Scenes I Love: Jackie Brown


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Latest “Scenes I Love” comes courtesy of Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson.

There’s nothing else to say other than: “AK-47, the very best there is. When you absolutely, positively, got to kill every motherfucker in the room; accept no substitutes.”

Now, that is true since the venerable rifle designed by the late and great Mikhail Kalashnikov sprays all over the place like a freshman seeing a naked girl live for the very first time. Now, his comments about the .45 was a tad misleading. The .45 will jam once in awhile, but not more than any other firearm and the fact it’s still one of the most sought after and popular handguns in the world speaks to the creative genius that is John Browning.

Quick Review: Silver Linings Playbook (dir. by David O. Russell)


slpIn Silver Linings Playbook, Pat Solitano (formerly Pat Peoples in the novel written by Matthew Quick, played by Bradley Cooper) is recently released from a mental hospital to the care of his parents. Obsessed over reclaiming the love of his ex-wife, Nikki, he sets out on exercising and reading books to become better when he sees her again. Working under the notion that positivity, mixed with great effort can lead to a Silver Lining, he uses this new outlook to focus on his goal. Of couse, this doesn’t happen without some hiccups. There’s one key scene in the film where he asks his parents where his wedding tape is, and starts tearing through boxes around the house searching for it. With Led Zeppelin’s “What Is And What Should Never Be” blasting in the background as everything escalated, I had an Anton Ego Ratatouille moment.

My mom had this thing where she’d shift from High to Low. Some days would be quiet, but if the wrong word or event happened, she’d explode either into a fit of activity or anger. We would be sometimes careful to not trigger this – “set her off”, she would say. My clearest memory is of having Alice in Chains’ “Don’t Follow” turned up really loud on the family stereo (and on repeat by her request) as she proceeded to break various objects in her bedroom. She isn’t the only one in the family who has that happen with her. My cousin has this thing where at night she has to check all of the burners on the stove at least 2 times before she’s satisfied they’re fine and off. She says she knows everything’s correct the first time, but says she needs to be sure.

We all have our quirks. When people burp around me, I feel compelled to say “Bless You”. It’s only right.

So, sitting in the theatre and watching Silver Linings Playbook, it all felt very familiar to me. The great thing -and possibly the problem near the very end – about it is that the film isn’t completely A Beautiful Mind in it’s sense of seriousness. I’ll admit I found myself smiling and laughing through a lot of it, just as much as I winced during Pat’s trouble spots. As he returns home, he finds his father (Robert DeNiro in a fine performance) already skeptical about him, but content that he has his son back to watch the Philadelphia Eagles games and to be his lucky charm. After being invited to dinner by one of his friends, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who seems to be just as different as he is and he discovers that she’s been in contact with Nikki. She’ll help send word to her about how he’s doing (because a restraining order keeps him from doing so), if he will help her perform in a dance contest. This ends up starting a good friendship between the two and we start to find that Pat is doing better as things progress.

Director David O’Russell keeps the story centered on the two leads. Both Cooper and Lawrence are energetic and have this really great chemistry between them that makes it feel like they had a lot of fun working on this movie. What’s better is that there isn’t a single person in the supporting cast that doesn’t feel like (to me, anyway) that they were miscast or out of step. They could make a tv series with this cast, and it would be watchable. O’Russell also changes the nature of the story in his adaptation, making the dance sequence itself a major focus on the growth between Tiffany and Pat (and by extension, the family and friends). He also eliminates a side story where Pat’s mom leaves his father because of the Dad’s obsessive nature with the Eagles, choosing to replace it with some more heartfelt and/or moments between DeNiro and Cooper (who coindentially worked together in Limitless). I felt it tightened up the story overall.

Another element I enjoyed was the film’s use of music. Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” serves as a song that’s important to the story (in the same way that Kenny G’s “Songbird” was to the novel) and as I mentioned before, the Zeppelin song also worked. Alabama Shakes, which are a group new to me, also had a good song with “Always Alright”. The music of the film felt similar to Juno for me in a lot of ways.

The only problem I had with Silver Linings PlayBook, the only thing that didn’t work for me was the way the film ended. Dealing with something as serious as any kind of mental disorder, especially one where there are meds involved, it’s a serious thing. I’m not saying that one in Pat’s situation can’t be with anyone, far from it, but the film paints a picture at the end that everything will be just fine and simple. I don’t know I agree with that. Fine, perhaps, but certainly not simple. Granted, the story sets up such a social tapestry for Pat that if anything were to go wrong, he’d have people who would rally behind him. The ending just makes it seems that he no longer has any quirks and possibly robs an otherwise perfect from a bit of reality.

Overall, the Silver Linings Playbook is a feel good film that’s definitely worth seeing, with an ensemble cast that helps to elevate the great performances by both Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. The lack of a heavy-handed nature towards the issues with the main character help the comedic elements of it, but also stutter steps it at the very end for me.

Scenes I Love: The Shootout from Michael Mann’s “Heat”.


The shootout in Michael Mann’s “Heat” (1995) remains one of the best ever filmed, in my opinion. Mann himself even tried topping it in Miami Vice (which is good in it’s own right), but this scene (which occurs some minutes in) is so loved, Rockstar Games actually developed a mission in Grand Theft Auto 4 to mimic it.

A group of bank robbers, led by Neal McCauley (Robert DeNiro) finally take down their score, only to find that the police squad out to get them has been tipped off. The video starts as the robbery begins. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), along with his team arrive just as the crew is coming out of the bank with the money. The rest is mayhem, with the gunfire sounds echoing all around. Elliot Goldenthal’s score for the piece sets the tone for the robbery, a piece called Force Marker (along with Brian Eno).

What I wouldn’t give to catch this in a theatre somewhere. Enjoy.

Quick Review: Stardust (dir. by Matthew Vaughn)


Just after getting Layer Cake out, director Matthew Vaughn decided to work on an adaptation on Neil Gaiman’s Stardust along with Jane Goldman. Of the four movies he’s made so far, Stardust maybe the most low profile Vaughn film, but next to Layer Cake, it actually is one of my favorites. It’s a strange but enjoyable fairy tale that evokes memories of films like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or Without a Paddle in some ways. What makes it special is that it an idea that only Gaiman could have come up with, really. Understanding the world of Stardust requires a little suspension of belief, which is normal, given that it’s a fantasy film. Gaiman’s story is definitely a strong one, but may not be the easiest to follow.

Like Contagion, Stardust has multiple characters going after a single goal. On his deathbed, the king of a faraway land (played by Peter O’Toole) decides that his seven sons (named Primus through Septimus, respectively) aren’t quite ready to take the throne when he passes. Taking the family jewel around his neck, he gives them a challenge. The first heir to successfully find the stone will be named King. He launches the stone out to the heavens for them to find. The stone hits a star and causes both to fall from the sky.

A trio of witches, lead by Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer a villain role she plays like she’s enjoying it) witness the falling star and set off to reclaim it, as stars have the ability to regenerate their youth. Our hero, Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox) also goes after the star to impress the girl of his dreams, Victoria (Sienna Miller) and pull her away from Tristan’s rival, Humphrey (The Tudors’ Henry Cavill).

The race for the Star becomes a little more complex when we find that Stars, which crashing down actually appear to be human. Yvaine (Claire Danes) is simply looking to get to her place in the night sky when the chase begins.

Although many of the roles in Stardust are done well, Mark Strong is easily the standout of this film as Prince Septimus. With this role, it’s easily understandable as to how Vaughn tapped him for Kick-Ass. Though his screen time isn’t as strong as Pfieffer’s, he’s memorable in all of this scenes. Pfeiffer also a number of moments where she appeared to have fun with her role. Stardust also contains a few cameos with Robert DeNiro and Ricky Gervais. Fans of other Vaughn films will find other actors from his movie, such as Jason Flemyng and Dexter Fletcher.

Stardust is a fun film, but being a fantasy one, it has the potential be lost on some viewers. Still, it boasts what feels like a familiar theme wrapped up in new story, which actually serves to be one of Stardust’s stronger traits.

Trailer: Killer Elite (Theatrical)


Not to be confused with the 1975 Sam Peckinpah film about elite assassins, this 2011 action-thriller is purported to be based on the true life story that was the basis for the controversial novel, The Feather Men, by British author Sir Ranulph Fiennes. The film has quite the cast of testosterone with Jason Statham, Robert DeNiro and Clive Owen, but also Dominic Purcell and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

This action film is the first full-length feature for the Northern-Irish filmmaker Gary McKendry whose short film, Everything in This Country Must, was nominated for Best Live-Action Short Film for the 77th Academy Awards. It’s going to be interesting how this first major production turns out. One thing for sure the trailer made some great use of the classic Scorpion heavy metal anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane”. That use alone made this trailer a success in making me want to see this film.

Review: Ronin (dir. by John Frankenheimer)


The definition of the Japanese word ronin describes it as a samurai who has lost his master from the ruin of or the fall of his master. John Frankenheimer (with some final draft help with the script from David Mamet) takes this notion of a masterless samurai and brings to it a post-Cold War setting and sensibility that more than pay homage to the great stories and film of the ronin. One particular story about ronin that Frankenheimer references in detail is the classic story of the 47 Ronin. Ronin shows that in the latter-stages of his career, Frankenheimer was still the master of the political/spy-thriller genre. He infuses the film with a real hard-edge and was able to mix together both intelligence and energy in both the quieter and action-packed sequences in the film.

The film begins quietly with the introduction of the characters involved. We meet each individual in this quiet 10-minute scene that shows Frankenheimer’s skill as a director would always be heads and shoulders above those of the bombastic and ADD-addled filmmakers of the MTV generation (Michael Bay being the poster boy). Robert De Niro plays the role of one of the two American mercenaries (or contractors) who instantly becomes the focal point for everyone in the scene. His casual, but attentive reconnoitering of the Paris bar where the first meet occurs helps build tension without being being heavy-handed in its execution. It’s with the introduction of Jean Reno as the Frenchman in the group that we get the buddy-film dynamic as De Niro and Reno quickly create a believable camaraderie born of the times for such men during and after the Cold War.

The rest of the cast was rounded out by an excellent and high-energy turn from Sean Bean as an English contractor who might not be all that he claims and brags to be. The other American in the group was played by Skipp Sudduth who in his own understated way more than kept up with the high-caliber of actors around him. Finishing off and adding the darker and seedier aspects of the cast were Stellan Skarsgard as a former Eastern Bloc (maybe ex-KGB) operative and Jonathan Pryce as an IRA commander whose agendas for bringing this team of masterless ex-spies and operatives together might not be all as he claims. The only break in all the testosterone in the film was ably played by the beautiful, yet tough Natasha McElhone. Like Sudduth, McElhone more than keeps up and matches acting skills with the likes of De Niro, Reno and Skarsgard.

The film moves from the meeting of the group to the actual operation which brought all these disparate characters together. Taking a page from Hitchcock, Frankenheimer and Mamet introduces what would become the film’s MacGuffin. A “MacGuffin” being a plot device which helps motivates each character of its importance and yet we’re left to believe that the item is important without ever finding out why. The MacGuffin in Ronin ends up being a silver case which the IRA terrorists, the Russian Mob and seemingly every intelligence agency in Europe wants to get their hands on.

It’s up to De Niro and his group to steal the case from another party and this was where Frankenheimer’s skill in seemlessly blending spy-thriller and action film shows. From the set-up of the team and their plans, to a near double-cross during an arms deal to the actual operation to take the case, Ronin begins to move at a clipped and tension-filled pace. There’s no overly extraneous dialogue. Mamet’s script fleshes out the story and adds a sense and feel of intelligent professionalism to the characters.

The action sequences mostly involved car chases through the narrow streets of Nice, France to the metropolitan thoroughfares and tunnels of Paris. Frankenheimer shines in creating and directing these sequences. Sequences which he’d decided against the use of CGI. Using what he’d learned and perfected from his own past as a former amateur race car driver and from his own classic film Grand Prix, Frankenheimer used real life cars and drove them through real (albeit choreographed) traffic to give the sequences that sense of reality and speed that one couldn’t get with CGI. The car chase scene within the Paris thoroughfare tunnel against traffic has to go down as one of the best car chase put on film.  With just abit of help from second unit directors Luc Etienne and Michel Cheyko, Frankenheimer pretty much did most of the filming of the car chases.

The story itself, after all the characterizations and high-energy, tense action sequences, was really bare bones and in itself its own MacGuffin. The story just becomes a prop device to help show the mercenaries’ special sense of honor in regards to working with people who might’ve been enemies in the past. The murky world they now live in after the collapse of the black and white sensibility that was the Cold War has become nothing but shades of gray. One little bit of trivia that I found interesting was the fact that Ronin included quite a bit of actors who portrayed past James Bond villains: Sean Bean (Janus), Jonathan Pryce (Carver) and Michael Lonsdale (Drax).

In the end, Ronin became the last great film from a great director. I don’t count Reindeer Games as anything but Frankenheimer picking up a check and the studio dabbling overmuch in the final look and feel of that film. Frankenheimer’s Ronin is a blend of smart dialogue, hard-edged characters, and tense-filled action that he manages to blend together to make a fine and intelligent film. The story’s myseries concerning the MacGuffin might not have been answered in the end, but the journey the audience takes with DeNiro, Reno and McElhone’s character in getting there more than made up for any flaws in the plot.