce struggled was a world that Fosse knew well and its aesthetic was one to which he frequently returned in his films and stage productions.)¬† It’s also easy to see parallels between Lenny’s uneasy relationship with Honey and Bob Fosse’s own legendary partnership with Gwen Verdon.¬† The film’s grainy black-and-white cinematography captures not only the rough edges of Lenny’s life but also perhaps Fosse’s as well.¬† Just as Lenny Bruce performed confessional stand-up comedy, Lenny feels like confessional filmmaking.

Of course, it’s not always a pleasant film to watch.¬† Dustin Hoffman does a very good job of capturing Lenny Bruce’s drive but he doesn’t really have the natural comedic timing necessary to be totally convincing as a stand-up comedian.¬† (The film sometimes seems to forget that, as much as Lenny Bruce was admired for his first amendment activism, he was also considered to be a very funny stand-up.)¬† Still, it’s a valuable film to watch.¬† It’s a document of history, a reminder of a time when you actually could get arrested for saying the “wrong” thing.¬† Some people would say that we’re returning to those times and it’s easy to imagine that the real Lenny Bruce (as opposed to the idealized version of him) would not be welcome to perform on most college campuses today.¬† One can only imagine how modern audiences would react to a part of Lenny’s stand-up where he repeats several racial slurs over and over again.¬† (If Lenny Bruce had lived to get a twitter account, he would be getting cancelled every week.)¬† Lenny‘s vehement celebration of freedom of speech is probably more relevant in 2020 than it was in even 1974.

Lenny received several Oscar nominations, including best picture.  However, 1974 was also the year of both The Godfather, Part II and Chinatown so Lenny failed to win a single Oscar.

(Interestingly enough, Fosse’s previous film, Cabaret, was also prevented from winning the award for best picture by the first Godfather, though Fosse did win best director over Francis Ford Coppola.¬† Five¬†years after the release of Lenny, Fosse would make All That Jazz, which was partially based on his own health struggles that he suffered with during the filming Lenny.¬† In All That Jazz, Cliff Gorman — who starred in the stage production of Lenny — is frequently heard reciting a Lenny Bruce-style monologue about death.¬† Fosse’s All That Jazz would again compete with a Francis Ford Coppola production at the Oscars.¬† However, Kramer vs Kramer — starring Lenny‘s Dustin Hoffman — defeated both All That Jazz and Apocalypse Now for the big prize.¬† 22 years later, Chicago, which was based on Fosse’s legendary stage production and which¬†featuring the song that gave All That Jazz it’s name — would itself win best picture.)

Lisa Watches An Oscar Winner: Midnight Cowboy (dir by John Schlesinger)


Tonight, I watched the 1969 winner of the Oscar for Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy.

Midnight Cowboy is a movie about Joe Buck. ¬†Joe Buck is played by an impossibly young and handsome Jon Voight. ¬†Joe Buck — and, to be honest, just calling him Joe seems wrong, he is definitely a Joe Buck — is a well-meaning but somewhat dumb young man. ¬†He lives in Midland, Texas. ¬†He was raised by his grandmother. ¬†He used to go out with Annie (Jennifer Salt) but she eventually ended up being sent to a mental asylum after being raped by all of Joe Buck’s friend. ¬†Joe Buck doesn’t have many prospects. ¬†He washes dishes for a living and styles himself as being a cowboy. ¬†Being a Texan, I’ve known plenty of Joe Bucks.

Joe Buck, however, has a plan. ¬†He knows that he’s handsome. ¬†He’s convinced that all women love cowboys. ¬†So, why shouldn’t he hop on a bus, travel to New York City, and make a living having sex with rich women?

Of course, once he arrives in the city, Joe Buck discovers that New York City is not quite as inviting as he thought it would be.  He lives in a tiny and dirty apartment.  He can barely afford to eat.  Walking around the city dressed like a cowboy (and remember, this was long before the Naked Cowboy became one of the most annoying celebrities of all time) and randomly asking every rich woman that he sees whether or not she can tell him where he can find the Statue of Liberty, Joe Buck is a joke.  Even when he does get a customer (played, quite well, by Sylvia Miles), she claims not to have any money and Joe Buck feels so sorry for her that he ends up giving her his money.


As I watched the first part of the movie, it stuck me that the main theme of Midnight Cowboy appeared to be that, in 1969, New York City was literally Hell on Earth. ¬†But then Joe Buck has flashbacks to his childhood and his relationship with Annie and it quickly became apparent that Midland, Texas was Hell on Earth as well. ¬†Towards the end of the film, it’s suggested that Miami might be paradise but not enough to keep someone from dying on a bus.

Seriously, this is a dark movie.

Joe Buck eventually meets Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). ¬†Ratso’s real name is Enrico but, after taking one look at him, you can’t help but feel that he’s a perfect Ratso. ¬†Ratso is a con man. ¬†Ratso is a petty thief. ¬†Ratso knows how to survive on the streets but New York City is still killing him. ¬†As a child, Ratso had polio and now he walks with a permanent limp. ¬†He coughs constantly, perhaps because he has TB. ¬†Ratso becomes Joe Buck’s manager and roommate (and, depending on how you to interpret certain scenes and lines, perhaps more) but only after attempting to steal all of his money.

Unfortunately, Ratso is not much of a manager. ¬†Then again, Joe Buck is not much of a hustler. ¬†Most of his customers are men (including a student played by a young but recongizable Bob Balaban), but Joe Buck’s own sexual preference remaining ambiguous. ¬†Joe Buck is so quick to loudly say that he’s not, as Ratso calls him, a “fag” and that cowboys can’t be gay because John Wayne was a cowboy, that you can’t help but suspect that he’s in denial. ¬†When he’s picked up by a socialite played by Brenda Vaccaro, Joe Buck is impotent until she teases him about being gay. ¬†In the end, though, Joe Buck seems to view sex as mostly being a way to make money. ¬†As for Ratso, he¬†appears to almost be asexual. ¬†His only concern, from day to day, is survival.

Did I mention this is a dark movie?

And yet, as dark as it is, there are moments of humor. ¬†Joe Buck is incredibly dense, especially in the first part of the movie. ¬†(During the second half of the film, Joe Buck is no longer as naive and no longer as funny. ¬†It’s possible that he even kills a man, though the film is, I think, deliberately unclear on this point.) ¬†Ratso has a way with words and it’s impossible not to smile when he shouts out his famous “I’m walking here!” at a taxi. ¬†And, as desperate as Joe Buck and Ratso eventually become, you’re happy that they’ve found each other. ¬†They may be doomed but at least they’re doomed together.


There’s a lengthy party scene, one that features several members of Andy Warhol’s entourage. ¬†I was a bit disappointed that my favorite 60s icon, Edie Sedgwick, was nowhere to be seen. ¬†(But be sure to check out Ciao Manhattan, if you want to see what Edie was doing while Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo were trying not to starve.) ¬†But, as I watched the party scene, I was reminded that Midnight Cowboy is definitely a film of the 60s. ¬†That’s both a good and a bad thing. ¬†On the positive side, the late 60s and 70s were a time when filmmakers were willing to take risks. ¬†Midnight Cowboy could only have been made in 1969. ¬†At the same time, there’s a few moments when director John Schlesinger, in the style of many 60s filmmakers, was obviously trying a bit too hard to be profound. ¬†Some of the flashbacks and fantasy sequences veer towards the pretentious.

Fortunately, the performances of Voight and Hoffman have aged better than Schlesinger’s direction. ¬†Hoffman has the more flamboyant role (and totally throws himself into it) but it really is Voight who carries the film. ¬†Considering that he’s playing a borderline ludicrous character, the poignancy of Voight’s performance is nothing short of miraculous.

Midnight Cowboy was the first and only X-rated film to win best picture. ¬†By today’s standards, it’s a PG-13.

Quick Review: Kung Fu Panda 3 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh & Alessandro Carloni)

imagesHaving become the Dragon Warrior and the Champion of the Valley of Peace on many occasions, Po (Jack Black) has reached a point where its time for him to train others. All of this becomes complicated when Kai (J.K. Simmons), a former enemy of Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) returns to the Valley to capture the Chi of the new Dragon Warrior and anyone else that stands in his way.

The Legend of Korra geek in me hears the character of Tenzin whenever Simmons speaks in this film, only it’s Evil Tenzin vs. The Dragon Warrior. That alone was awesome.

Picking right up from Kung Fu Panda 2, Po is reunited with his birth father (Bryan Cranston), and discovers there are also other Pandas in the world. This, of course, causes a bit of tension for Po’s Goose Dad (James Hong) who raised him up until now. Can Po find a way to stop Kai? The theme of this film seems to be dealing with self discovery (as did the other films), but this focuses more on what we consider our Identity. Are we the role we take on from day to day at work or the role we have at home, or even a little of both? There’s also a nice family element to it as Po discovers what Panda life is like and deals with his Dads. Really young audiences may not exactly catch on to the theme, but there’s enough action and playful moments to keep them occupied.

On a visual level, the animation is beautiful. If you get a chance to see it in 3D, the Spirit Realm is a treat, with rocks and buildings floating around. The action scenes also move in a comic strip format, with the screen split in different ways to catch different elements. If you’re quick enough, you can catch it all. It can be jarring to anyone not used to it, I’d imagine. The Furious Five don’t have too much screen time in this one, save for Angelina Jolie’s Tigress, though it’s cute when you realize that some of the panda children in the village are played by the Jolie-Pitt kids. That was a nice discovery in the credits.

Musically, just like The Dark Knight Rises, Hans Zimmer takes what was a dual scoring effort (at least in the 2nd film) and makes it his. Though he‚Äôs assisted by Lorne Balfe (13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi), and drummer Sheila E. (Who worked with him on the Man of Steel score), it‚Äôs all Zimmer, really. Kai is given a nice theme to work with, one I can only describe as ‚ÄúJazz Badass with Kung-Fu Swagger‚ÄĚ and I enjoyed the music for the Panda village.

The only problem I had with Kung Fu Panda 3 was that it didn‚Äôt feel particularly epic in scope for me. In the first film, Tai Lung wanted to harness the power of the Dragon Scroll. In the second, the Peacock Shen brought cannons to decimate the Valley. This one was more personal and I enjoyed that, but it also felt like it could have been one of the Legends of Awesomeness episodes on Nickelodeon. It moved that quickly. Though it clocks in at an hour and 35 minutes ‚ÄĒ the same as the other films ‚ÄĒ it really whizzed by. It‚Äôs not a terrible thing at all, really, but I think I wanted something a little more.

Overall, Kung Fu Panda is a fun treat for the kids. While I didn’t go blind out of exposure to sheer awesomeness this time around, it gave me some inner peace and smiles.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #123: The Cobbler (dir by Thomas McCarthy)


Oh, Cobbler, Cobbler — what a frustrating film you are!

There was a time when everyone was excited about seeing The Cobbler.  It was originally scheduled to come out in 2014 and, along with Men, Women, & Children, it was supposed to be part of the dramatic recreation of Adam Sandler.

After all, one of the main reason why critics like me hate to see Adam Sandler devoting his time to stuff like That’s My Boy is because, in the past, Sandler has actually proven himself to be a surprisingly good and likable dramatic actor. ¬†Unfortunately, dramatic Sandler films never seem to make much money and, as a result, Sandler goes back to making films where he, David Spade, and Chris Rock play former high school classmates. ¬†If only one Sandler dramedy could be a success, we tell ourselves, then he’d never feel the need to make another movie like Jack and Jill

(And yes, I realize that’s probably wishful thinking on our part. ¬†Even if Adam Sandler somehow won an Oscar, I get the feeling he’d follow the win by starting work on Grown Ups 3….)

The Cobbler promised that not only would Sandler be playing a more low-key role than usual but he would also be directed by Thomas McCarthy, who previously directed the excellent The Visitor and Win Win.  Based on his previous films, McCarthy seemed to be the perfect filmmaker to give Adam Sandler some credibility.

And, let’s not forget, that not only would Sandler be working with Thomas McCarthy but Men, Women, & Children was being directed by Jason Reitman! ¬†At one point, it truly appeared that 2014 was going to be the year that we saw the rebirth of Adam Sandler.

And then Men, Women, & Children came out and was a disaster, despite the fact that Sandler got fairly good reviews. ¬†Meanwhile, rumors started to swirl that just maybe The Cobbler wasn’t as good as McCarthy’s previous film. ¬†When The Cobbler‘s release date was pushed back to 2015 … well, we all knew what that meant.

Anyway, The Cobbler was released in a few theaters earlier this year and on VOD. ¬†It’s now available on Netflix. ¬†I watched it last week and it’s really not as bad as I expected it to be. ¬†Of course, that’s not to say that it’s particularly good either. ¬†It’s not terrible but it is disappointing. ¬†Considering the director and the supporting cast (Dustin Hoffman, Steve Buscemi, Dan Stevens, and Melonie Diaz, who was way too good in Fruitvale Station for you not to regret how this film totally wastes her), The Cobbler should at least be interesting. ¬†Instead, it’s just kind of bland.

However, Adam Sandler does give a pretty good performance. ¬†In this film, he plays Max, a shy and emotionally withdrawn cobbler. ¬†He comes from a long line of cobblers and he inherited his store from his father (Dustin Hoffman). ¬†Years before the film begins, Max’s father mysteriously vanished. ¬†Now, Max spends his time going to and from work and taking care of his dementia-stricken mother. ¬†His only friend is Jimmy (Steve Buscemi), the paternal barber who works next door.

In the basement of Max’s shop, there’s an old stitching machine. ¬†About 30 minutes into the film, Max discovers that if be puts on a pair of shoes that have been repaired using the machine, he can physically transform into whoever owns the shoes. ¬†After experimenting with being different people, Max eventually puts on his father’s shoes. ¬†Transforming into his father, he has dinner with his mother.

The next morning, his mother dies. ¬†Max cannot even afford to buy her a good headstone. ¬†However, a local criminal (played by Method Man) has dropped off his shoes to be repaired. ¬†Perhaps, by wearing the criminal’s shoes, Max can come up with the money…

I’m probably making The Cobbler sound a lot more interesting than it actually is. ¬†And seriously, it sounds like it should a really good and thought-provoking movie. ¬†Unfortunately, McCarthy awkwardly tries to combine the broadly comedic elements (i.e., Sandler transforming into a variety of eccentric characters) with the dramatic (which includes not only Max’s anger at his father but a few murders as well). ¬†The film never finds a consistent tone and, as such, it remains an interesting idea in search of a stronger narrative. ¬†Watching the film as it wanders from scene to scene, it’s impossible not to mourn all of the missed opportunities.

But, as I said, Adam Sandler does well.  Hiding his face behind a beard and only occasionally offering up a sad smile, Sandler gives a low-key performance that is full of very genuine melancholy.  In this film, he proves that he can act when he wants to.  You just wish that the rest of The Cobbler lived up to his performance.

Unfortunately, as far as the box office is concerned, The Cobbler is the least financially successful film that Sandler has ever appeared in. ¬†This means that plans for Grown-Ups 3 are probably already underway…

(For those keeping track of the progress of Embracing The Melodrama Part II, we are now 123 reviews down with 3 to go.)

44 Days of Paranoia #16: Wag the Dog (dir by Barry Levinson)

For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we’re taking a look at Barry Levinson’s 1997 political satire, Wag The Dog.

Wag the Dog opens with a White House in crisis.  With two weeks to go until the Presidential election, it’s been discovered that the incumbent President has had a brief dalliance with a girl scout.  Up until the scandal became public, the President was enjoying at 17 point lead in the polls.  Now, that lead is about to evaporate unless something can be done to keep the American public from thinking about the President’s personal life.

Significantly, the President himself never appears on-screen.  We never learn his position on the issues.  We never hear about anything he’s done during his first term.  We don’t even know what political party he belongs to.  (However, his opponent is played by Craig T. Nelson so I’m going to assume that the President is a Democrat.  Because, seriously, it’s hard for me to imagine Nelson being anything other than a Republican…)  The President remains a shadowy and insubstantial figure who, in the end, represents nothing.

Instead of getting to know the President, we instead spend the film with the aides who have to clean up after his mess.  One of those aides, Winifred Ames (Anne Heche), calls in a legendary (and rather sinister) political PR man, Conrad Bean (Robert De Niro).  Conrad announces that the only way to save the campaign is to distract the American public with a quick and totally fake war with Albania.  Why Albania?  According to Conrad, Albania has a sinister name and nobody knows anything about it.

To help create this fake war, Conrad recruits Hollywood film producer, Stanley Motts¬†(a hilariously manic Dustin Hoffman).¬† Much as Conrad is a legend in politics, Stanley is a legend in Hollywood.¬† Stanley enthusiastically jumps into the project of creating a fake war of Albania, manufacturing everything from fake war footage to patriotic songs to¬†anything else necessary to rally the American public.¬† Denis Leary shows up as a mysterious figure known as the Fad King and¬†schemes how¬†to make¬†war with Albania the latest trend.¬† Willie Nelson sings a song to stir the spirit¬†of every patriotic American.¬† A very young Kirsten Dunst¬†is recruited to play a terrified orphan in staged Albanian atrocity footage.¬† A shell-shocked vet (Woody Harrelson) is cast as the Albanian War‚Äôs first hero.¬† Stanley greets every problem with an enthusiastic¬†exclamation of, “This is nothing!”

Along the way, a rather odd friendship develops between the secretive Conrad and the overly verbose Stanley.¬† However, when Stanley, who often laments that he‚Äôs never won an Oscar, starts to complain about the fact that he‚Äôs never going to get any recognition for his ‚Äúgreatest production,‚ÄĚ Conrad finds himself forced to reconsider their relationship.

Wag the Dog was first released in 1997 and, thanks to David Mamet’s darkly comedic script and Barry Levinson’s brisk direction, the film feels incredibly prophetic.  Indeed, all the film needs is for someone to mention making the war a trending topic and it would be impossible to tell that it was made 16 years ago.  Wag the Dog accomplishes the best thing that any political satire can hope to accomplish: it makes you question everything.  Whenever one watches a news report triumphantly bragging about the latest done strike, it’s hard not to feel that Stanley Motts would approve.

Other entries in the 44 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To

Lisa’s Thoughts On 10 Best Picture Nominees That She’s Recently Seen: The Alamo, Becket, Elmer Gantry, Gaslight, Gladiator, Kramer Vs. Kramer,Marty, Of Mice and Men, Out of Africa, and Wilson

Since it’s Oscar weekend, I’ve been watching past and present Best Picture nominees like crazy.¬† Here are my thoughts on ten of them.

The Alamo (1960, directed by John Wayne, lost to The Apartment) — I’m a Texan which means that I’m legally required to watch both this film and the 2004 remake whenever they show up on television.¬† Both films are way too long and feature way too many characters speaking speeches as opposed to dialogue but, if I had to choose, I would have to go with the 1960 version of the story.¬† The original Alamo might be heavy-handed, poorly paced, and awkwardly acted but at least it’s sincere in its convictions.¬† I always cry when Richard Widmark dies.

Becket (1964, directed by Peter Glenville,¬†lost to My Fair Lady) — This one is a personal favorite of mine.¬† The film is about the friendship and the eventual rivalry of King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) and Thomas Becket (Richard Burton).¬† Becket and Henry II start out the film drinking and whoring but eventually, Henry makes Becket Archbishop of Canterbury.¬† Becket, however, rediscovers his conscience and soon, Henry is famously asking, “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”¬† Becket¬†is an exciting historical drama and Peter O’Toole is at his absolute best as the flamboyantly decadent Henry.

Elmer Gantry (1960, directed by Richard Brooks, lost to The Apartment) — Burt Lancaster plays Elmer Gantry, a traveling salesman and con artist who ends up falling in love with a saintly evangelist (played by Jean Simmons).¬† Gantry soon starts preaching himself and soon has an army of loyal followers.¬† However, Gantry’s new career is threatened when¬†an ex-girlfriend-turned-prostitute¬†(Shirley Jones) pops up and starts telling people how Gantry “rammed the fear of God into” her.¬† With its unapologetically corrupt lead character and its looks at how commerce and religion are often intertwined, Elmer Gantry makes a perfect companion piece to Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.¬† Lancaster won an Oscar for his powerful and intense performance in the title role.

Gaslight (1944, directed by George Cukor, lost to Going My Way) — Evil Charles Boyer marries Ingrid Bergman and then attempts to drive her crazy.¬† Luckily, Inspector Joseph Cotten¬†is on the case.¬† Gaslight is, in many ways, an old-fashioned melodrama but it’s still a lot of fun to watch.¬† Boyer is a suave devil and Joseph Cotten (one of my favorite of the old film actors) is a dashing hero.

Gladiator (2ooo, directed by Ridley Scott, won¬†best picture) — One thing that I’ve recently discovered is that men love Gladiator.¬† Seriously, they obsess over this film and hold Russell Crowe’s surly gladiator up as some sort of mystical ideal and if you dare to say a word against it in their presence, be ready for big and long argument.¬† So, I won’t criticize Gladiator too much other than to say that the film has always struck me as being kinda overlong, that the CGI¬†is occasionally cartoonish,¬†and that, despite his fearsome reputation, Russell Crowe is a lot more interesting as an actor when he plays a thinker as opposed to a fighter.¬† Joaquin Phoenix, playing the Emperor Commodus,¬†is a lot of fun to watch.

Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979, directed by Robert Benton, won best picture) — Dustin Hoffman plays a workaholic New York advertising executive who, after his wife Meryl Streep leaves him, ends up as a single father.¬† Kramer Vs. Kramer¬†won best picture in 1979 but I have to admit that I didn’t care much for it.¬† Then again, I don’t think that I was the intended audience.¬† Instead, Kramer vs. Kramer¬†appears to have been made to appeal to men frustrated with women wanting to have a life outside of being a domestic servant.¬†¬†The film is well-acted though Hoffman’s character becomes insufferably smug once he gets comfortable with being a single father.

Marty (1955, directd¬†by Delbert¬†Mann, won¬†best picture) — Lonely butcher Marty (Ernest Borgnine) romantically pursues a shy school teacher named Clara (Betsy Blair).¬† However, Marty’s friends and his family don’t like Clara and Marty soon finds himself having to choose between them.¬† Marty¬†is a bit of an anomaly¬†when it comes to best picture winners.¬† It’s not an epic, it doesn’t claim to¬†solve any of the world’s problems, and it’s based on a tv show.¬† However, it’s also a sincerely sweet and heartfelt¬† film¬†and also¬†features excellent performances from Borgnine and Blair.

Of Mice and Men (1939, directed by Lewis Milestone, lost to Gone With The Wind) — “Tell me about the rabbits, George.”¬† Yes, it’s that film.¬† Smart and little George (Burgess Meredith) and big but simple Lenny (Lon Chaney, Jr.) are migrant farm workers who get a job working at ranch where Lenny ends up accidentally killing the rancher’s daughter-in-law.¬† Despite the fact that we all now¬†tend to naturally smirk when we hear anyone say “Tell me about the rabbits, George,” Of Mice and Men remains an effective tear-jerker and both Meredith and Chaney give strong performances.

Out of Africa (1985, directed by Sydney Pollack, won best picture) — I recently sat down to watch this film because 1) my aunts love this film and get excited whenever they see that it’s going to be on TV and 2) Out of Africa¬†was named the best film of the year I was born.¬† So, I sat down and watched it and then three or five hours later, I realized that the film was nearly over.¬† Anyway, the film is about a Danish baroness (Meryl Streep) who moves to a plantation in Africa and ends up having an affair with a British big game hunter.¬† The hunter is played by Robert Redford, who refuses to even try to sound British. (USA! USA! USA!)¬† Anyway, the film is pretty in that generic way that most best picture winners are but the film¬†ultimately suffers because its¬†difficult to care about any of the characters.¬† Streep acts the Hell out of her Danish accent but she and Redford (who seems to be bored with her) have absolutely no chemistry.¬†I saw one review online that dismissed Out of Africa as a “big budget Lifetime movie” but Lifetime movies are a lot more fun.

Wilson (1944, directed by Henry King, lost to Going My Way) — Wilson¬†is a two-and-a-half biopic about Woodrow Wilson and his presidential administration.¬† Wilson is well-played by Alexander Knox, who later showed up in countless exploitation films.¬† Wilson shows up on cable occasionally and every time¬†I’ve seen it, I’ve had mixed feelings about it.¬† The critical part of me tends to be dismissive of this film because it’s way too long, extremely stagey, and it glosses over the fact that Wilson was a virulent racist who idolized the Ku Klux Klan.¬† However, as a secret history nerd, I can’t help but enjoy seeing a film where Vincent Price plays the Secretary of the Treasury.

Two Post Presidents Day Reviews: Frost/Nixon (dir. by Ron Howard) and All The President’s Men (dir. by Alan J. Pakula)

“Now Watergate doesn’t bother me/does your conscience bother you?” — Lynard¬†Skynard, Sweet Home Alabama

As part of my continuing quest to see and review every film ever nominated for best picture, I want to devote my first post Presidents Day post to two films: 2008’s Frost/Nixon and 1976’s All The President’s Men.

During my sophomore year of college, I had a political science professor who, every day of class, would sit on his desk and ramble on and on and on about his past as a political activist.¬† He protested Viet Nam, he hung out with revolutionaries, he loved Hugo Chavez, and I assume he probably had a Che Guevara poster hanging in his office.¬† Whenever he wanted to criticize George W. Bush, he would¬†compare him to Richard Nixon¬†and then pause as if he was waiting for the class to all start hissing in unison.¬†¬†He always seemed to be so bitterly disappointed that we didn’t.¬† What he, and a whole lot of other people his age, didn’t seem to understand was that Richard Nixon was his¬†boogeyman.¬† The rest of us could hardly care less.

That was the same problem that faced the 2008 best picture nominee Frost/Nixon. 

Directed rather flatly by Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon¬†tells the true story about how a light-weight English journalist named David Frost (played by Michael Sheen) managed to score the first televised interview with former President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella).¬† Both Frost and Nixon see the interviews as a chance to score their own individual redemptions while Frost’s assistants (played by Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell) see the interview as a chance to put Richard Nixon on trial for Watergate, the Viet Nam War, and every thing else under the sun.¬† That may not sound like a very exciting movie but it does sound like a sure Oscar contender, doesn’t it?

I’ve always secretly been a big history nerd so I was really looking forward to seeing Frost/Nixon when it was first released in 2008.¬† When I first saw it, I was vaguely disappointed but I told myself that maybe I just didn’t know enough about Richard Nixon or Watergate to really “get” the film.¬† So, when the film later showed up on cable, I gave it another chance.¬† And then I gave it a chance after that because I really wanted to like this film.¬† Afterall, it was a best picture nominee.¬† It was critically acclaimed.¬† The word appeared to be insisting that this was a great film.¬† And the more I watched it, the more I realized that the world was wrong.¬† (If nothing else, my reaction to Frost/Nixon made it easier for me to reject the similarly acclaimed Avatar a year later.)¬† Frost/Nixon is well-acted and slickly produced but it’s not a great film.¬† In fact, Frost/Nixon is epitome of the type of best picture nominee that inspires people to be cynical about the Academy Awards.

Before I get into why Frost/Nixon¬†didn’t work for me, I want to acknowledge that this was a very well-acted film.¬† By that, I mean that the cast (Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, and Oliver Platt) all gave very watchable and entertaining performances.¬† At the same time, none of them brought much depth to their characters.¬† Much like the film itself, nobody seems to have much going on underneath the surface.¬† Frank Langella¬†may be playing a historic figure but, ultimately, his Oscar-nominated performance feels like just a typically grouchy Frank Langella¬†performance.¬† Michael Sheen actually gives a far more interesting performance as David Frost but, at the same time, the character might as well have just been identified as “the English guy.”¬† In fact, a better title for this film would have been The Grouchy, the English, and the Superfluous.

For all the time that the film devotes to Rockwell and Platt blathering on about how they’re going to be giving Richard¬†Nixon “the trial he never had,” this film is ultimately less about politics and more about show business.¬†¬†Ron Howard devotes almost as much time to the rather boring details of how the interviews were¬†set up and sold into syndication as he does¬†to the issues that the interview brings up.¬† Unfortunately, for a movie about show business to succeed, the audience has to believe that the show is one that they would actually enjoy watching,¬† This, ultimately, is why Frost/Nixon¬†fails.¬† While the filmmakers continually tell us that the Frost/Nixon interviews were an important moment in American history, they never show us.¬† Yes, everyone has hideous hair and wide lapels but, otherwise, the film never recreates the period or the atmosphere¬†of the film’s setting and, as a result, its hard not to¬†feel detached from the action happening on-screen.¬† For all the self-congratulatory claims made at the end of the film, it never convinces us that the Frost/Nixon interviews were really worth all the trouble.¬† Much like my old poli sci professor, Frost/Nixon never gives us a reason to care.¬†

For a far more interesting and entertaining look at the Watergate scandal, I would recommend the 1976 best picture nominee All The President’s Men.¬† Recreating the story of how two Washington Post reporters (played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) exposed the Watergate scandal that eventually led to Nixon’s resignation, All The President’s Men is the movie that Frost/Nixon¬†wishes it could be.¬† Despite being made only two years after Watergate, All The President’s Men doesn’t take the audience’s interest for granted.¬† Instead, director Pakula¬†earns our interest by crafting his story as an exciting thriller.¬† Pakula¬†directs the film like an old school film noir, filling the screen with menacing shadows and always keeping the camera slightly off-center.¬†¬†¬†Like Frost/Nixon, All The President’s Men¬†is a well-acted film with a bunch of¬†wonderful 70s character actors —¬†performers like Ned Beatty, Jason Robards, Jack Warden,¬†Martin Balsam, and Robert Walden, and Jane Alexander — all giving effectively low-key and realistic performances.¬†¬† The end result is a film that manages to be exciting and fascinating to those of us who really don’t have any reason to care about Richard Nixon or Watergate.

Both of these two films were nominated for best picture.¬† Frost/Nixon quite rightly lost to Slumdog Millionaire.¬† All The President’s Men, on the other hand, lost to Rocky.

6 Trailers For 6 Films That Were Snubbed By The Academy

Seeing as how the Oscar nominations are due to be announced on Tuesday, I thought I would devote this edition to Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation trailers to films that were snubbed by the Academy.¬† Remember them while you’re watching Rooney Mara accept best actress.

1) A Life of Ninja (1983)

Despite the colorful trailer, this film was not nominated for best Costume Design, Art Design,¬† or Cinematography.¬† Instead, all three of those awards went to Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander.

2) The Shark Hunter (1979)

Franco Nero was not nominated for best actor for his performance here.  Instead Dustin Hoffman won for Kramer vs. Kramer.

3) The Terrornauts (1967)

The true terror is that the 1967 Oscar for Special Visual Effects went to Doctor Dolittle and not The Terrornauts.

4) Americathon (1979)

The Academy has never really appreciated hard-hitting political satire which perhaps explains why the previously mentioned Kramer Vs. Kramer won best picture while Americathon was not even nominated.

5) Don’t Torture A Duckling (1972)

The Oscar for Best Foreign language film of 1972 was given to Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie¬†and not to Lucio Fulci’s classic giallo Don’t Torture A Duckling.

6) The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

And yet somehow, Annie Hall was named best picture.

Is Rod Lurie’s Straw Dogs The Worst Film of 2011?

It’s probably a bit too early to answer that question.¬† After all, we’ve still got 3 months left to go in the year and Roland Emmerich’s take on Shakespeare (a.k.a. Anonymous) hasn’t been released yet.¬† So, no, Rod Lurie’s remake of Straw Dogs cannot be called the worst film of 2011 yet.¬† Instead, it’s just the worst film so far.

Straw Dogs¬†is a remake of the 1971 Sam Peckinpah film.¬† In the Peckinpah film, David Sumner (played by Dustin Hoffman) is a pacifist who, upon moving to the childhood home of his wife Amy (Susan George), is repeatedly harassed by the locals until he finally takes his very brutal revenge.¬† It’s a flawed and uneven film that still carries quite a punch.¬† I wouldn’t say I’ve ever enjoyed watching Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs but it’s undeniably powerful film.¬† As for the remake, Peckinpah has been replaced with Rod Lurie, Hoffman by James Marsden, and Susan George’s controversial character is now played by Kate Bosworth.¬† None of these changes are for the better.

Lurie’s version of Straw Dogs almost slavishly follows the plot of the¬†original.¬† He’s made just a few changes and none of those changes are for the better.¬† The most obvious change is that, while the first Straw Dogs took place in rural England, Lurie’s version takes place in Mississippi.¬† It’s pretty easy to guess Lurie’s logic here.¬† Lurie, after all, previously created the television show Commander-in-Chief¬†in which President Geena¬†Davis heroically struggled to save the nation from fundamentalists with Southern drawls.¬† Lurie’s vision of Mississippi is some sort of Blue State nightmare where everyone drives a pickup truck, goes to church, cheers at football games, and makes supportive comments regarding the War in Iraq.¬† In the original Straw Dogs, David Sumner is a truly a stranger in a strange land, an American who doesn’t realize just how out-of-place he is in rural England.¬† In the remake, David Sumner is just a guy on vacation from the West Coast.¬† He really has no excuse for being quite as dense as he is when it comes to not pissing off the locals.¬† By changing the locale, Rod Lurie essentially just makes his film into yet another example of Yankee paranoia.¬† This wouldn’t be such a problem except that Lurie seems to be taking it all so seriously.¬† He really seems to feel that he’s making a legitimate contribution to the whole Red State/Blue State divide.¬† Watching the film, I had to wonder if Rod Lurie truly believed that it’s impossible to get a cell phone signal in Mississippi.¬†

The other big difference is that in¬†Lurie’s version, David Sumner is no longer a mathematician.¬† Instead, he’s now a Hollywood screenwriter who is apparently working on an epic screenplay about the Battle of Stalingrad.¬† (“I figured out a way to get Khrushchev¬†in on the action!” he says at one point.)¬† To be honest, David’s screenplay sounds kinda boring and it’s hard not to sympathize with the “hillbilly rednecks,” (as David calls them) who ask him why anybody would want to watch his movie.¬† (The rednecks also ask him if he thinks that God had anything do with the Battle of Stalingrad.¬† Speaking as a nonbeliever, I have to say that this film was almost hilariously paranoid about any sort of religious belief.)¬† Part of the power of the first Straw Dogs¬†came from the fact that David was an academic.¬† He was a man whose life was about theory and that made it all the more shocking to see him explode into action.¬† It also explained¬†his non-existent social skills, because he was, after all,¬†the product of a very insular,¬†intellectual existence.¬† However, in the remake, David just becomes a condescending jerk who’s working on a screenplay for a film that most viewers would have little interest in actually sitting through.¬† (Add to that, it was hard not to feel that this new David was just Rod Lurie’s Mary Sue.)

David is in Mississippi because it’s the childhood home of his wife, Amy.¬† The character of Amy is problematic in both versions of Straw Dogs but, to be honest, I found her character to be even more illogical and insulting in Lurie’s remake.¬† In the original Straw Dogs, Amy is portrayed as an idiot who flirts with every man she sees, taunts her husband to the point of violence, and (by that film’s logic) puts herself in a situation that leads to her rape.¬† The character is, in many ways, an insulting stereotype but at least she’s a consistent insulting stereotype.¬† The remake’s Amy is presented as being a considerably stronger character.¬† She doesn’t openly flirt with the local rednecks, she and her husband are a lot more obnoxiously lovey¬†dovey, and (as opposed to in the first film), it’s never suggested that she actually enjoys being raped.¬† Kudos to Lurie for trying to make her a stronger character.¬† Yet, at the same time, the remake’s Amy still does a lot of the same illogical things as the original Amy.¬† The original Amy at least had the excuse of being an idiot.¬† The remake’s Amy just comes across as being an inconsistent, poorly-concieved¬†character.¬†¬†Eventually, it becomes obvious¬†that director Lurie wasn’t trying to make Amy into a stronger character as much as he was just trying to be politically correct.¬† (Another thing that the two Amys have in common is that neither one of them wears a bra.¬† It made sense in the original film because the original Amy was presented as being something of a wannabe flower child.¬† In the remake, it just comes across as Lurie’s dirty boy excuse to get a peek at Kate Bosworth’s nipples.¬† Seriously, who goes jogging without a sports bra?)

Anyway, the remake follows the path of the original.¬† David and Amy return to Amy’s home village where they meet Amy’s ex-boyfriend Charlie Venner¬†(played by an amazingly hot¬†and sexy¬†Alexander Skarsgard).¬† David hires Charlie and his redneck buddies to repair the roof of an old barn.¬† Charlie, who is obviously still attracted to Amy, spends the entire first part of the movie subtly humiliating David and basically being a bully.¬† Somebody strangles Amy’s cat.¬† Amy says it was Charlie and his friends.¬† David replies, “I can’t just accuse them.”¬† Eventually, David is taken on a deer hunt by Charlie’s friends and while he’s gone, Charlie and his buddy Chris rape Amy.¬†

(In the original it was a snipe hunt and the sight of Dustin Hoffman searching for a nonexistent creature while his wife is being raped was quite disturbing and perfectly symbolized his character’s impotence.¬† In the remake, David is once again left alone in the woods but this time, he shoots and kills a deer and, unfortunately, James Marsden isn’t a good enough actor to let us know what that means.)

Amy never tells David that she was raped, nor does she go to the authorities.¬† (This makes a sick sense in the original.¬† In the remake, it just seems like an effort by Rod Lurie to degrade a previously strong woman.)¬† The next night, David ends up sheltering the local sex pervert in his house while Charlie and his drunken friends attempt to break in.¬† This leads to David revealing that, as opposed to being “a coward,” he’s actually as vicious a killer as everyone else in the film.¬†

In the original version, this was a disturbing revelation if just because Sam Peckinpah emphasized not so much the killing as the fact that, as the siege progresses, David begins to enjoy the killing more and more.¬† Once Peckinpah’s David has given into the reality that he too is an animal, you realize that it’ll be impossible for him to return to being the essentially decent man that he was before.¬† In the original, you start out cheering David’s revenge but soon, you just want it to stop.¬† Much like the originalTexas Chainsaw Massacre, the film is so thematically nightmarish that you end up thinking you’ve seen a lot more blood than you actually have.¬† It sticks with you.

However, since Lurie’s remake is a film devoid of nuance or subtlety, the sudden explosion of violence on David’s part is neither surprising nor all that exciting.¬† And since James Marsden is no Dustin Hoffman (to put it lightly), you don’t see any change in David once the violence begins.¬† He’s not a man turning into an animal as much as he’s just a 90210 reject with a scowl on his face.¬† He kills a lot of men but he looks oh so pretty doing it and Amy cheers him on every step of the way.¬† (In the original, Amy was terrified of her husband’s new side.¬† I would be too.)¬† Since Lurie isn’t a good enough director to generate a sincere emotional response to seeing David turn into a killer, he instead lingers over all the blood and gore like a pervert¬†struggling to¬†catch his breath while¬†secretly looking at a snuff website.¬† In short, the original Straw Dogs condemned violence by pretending to celebrate it.¬† The remake celebrates it by pretending to condemn.¬†

Okay, you may be saying, so it’s not a great film.¬† But is it really the worst of 2011 so far?¬† After all, Alexander Skarsgard¬†gives a charismatic, bad boy performance and James Woods has a few good scenes as a venomous former football coach.¬† And director Lurie, while he may be incapable of keeping the action moving at a steady pace, does manage to make Mississippi look pretty.¬† That’s all true but I still say that Straw Dogs is the worst movie of the year so far.¬† Why?¬†

Because it’s not only a remake of a film that didn’t need to be remade but it’s also a remake that was apparently made by people who don’t have a clue about what made the original an important film to begin with.¬† It’s a film that’s gloriously unaware of its own¬†tawdriness, a sordid mess that can’t even have fun with the possibilities inherent in being a sordid mess.¬† Arrogantly, director Lurie invited you to compare his film to Sam Peckinpah’s by not just ripping¬†off the¬†film’s story¬†(as countless other enjoyable films have done) but by claiming the title as well.¬† It’s a film that represents Hollywood at its worst and for me, that’s why it’s earned the title of worst film of 2011 so far.

(One positive note: Perhaps this terrible, insulting remake will encourage someone to track down the original Straw Dogs and see how this story was meant to be told.)

What could have been: The Godfather

I don’t know about you but I love to play the game of “What if.”¬† You know how it works.¬† What if so-and-so had directed such-and-such movie?¬† Would we still love that movie as much?¬† Would so-and-so be a star today?¬† Or would the movie have failed because the director was right to reject so-and-so during preproduction?

I guess that’s why I love the picture below.¬† Taken from one of Francis Ford Coppola’s notebooks, it’s a page where he jotted down a few possibilities to play the roles of Don Vito, Michael, Sonny, and Tom Hagen in The Godfather.¬† It’s a fascinating collection of names, some of which are very familiar and some of which most definitely are not.¬† As I look at this list, it’s hard not wonder what if someone like Scott Marlowe had played Michael Corleone?¬† Would he had then become known as one of the great actors of his generation and would Al Pacino then be fated to just be an unknown name sitting on a famous list?

(This page, just in case you happen to be in the neighborhood , is displayed at the Coppola Winery in California.)

The production of the Godfather — from the casting to the final edit — is something of an obsession of mine.¬† It’s amazing the amount of names — obscure, famous, and infamous — that were mentioned in connection with this film.¬† Below is a list of everyone that I’ve seen mentioned as either a potential director or a potential cast member of The Godfather.¬† Consider this my contribution to the game of What If….?

Director: Aram Avankian, Peter Bogdonavich, Richard Brooks, Costa-Gravas, Sidney J. Furie, Norman Jewison, Elia Kazan, Steve Kestin, Sergio Leone, Arthur Penn, Otto Preminger, Franklin J. Schaffner, Peter Yates, Fred Zinnemann

Don Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando): Melvin Belli, Ernest Borgnine, Joseph Callelia, Lee. J. Cobb, Richard Conte, Frank De Kova, Burt Lancaster, John Marley, Laurence Olivier, Carlo Ponti, Anthony Quinn, Edward G. Robinson, George C. Scott, Frank Sinatra, Rod Steiger, Danny Thomas, Raf Vallone,  Orson Welles

Michael Corleone (played by Al Pacino): John Aprea, Warren Beatty, Robert Blake, Charles Bronson*, James Caan, David Carradine, Robert De Niro, Alain Delon, Peter Fonda, Art Genovese, Dustin Hoffman, Christopher Jones, Tommy Lee Jones, Tony Lo Bianco, Michael Margotta, Scott Marlowe, Sal Mineo, Jack Nicholson, Ryan O’Neal, Michael Parks, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Richard Romanus, Gianni Russo, Martin Sheen, Rod Steiger**, Dean Stockwell

Sonny Corleone (played by James Caan): Lou Antonio, Paul Banteo, Robert Blake, John Brascia, Carmine Caridi, Robert De Niro, Peter Falk, Harry Guardino, Ben Gazzara, Don Gordon, Al Letteiri, Tony LoBianco, Scott Marlowe, Tony Musante, Anthony Perkins, Burt Reynolds***, Adam Roarke, Gianni Russo, John Saxon, Johnny Sette, Rudy Solari, Robert Viharo, Anthony Zerbe

Tom Hagen (played by Robert Duvall): James Caan, John Cassavettes, Bruce Dern, Peter Donat, Keir Dullea, Peter Falk, Steve McQueen, Richard Mulligan, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Ben Piazza, Barry Primus, Martin Sheen, Dean Stockwell, Roy Thinnes, Rudy Vallee****, Robert Vaughn, Jerry Van Dyke, Anthony Zerbe

Kay Adams (played by Diane Keaton): Anne Archer, Karen Black, Susan Blakeley, Genevieve Bujold, Jill Clayburgh, Blythe Danner, Mia Farrow, Veronica Hamel, Ali MacGraw, Jennifer O’Neill, Michelle Phillips, Jennifer Salt, Cybill Shepherd, Trish Van Devere

Fredo Corleone (played by John Cazale): Robert Blake, Richard Dreyfuss, Sal Mineo, Austin Pendleton

Connie Corleone (played by Talia Shire): Julie Gregg, Penny Marshall, Maria Tucci, Brenda Vaccaro, Kathleen Widdoes

Johnny Fontane (played by Al Martino): Frankie Avalon, Vic Damone*****, Eddie Fisher, Buddy Greco, Bobby Vinton, Frank Sinatra, Jr.

Carlo Rizzi (played by Gianni Russo): Robert De Niro, Alex Karras, John Ryan******, Sylvester Stallone

Virgil ‚ÄúThe Turk‚ÄĚ Sollozzo (played by Al Letteiri): Franco Nero

Lucas Brasi (played by Lenny Montana): Timothy Carey, Richard Castellano

Moe Greene (played by Alex Rocco): William Devane

Mama Corleone (played by Morgana King): Anne Bancroft, Alida Valli

Appollonia (played by Simonetta Steffanelli): Olivia Hussey

Paulie Gatto (played by John Martino): Robert De Niro*******, Sylvester Stallone


* Charles Bronson, who was in his mid-40s, was suggested for the role of Michael by the then-chairman of Paramount Pictures, Charlie Bluhdorn.

** By all accounts, Rod Steiger ‚Äď who was then close to 50 ‚Äď lobbied very hard to be given the role of Michael Corleone.

*** Some sources claim that Burt Reynolds was cast as Sonny but Brando refused to work with him.  However, for a lot of reasons, I think this is just an cinematic urban legend.

**** Despite being in his 60s at the time, singer Rudy Vallee lobbied for the role of the 35 year-old Tom Hagen.¬† Supposedly, another singer — Elvis Presley — lobbied for the role as well but that just seems so out there that I couldn’t bring myself to include it with the “official” list.

***** Vic Damone was originally cast as Johnny Fontane but dropped out once shooting began and announced that the project was bad for Italian Americans.  He was replaced by Al Martino.

****** John P. Ryan was originally cast as Carlo Rizzi but was fired and replaced with Gianni Russo.  Ryan went on to play the distraught father in Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive.  Russo went on to co-star in Laserblast.

******* Robert De Niro was originally cast in this role but dropped out to replace Al Pacino in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.  Pacino, incidentally, had to drop out of that film because he was given the role of Michael in The Godfather.