A Movie A Day #103: Mobsters (1991, directed by Michael Karbelnikoff)


The place is New York City.  The time is the prohibition era.  The rackets are controlled by powerful but out of touch gangsters like Arnold Rothstein (F. Murray Abraham), Joe Masseria (Anthony Quinn), and Salvatore Faranzano (Michael Gambon).  However, four young gangsters — Lucky Luciano (Christian Slater), Meyer Lansky (Patrick Dempsey), Frank Costello (Costas Mandylor), and Bugsy Siegel (Richard Greico) — have an ambitious plan.  They want to form a commission that will bring together all of the Mafia families as a national force.  To do it, they will have to push aside and eliminate the old-fashioned mob bosses and take over the rackets themselves.  When Masseria and Faranzano go to war over who will be the new Boss of all Bosses, Luciano and Lansky seen their opportunity to strike.

I love a good gangster movie, which is one reason that I have never cared much for Mobsters. Mobsters was made in the wake of the success of Young Guns and, like that film, it attempted to breathe new life into an old genre by casting teen heartthrobs in the lead roles.  There was nothing inherently wrong with that because Luciano, Lansky, and Seigel were all still young men, in their 20s and early 30s, when they took over the Mafia.  (Costello was 39 but Mobsters presents him as being the same age as they other three.)  The problem was that none of the four main actors were in the least bit convincing as 1920s mobsters.  Christian Slater was the least convincing Sicilian since Alex Cord in The Brotherhood.  As for the supporting cast, actors like Chris Penn and F. Murray Abraham did the best that they could with the material but Anthony Quinn’s performance in Mobsters was the worst of his long and distinguished career.

Fans of Twin Peaks will note that Lara Flynn Boyle had a small role in Mobsters.  She played Luciano’s girlfriend.  Unfortunately, other than looking pretty and dying tragically, she was not given much to do in this disappointing gangster film.

Trailer: Transformers: Age of Extinction (Official)


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I know, I know, another Transformers extravaganza coming this summer. As if the last two wasn’t enough to swear me off the franchise. Well, guess what this one doesn’t have any of the actors from the first three and drops in a whole bunch of new ones to play war with the aforementioned robots who are more than meets the eye.

Instead of Shia LaBeouf in the lead role screaming like the most unheroic lead ever we get the manly man Mark Walhberg himself playing a Texas dad out to protect his daughter from the men in black while jump starting a rusted Optimus Prime on his spare time.

This fourth film looks to be a new start for the franchise that we all thought ended with a bang and a whimper with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but there were still more Transformers that never made it to the bigscreen and what better way to do that than make a fourth. So, it looks like fans finally get Grimlock and the Dinobots plus a Decepticon that looks to be Galvatron.

Again, I will be seeing this (it’s like the scifi blockbuster version of Saw) just for the fact that it doesn’t have Shia LaBeouf for people to listen to scream shrilly every two or three minutes. Plus, it has Optimus Prime wrestling and then riding Grimlock.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is ready to make our eyes explode on June 27, 2014.

Super Bowl Trailer: Transformers: Age of Extinction


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Yes, it is another Transformers film about to descend on the population this coming summer.

Could we finally get a quality one after the last two which got worse and worse with each new entry? I can’t say for sure, but this fourth entry does have one thing going for it and that is the lack of Shia LaBeouf. Instead we get Mark Walhberg in the lead human role. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee return with new robots filling in the rest.

If there’s one thing about Transformers: Age of Extinction that will get me to see it once it comes out is the fact that it has Grimlock and his merry band of Dinobots finally making their appearance. Yes, Grimlock and that’s all I need.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is set for a July 27, 2014 release date.

Film Review: Man on a Ledge (dir. Asger Leth)


The newly released film Man on a Ledge is about a man (played by Sam Worthington) who checks into a hotel room in New York City and then climbs out on a ledge and threatens to jump off unless a specific hostage negotiator is brought in to talk him off the ledge.  We quickly discover that Worthington isn’t just a depressed jumper.  Instead, he’s got a really lengthy and overly complicated back story.  It turns out that he’s a former detective who used to moonlight for a venture capitalist and then one day, he was accused of stealing a priceless diamond and destroying it.  This resulted in him getting sentenced to 25 years in prison but when his father is reported to have died, Worthington is released from jail for a day so he can attend the funeral.  So, Worthington escapes and then ends up out on a ledge as part of a massively complicated plan to prove his innocence.  His name, by the way, is Nick because people named Alvin are never the stars of action movies.

Meanwhile, the cop that Nick demands to speak with is a hardened, veteran hostage negotiator and she’s played by Elizabeth Banks.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Anyway, Nick asks for her because he knows that the last guy she tried to talk out of jumping apparently jumped off a bridge.  Since Banks failed her last time out, her efforts to talk Nick off the ledge are cautiously observed by another detective, this one played by Edward Burns.  Banks is totally and completely miscast here and she has next to no chemistry with Sam Worthington.  However, she does have really good chemistry with Edward Burns.  Seriously, they would make a really cute couple and I would buy any issue of Us Weekly that had them on the cover.

Meanwhile, the guy that Nick is accused of stealing from just happens to be in a building across the street where he’s conducting some sort of generically evil business deal.  He’s a painfully thin, almost sickly man and, whenever he was on screen, I found myself wondering how his head managed to stay balanced on his body.  At first, I thought maybe it was the Red Skull waiting for the sequel to Capt. America to start filming.  However, on closer inspection, he turned out to be respected character actor Ed Harris.  In this film, Harris plays a ruthless capitalist who would have gone bankrupt if not for the insurance money he got as a result of Nick supposedly destroying that diamond.  Anyway, Harris appears to be enjoying playing a bad guy and he’s so over-the-top in his evil that you don’t really mind that he’s another one of those “I-should-kill-you-now-but-first-we-talk” type of villains.

Meanwhile, there’s two other people who are taking advantage of all the chaos caused by the man on the ledge to break into Harris’s building.  They’re played by Jamie Bell (who looks a lot like Casey Affleck in this film) and telenova veteran Genesis Rodriguez.  As you watch Bell and Rodriguez sliding down heating ducts and scaling elevator shafts, you can’t help but marvel at just how overly complicated everyone is making things.  Still, Bell and Rodriguez have a lot of chemistry and they’re fun to watch.

Meanwhile, NYC television reporter (played by Kyra Sedgwick) is running around the streets of New York, asking random bystanders how they feel about the prospect of Nick jumping.  Apparently, she is an old enemy of Elizabeth Banks’ though that whole plot line is dropped as soon as its brought up.  Still, the audience in my theater chuckled when Sedgwick dramatically rolled her r’s while introducing herself as “Suzie Morales.”

Meanwhile, there’s a bearded guy watching Nick up on the roof and he suddenly decides to go all Occupy Wall Street on the movie’s ass and starts shouting, “Attica!  Attica!” before then blaming it all on the 1%.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t put on Guy Fawkes mask at any point during all of this.

Meanwhile, the entire city of New York is obsessed with the man on the ledge and, if nothing else, they all end up acting exactly the way that people who have never been to New York City (like me) assume that people in New York act.  By that, I mean all the extras are all like, “Yo, Paulie!  There’s some man on a ledge!  Stop breaking my balls!” 

Meanwhile, there’s one final twist to the film’s plot that I can’t share without spoiling the film.  So, I’ll just say that it involved someone working at the hotel and I figured out the twist about 3 minutes after this character first appeared.  This is one of those twists that if you can’t figure out on your own then you need to hang your head in shame.  Seriously.

This film packs a lot of plot into 90 minutes of screen time and, not surprisingly, the end result is a bit of a mess.  This is one of those films where every single character attempts to solve his or her problems in the most needlessly complicated and implausible way possible.  Still, almost despite myself, I enjoyed Man on a Ledge.  It’s just all so silly and stupid that it becomes oddly likable.  The film also has two nicely done chase scenes and some of the scenes where Nick attempts to manuever about on the ledge made me go, “Agck!”

Seriously, I don’t do heights.

Quickie Review: The Town (dir. by Ben Affleck)


If someone just five years ago told me that Ben Affleck would turn out to be a director whose work has been some of the better crime drama/thrillers of the past decade then I would declare shenanigans on that individual. Ben Affleck might have won an Oscar for helping write the screenplay for Good Will Hunting, but his career since could be labeled as being one of a joke (Gigli) interspersed with huge paycheck projects (Armageddon) that showed his range as an actor.

This is not to say that Affleck has no talent in front of the camera. I just believe that early in his career after winning his Oscar he got fooled into thinking that everything else since would be Easy Street paved in gold (financially and critically). To say that it hasn’t turned out to be that way (though he did make a ton of money) would be an understatement. But one thing happened while Affleck’s acting career was heading nowhere but down. He got behind the camera as a director and his very first time directing a feature-length film he would make one of 2007’s best films. I speak of his film adaptation of the Dennis Lehane crime drama, Gone Baby Gone. He didn’t just direct the life out of that film, but he also the screenplay with the help of Aaron Stockard.

The two of the them would collaborate once again on Affleck’s latest Boston-based crime drama, The Town. He wrote the screenplay and directed the film and pulled in some wonderful performances from an ensemble cast which included Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Blake Lively, Titus Welliver and Pete Postlethwaite. Fellow site writer Lisa Marie already reviewed the film in detail and her review pretty much put down into words exactly what I thought of the film. I will say that I would swerve slightly away from what she considered some of the flaws in the film.

The Town was adapted from Chuck Hogan’s novel, Prince of Thieves. I would consider the screenplay and dialogue as a major strength of the film. While at times it did seemed to follow the step-by-step and by-the-numbers heist thriller story the screenplay itself didn’t ring false. I liken this film to another heist film which shared some themes and similarities. Michael Mann’s Heat also dealt with the cops-and-robbers foundation. Where Mann’s film had a much larger and epic scope to its storytelling it still boiled down to two groups of determined men playing a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse. The women in both film were written just enough that they had distinct personalities, but in the end they were motivations for the men in the film.

Affleck shows that he doesn’t just know how to direct, but continues is reputation as being one very good screenwriter. One just has to be reminded that he is now 3-for-3 when it comes to screenplays he has written which have turned out to be great ones. While he doesn’t have the same flair for words as Tarantino or Mamet when it comes to the screenplay. What he does well was to create an efficient script which flowed from scene to scene. Tarantino’s screenplays are great, but at times he does allow himself to overindulge his inner-film geek and create dialogue that might be Sorkin-like in execution. What I mean is that as great as the dialogue sound there’s no way people really spoke like this to each other. Affleck’s screenplay for The Town felt very natural and even with Jon Hamm’s less than great performance the film had a natural and genuine sound to it’s dialogue.

That’s one flaw pointed out by Lisa Marie that I would disagree with her on. The other two I can see her point, but it bothered me none. Though if I ever took on a life of crime I would hope I find someone just like Rebecca Hall’s Claire. Now there’s a woman who stands by her man no matter what.

I think in the long run this film might just be seen as one of the best of 2010 and some critics have already dubbed it so. While it’s prospects come awards season time is still up in the air I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up nabbing one of the ten Best Picture nominations when the Oscar nominations get announced. It would be well-deserved and would just prove that Affleck’s career in the film industry might just be hitting its stride. Who would’ve thought it would be as a writer-director and not as an actor.

Film Review: The Town (dir. by Ben Affleck)


Before I get to my review, you should understand that I nearly didn’t see The Town last night.  Earlier, on Friday morning, I had to leave work early because I was so sick and nauseous that I was on the verge of passing out.  Once I got home, I had to 1) convince my aunt that I wasn’t pregnant (“Are you sure?” she said after I reassured her) and 2) had to convince myself that my appendix wasn’t about to burst (and it’s not so don’t worry).  After all that, there was a part of me that said, “The Town can wait.  I’ll go on Saturday or maybe even later in the week.”

But I ignored that part of me and I went and saw the movie anyway.  Why?  Well, I wanted to review it for this site.  (That’s dedication for you!)  Plus, I knew my friend Jeff wanted to see it with me and I wanted to see it with him and since when has a little thing like a ruptured appendix ever been an excuse not to have a good time?  Last but not least, The Town is Ben Affleck’s second movie as a director.  His first was 2007’s Gone, Baby, Gone.  Personally, I think Gone, Baby, Gone is one of the best crime films ever made.  It’s certainly one of my favorite.  I was curious to see if The Town would be a worthy follow-up or would it just prove Gone, Baby, Gone to have been a fluke.

The Town takes place in the Charlestown section of Boston.  At the opening of the film, we’re told that Charlestown apparently produces more professional armed robbers than any other place in the entire world.  It’s a practice that is handed down from father-to-son.  (Or, in the case of this movie, from Chris Cooper to Ben Affleck.)

Affleck plays Doug, a former hockey player who is now the head of a gang of Charlestown bank robbers.  His second-in-command is Jem (played by Jeremy Renner).  Over the course of the film, we learn Doug’s father (Chris Cooper) is a career criminal who is currently serving a life sentence in prison.  When his father went to prison, Doug was taken in by Jem’s family.  Doug even ended up dating Jem’s sister (Blake Lively) and might be the father of Lively’s daughter.  For this reason, Doug and Jem are fiercely loyal to each other despite the fact that Doug is essentially a nice guy and Jem is not.

(As a sidenote, why is it in the crime films that people are always shocked when the psychotic supporting character ends up doing psychotic?  I mean, have these people never gone to the movies before?  Have they never checked out Goodfellas from Netflix?  Did they miss the whole Joe Pesci “How am I funny?” thing?)

At the start of the film, Doug, Jem, and the gang rob a bank.  Doug is a model of professionalism.  Jem goes a little bit crazy and beats one bank employee nearly to death.  This gives the bank manager, Clare (Rebecca Hall), just enough time to set off a silent alarm.  Realizing that the police are on the way, Jem responds by taking Clare hostage as the gang flees.  Clare is later released on a desolate beach.

However, there’s a problem.  Before releasing her, Jem stole Clare’s ID.  Looking at it after the robbery, he discovers that Clare lives in Charlestown and, as a result, there’s now a risk that she might simply see one of the gang on the street and identify him.  Jem wants to kill her but Doug says that he’ll take care of her himself.

By “taking care of,” Doug means that he’ll follow her around town, eventually strike up a conversation with her, and then end up pursuing a romance with her (while declining, of course, to mention that he already knows her).  Jem, however, was under the impression that “taking care of” meant to kill.  So, needless to say, he’s a little bit miffed when he stumbles across Doug and Clare having a lunch date.

Soon, Doug finds himself trapped in the life he’s created for himself.  In love with Clare but torn by his loyalty to the increasingly unstable Jem, Doug agrees to one more big job.  All the while, he is pursued by two relentless FBI agents (Jon Hamm and Titus Welliver) and he has to deal with an Irish mob boss (Pete Postlewaite) who has an agenda of his own.

The Town works largely because Ben Affleck has, unexpectedly, turned out to be an intelligent, no-nonsense director.  The movie features three robbery scenes and, in each one of them, Affleck creates genuine tension and excitement without ever once resorting to outlandish stunts or random slow motion.  Unlike a lot of (bad) actors turned director, Affleck never seems to feel the need to toss in any showy (but ultimately empty) tricks to try to convince us that he’s a director.  This is a confident movie that shows that Gone, Baby, Gone wasn’t a fluke.  (That said, Gone, Baby, Gone remains the superior film for reasons that I’m getting to.)

Also, as with Gone, Baby, Gone, The Town benefits from Affleck’s obvious love for the city and people of Boston.  Shot on location and featuring a number of local actors, The Town has a wonderful sense of place to it.  By the end of it, you feel as if you know Charlestown even if, like me, you’re just a country girl from Texas.

Ben Affleck the director also manages to do something truly surprising — he gets a good performance out of Ben Affleck the actor.  In the past, I’ve always enjoyed looking at Ben Affleck on-screen but I never really wanted to hear him talk.  Because as soon as he would open his mouth, whatever appeal that Affleck possessed would immediately dissolve.  In the past, as an actor, Affleck often epitomized that whole concept of “there’s no there there.”  However, in this film, he gives a low-key, subtle performance that really helps to hold the entire film together.  I still wouldn’t call Affleck a good actor.  Instead, he’s one of those rare directors who (like fellow bad actor Quentin Tarantino) knows how to get good performances even from the most unlikely of performers.

Affleck is well-supported by Hall, Lively, and Renner.  Hall has a difficult job because she’s not so much playing an actual human being as much as she’s playing an idealized concept.  Her character really doesn’t have any purpose beyond offering Doug a chance at redemption and (this is obvious more in retrospect than during the actual film) really doesn’t have much of an identity beyond how her life touches Doug’s.  Hall, however, is so vulnerable in the role that, while you’re watching the film, that none of this really becomes obvious until a few hours after the movie ends.  Lively (better known for her role on Gossip Girl) is only in a few scenes and, in many ways, her character is even less developed than Hall’s.  If Hall has to represent the Madonna part of the Whore/Madonna complex, guess what Lively represents.  Still, Lively brings some much needed humor to the role and to the film.  She’s having fun playing her drunken, drug-addled character and she steals almost every scene that she’s in.

However, the film is ultimately dominated by Jeremy Renner.  With his angelic voice and deceptively soft voice, Renner is the psychopath that you can’t help but love.  Movie psychos are a dime-a-dozen so when an actor comes along and actually finds something new to do with the role, it’s impossible not to be impressed.

So much works in The Town that I almost feel guilty talking about what doesn’t.  For all its strengths, it also has three rather glaring flaws.  As with all things, the final verdict on this film depends on just how willing the viewer is to overlook these flaws.

First off, Ben Affleck proves himself to be a better director than writer.  The Town’s story is well told but the majority of it will still be awfully familiar to anyone who has ever seen a heist film.  Unlike Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, or Michael Mann, Affleck doesn’t embrace the conventions in order to deconstruct them.  Instead, he uses the conventional storyline as an excuse to explore the Charlestown culture.  As a result, this flaw arguably works to the film’s advantage.  Still, those viewers who are expecting to be surprised by the film’s plot should consider themselves warned.

As well acted as the movie is, there is one big exception in the cast and that is Mad Men’s Jon Hamm.  Hamm plays the FBI agent who is determined to capture Affleck.  He’s the Javert to Affleck’s Valjean.  Unfortunately, as played by Jon Hamm, he’s also a cinematic black hole.  Hamm may be an excellent television actor but, playing a key supporting role and surrounded by actual film actors, it’s obvious that Hamm has no idea how to act for the big screen.  As a result, he never comes across as a worthy or even dangerous adversary and his pursuit of Affleck never becomes compelling nor do we ever worry that Affleck might not be able to outsmart him.  There’s a scene, towards the end of the film, where Hamm yells something like, “Drop your weapon, asshole!”  I have to admit that I stunned just about everyone in the theater when I burst into laughter at the sound of Hamm shouting “asshole” and sounding, more or less, like an overgrown kid on a playground.

(Hamm’s sidekick, by the way, is played by another tv actor, Titus Welliver.  Welliver is probably best known for playing the Man In Black on the final season of Lost.  Though he gets next to nothing to do, Welliver dominates every scene that he’s in.  Unlike Hamm, he knows how to act on a big screen.)

The most glaring flaw with The Town, however, is that the entire plot pretty much depends on the viewer accepting that Hall’s character, just days after being traumatized by being held hostage and seeing one of her co-workers nearly beaten to death because he attempted to protect her, would so easily trust and open up her life to a stranger (even if that stranger is Ben Affleck).  Never mind the fact that we are then expected to believe that she would stay loyal to Affleck even after learning the truth.  Realistically, this would seem to indicate that the character’s something of a sadomasochist but the film really doesn’t explore that (or really anything else that might make Hall’s character anything more than just an idealized Madonna figure).

I mean, I’m always open to experimentation in a relationship.  Different people enjoy different things and I’ve never been one to judge anyone else’s particular fetish.  However, just speaking for myself, the day that you stick a gun in my face, put a blindfold over my eyes, and then abandon me out on the beach is the same day that I decide that there’s probably not going to be a long-term relationship there.

So, once again, it’s all a question of whether or not you can accept these flaws.  I have to admit that, as I watched the film, I occasionally had a hard time doing so.  If you can agree to overlook the flaws, however, then The Town is an entertaining, well-acted crime thriller with an authentic sense of place.  And if you can’t overlook those flaws, than The Town is a good but imperfect movie that still indicates that Ben Affleck has got quite a future as a director.