Happy Anniversary A-Z (Well, W)

A few weeks back Patrick Goldstein on his LA Times blog asked “Is there any Hollywood movie that isn’t having an anniversary this month?” He could reasonably have said this year as well because every time I surf the net or pick up a magazine there is a anniversary piece about a classic or cult movie that came out 20 years ago, 25 years ago, 30 years ago and so on. There are quite a few good articles so I thought I’d compile a far from complete listing of some of the best ones. Here goes:

AIRPLANE! (Dir. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, & Jerry Zucker, 1980)

The gag-a-minute disaster film satire just turned 30 (USA release date July 2nd, 1980) and there are a gaggle of tributes including this New York Times piece:

“Surely It’s 30 (Don’t Call Me Shirley)” – Matt Zoller Seitz

There’s also this well worth checking out piece:

“Airplane!, one of the best comedies ever made, celebrates its 30th anniversary (with videos)” – Scott Wampler (Examiner.com)

BACK TO THE FUTURE (Dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1985)

This anniversary, the film’s 25th, was marked by what’s been called a “twitter hoax” involving a photoshoped picture of Doc Brown’s Delorean dashboard. You can read about it here:

“Debunked: ‘Back To The Future’ Twitter Hoax” Jeff Sneider (TheWrap.com)

Pretty funny but Conan O”Brien’s tweet was funnier:

“Today’s the 25th anniversary of “Back to the Future” – The movie that popularized DeLoreans, Flux Capacitors, & almost nailing your own mom.”

THE BLUES BROTHERS (Dir. John Landis, 1980)

1980 comes up a lot here – it was quite a summer. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s musical car chase extravaganza was definitely a highlight as these links attest:

“Remembering ‘Blues Brothers’ 30 years later” – Christopher Borrelli (Chicago Tribune)

“30 years later and ‘Blues Brothers’ still on a mission from God”Steve Spears (Tampabay.com)

“The Blues Brothers Gets Vatican Seal Of Appoval”Ron Hogan (Popular Fidelity – popfi.com)

CADDYSHACK (Dir. Harold Ramis, 1980)

Score another for 1980 with this much beloved country club golf comedy which pitted the slobs against the snobs. Read on:

“Is it Really the 30th Anniversary of ‘Caddyshack’?!” – Jane Boursaw (filmgecko.net.)

(Dir. Irvin Kershner, 1980)

The second (or the 5th if you want to split hairs) film of the ginormously popular STAR WARS series is widely thought by many, including me, to be the best stand alone installment. Here’s some links to those who think likewise:

“Report from the 30th Anniversary Empire Screening” – Pablo Hidalgo (starwars.com)

The Empire Strikes Back Turns 30, As Do Fans Pyschic Scars” – Mike Ryan (Vanity Fair)

“Empire Strikes 30: Ars looks back at a amzing film” Ben Kuchera (artstechnica.com)

FLETCH (Dir. Michael Ritchie, 1985)

Chevy Chase’s newspaper reporter wisecracks through one of his best comedies, if not the best. This is by far the best column I’ve found yet on the film’s birthday:

“White losers rejoice: Fletch celebrates 25 years” – Peter Hyman (thephoenix.com)

GOODFELLAS (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1990)

It’s too early for tributes just yet – the film was released on September 19th, 1990. Until then here’s the news of Spike TV’s anniversary tribute:

“Spike TV celebrating ‘Goodfellas’ 20th at Guy’s Choice Awards” (merinews.com)

Stay tuned to this space for more on GOODFELLAS 20th…

(Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1975)

Too many to list here but here’s some of the cream of the crop of 35th anniversary wishes to what many claim was the first summer blockbuster:

“‘Jaws’ 35th anniversary: Remembering the first summer blockbuster” – Andrea Reiher (zap2it.com)

“Jaws’ 35th anniversary: How Jaws changed summer movie blockbusters” Michael Avila (csmonitor.com)

“35th Anniversary of Jaws Begins in a Junkyard” – Robert Falconer (cinemaspy.com)

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (Dirs. Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones, 1975)

Last year it was reported that there would be a 35th anniversary celebration at Doune castle in England (where much of the movie was shot):

“Monty Python reunion planned for Doune castle” (pythononline.com)

I couldn’t find any other info – a date for the reunion or anything so if you know what’s up with it please email me.

PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (Dir. Tim Burton, 1985):

“Los Angeles Film Festival: Paul Reubens to mark 25th anniversary of ‘Pee Wee’s Big Adventure'” – Susan King (latimes.com)

PSYCHO (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

“Hitchcock’s Psycho at 50, The sounds of violence” Jack Sullivan (WSJ.com)

RAGING BULL (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1980):

“Brutal Attraction: The Making of Raging Bull”

– Richard Schickel (vanityfair.com)

THE SHINING (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

“The Shining – 30th Anniversary – May 23, 1980”

WILD AT HEART (Dir. David Lynch, 1990)

Actually other than some notices about 20th anniversary screenings I haven’t found a good anniversary appraisal for this one. I just rewatched it and really loved see it again so maybe I should consider doing one. Hmmm.

I know there are a lot of significant anniversaries I’ve missed – REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), THE APARTMENT (1960), MASH (1970), NASHVILLE (1975), and many many more so please let me know what else we should be celebrating in the comments below. Looks like a followup is in the cards.

More later…

GOMORRAH: The Film Babble Blog Review

GOMORRAH (Dir. Matteo Garrone, 2008)

Talk about hype! The trailer for this Italian film is filled with raving quotes such as: “Stunning…A reinvention of the mafioso movie” and “the greatest mafia movie ever made…strips every last pretense of romanticism from ‘The Godfather’ saga.” Quite daunting statements especially when considering THE GODFATHER itself was credited for stripping away previous romantic pretensions from the old Hollywood James Cagney-era gangster films. But that’s just the thing, THE GODFATHER as such created a new romanticism involving family and tradition that has thrived through later day mob classics including Scorsese’s * GOODFELLAS and had a healthy run on HBO’S The Sopranos. That the ambitious GOMORRAH is being sold as a shattering of these modern mob movie myths isn’t exactly false advertising but it’s certainly an injustice to this fine yet somewhat inaccessible film.

In a strained structure that makes the complex workings of SYRIANA look like a walk in the park, there are several knotted threads to follow involving a group of characters in Naples connected to the Camorra – the real life criminal organization older than any other in Italy.
In one major thread, Gianfelice Imparato plays Don Ciro, a mid-level money carrier who defects from his clan amid a hairy dispute. Another thread involves Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) as street toughs who steal guns from Camorra members and amuse themselves by firing off rounds at the riverbank in only their underwear making for a striking image that has been rightly exploited in the film’s ads. Other threads involve the 13 year old Totò (Nicolo Manta), who falls in with gang members, and Carmine Paternoser rebelling against his boss illegally dumping toxic waste.

How all these tangents come together I’m still trying to work out but perhaps absolute clarity is not director Garrone’s objective. Based on the bestselling book by Robert Saviano, GOMORRAH is the result of the work of no less than 6 screenwriters so it’s no wonder that it can be a cinematic ball of confusion. Despite this, there is much to recommend here – the washed out docu-drama feel, the killings (or hits) are as piercing as movie simulations can be, and there is realistic grit replacing the glamour of former gangster epics even if the film doesn’t surpass their grandeur like the over hyperbolic critics quoted in the trailer claim. However the lack of strong characters coupled with an annoying soundtrack which sounds like cellphone ring-tone flourishes accompanied by a techno beat keep this from a true breakthrough of mafia movie re-imagining. These are my first impressions though for I feel it deserves a deeper look. As it stands now I don’t think it would make my mafia movie top ten (were I to make such a list) but depending to how it ages and holds up to repeated viewings, it might just make it in one day.

* Martin Scorsese is credited as the Presenter: USA release of GOMORRAH – something the trailer is actually wise to hype up.

More later…

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE: The Film Babble Blog Review

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (Dir. Danny Boyle, 2008)

The buzz has been a-blazing on this film way before it made the news when Roger Ebert got smacked down (literally) by a fellow critic at a screening in Toronto last September. Right now it is topping many Critics’ Award lists for 2008, getting multiple Golden Globe nominations, and gaining massive word of mouth as it gets a wider release. What’s more impressive is that this film deserves every accolade and award and then some. It is a “feel good” movie in the least cynical use of that well worn publicity phrase with its inventive story-telling and rich palette of visual splendor, simply amazing considering its squalor-filled settings. So how can depictions such as poverty, child abuse, and even the sight of somebody drenched in feces be in a film that adds up to an overwhelmingly happy and heart-warming experience? I dunno, but this film pulled it off magnificently – echoing the power and grandeur of CITY OF GOD crossed with the clever charm of Boyle’s own MILLIONS, and its done with wit and grit to spare.

Our hero is 18 year old Jamal (Dev Patel along with Tanay Cheda and Ayush Mahesh Khedekar as Jamal at younger intervals) who is being interrogated by police, USUAL SUSPECTS-style, about his suspiciously improbable winnings from appearing on the Hindi version of the modern classic quiz game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. His answers involve engaging and sometimes disturbing flashback sequences that are handled deftly and definitely more fluidly than in many other recent broken narratives. From an early age, Jamal made a couple of connections that would deeply affect his current predicament – his love for Latika (Freida Pinto with Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar, and Rubiana Ali as younger incarnations) and his stormy clashes with fellow slum kid Salim (Madhur Mittal, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail – whew!) All of these talents, tested (especially Anil Kapoor as the unctuous game show host) and untested are up to the task at hand here.

A end credits dance sequence (that can’t possibly be a Spoiler!, can it?) is the only thing Bollywood about this Indian movie made by Brits but that works as well and as entertainingly as everything else here. Despite a fair amount of subtitled dialogue (which is pretty stylized as it goes for subtitles) 80-90% of it is spoken in English and it’s instantly accessible so it’s sure to pick up even more acclaim and box office in the weeks to come. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is one of the best movies of the year for sure and will endure to be much more than a winner this awards season – I feel that for years to come it’s going to be a favorite of the same folks who can love AMELIE and an edgier work like GOODFELLAS equally. It has plenty of pure stultifying competition (got MILK?) out there in what’s shaping up to be a precedent setting prestige motion picture season, but from what I’ve seen so far this has the “fun factor” on its side in spades.

More later…

10 Movie Posters That Completely Co-opt Others Original Designs

This is a sequel of sorts to a post I did earlier this year (10 Of The Most Misleading and Mis-representing Movie Posters Ever!) with one of the same posters mentioned and the same theme of mis-marketing dominating. Recently the publicity for the new pop-doc AMERICAN TEEN included a poster that directly recreates the iconic poster image for the classic 80s teen angst flick THE BREAKFAST CLUB. The similarity was so blatant that it made many folks (including me) think it was a retitled remake:

You see? To be fair AMERICAN TEEN has another poster design out there that’s more original but that above is still still close for comfort. This is a pretty common device that calls for another patented Film Babble Blog list:

10 Movie Posters That Completely Co-opt Other Poster’s Original Designs

1. THE BIG ONE appropriates MEN IN BLACK and suffers legal action for it – That’s right the image for Michael Moore’s self indulgent book tour doc was ruled too similar to the design for the Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones sci-fi vehicle so a judge ruled that Miramax had to remove the posters from distribution. The taglines: “Protecting the Earth from scum of the universe” from MEN IN BLACK and “Protecting the Earth from the scum of corporate America” from THE BIG ONE would probably be dismissed by most of us as parody not copyright infringement but Columbia Pictures’ lawyers thought differently.

2. FLETCH LIVES for some reason regurgitates GONE WITH THE WIND – This lackluster sequel did itself no favors by placing Chevy Chase’s Irwin M. Fletcher character into the framework of one of the most famous films of all time. Not sure the thinking here, did they really think it was a good idea to equate the camera-mugging wise-ass with a suave Rhett Butler in the thralls of a tragic romance while Atlanta burns? I suppose the GONE WITH THE WIND design is just a device for selling the Fletch inherits a Southern Plantation’ premise and I should cut them some slack for trying to wrap a failed follow-up in something resembling a classy package.

3. WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? macks on the art for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK – Meticulously copying the entire design right down to the typefaces and every detail of the amazing Amsel painting done for the 1982 re-release of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Morgan Spurlock’s much lambasted quasi-poli-doc tries to align itself with the same globe trotting heroic splendor of the Spielberg classic but just ends up looking desperate. I haven’t seen WHERE IN THE WORLD… but not being a fan of SUPER SIZE ME or Spurlock’s television work makes me ambivalent at best to it with this uninspired poster design putting me off even further.

4. THIS IS SPINAL TAP jumps on the back of AIRPLANE! – This one I wrote about before in the Most Mis-leading Movie Posters post mentioned above, noting that director Rob Reiner remarked: “They marketed it with a guitar flying in the air with a twisted neck which looked like the poster for AIRPLANE! It looked like it was trading on

another film”. There were many more comedies that were marketed with crazy flying in the air’ imagery – the Zucker Bros. own NAKED GUN movies kept the concept alive for another decade after SPINAL TAP.

5. PROBLEM CHILD crassly copies PARENTHOOD – A mere months after Ron Howard’s family comedy was a hit came this tasteless anti-family comedy with a poster design that mocks the former’s switching the roles and supposedely doubling the laughs. Not a bad advertising approach mind you, I’m sure many rented one after glancing at the video box thinking it was the other.

6. DEAD HEAT duplicates GOODFELLAS – This one is really annoying. Same dark design with 3 protagonists posing above a street scene and the same typeface

shows a complete creative bankruptcy on the side of the promotional department. The utterly forgetable Keifer Sutherland crime thriller that somebody on the IMDb message board called “SEABISCUIT meets GOODFELLAS could not come close to competing with Scorsese’s masterpiece so seeing them try is painful.

7. ROCK ‘N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL re-amps NATIONAL LAMPOONS ANIMAL HOUSE – Lots of crude sloppy comedies have likewise Mad Magazine derived designs but the folks behind marketing the Ramones’ film debut didn’t look very far for an angle here – they just went with what worked for the previous years teen gross-out blockbuster. Squint and you’d think you’re seeing the same picture (especially with the tiny examples I’ve provided here).

8. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY redoes ANNIE HALL (as does the movie) and begat a flood of rom com movie marketing – A couple in a hesitant yet sexually tense moment always makes for a good poster picture for a romantic comedy,

right? Well just add a city skyline (most often New York, duh!) underneath and now you’re talking. Dozens upon dozens of recent rom coms have used this type imagery including SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, TWO WEEKS NOTICE, MAID IN MANHATTAN, ALEX & EMMA (also Rob Reiner), etc. Oh yeah, the Dudley Moore / Mary Steenburgen movie actually named ROMANTIC COMEDY had a similar image too.

9. CLOVERFIELD marks on THE DAY AFTER TOMORROWs territory – The Statue Of Liberty gets a lot of abuse in the world of movie posters. In CLOVERFIELD its head gets blown off (same thing is shown

on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORKs poster incidentely) and a long shot view shows us a stormy New York in turmoil. Looks a lot like the same painting style and tone used in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROWs the Statue Of Liberty under ice image. The poster for the upcoming sludge through bad pop culture spoofs DISASTER MOVIE features our long suffering statue getting drowned in a tidal wave. Hard job it is being a giant symbol of freedom I guess.

10. TRANSFORMERS apes PLANET OF THE APES – Why would anybody want to recall the roundly rejected Tim Burton remake of the Charleton Heston “damn dirty ape” classic with a poster image that looks nearly identical? It seemed like TRANSFORMERS would’ve had its own shiny take on the aesthetics and wouldn’t have to stoop to this so was it unfortunately unintentional? Did somebody think the look and angle of the Ape design was cool and thought it was either forgotten or needed to be re-done and re-purposed? Whatever the deal, I can still barely tell them apart.

Okay! Now, I know there are lots of movie posters that have co-opted the designs of others that I missed so feel free to comment away.

More later…

The Sopranos = GOODFELLAS -The TV Show?

“Some will win, some will lose.
Some were born to sing the blues.
Oh, the movie never ends –
it goes on and on and on and on.”
– From Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” (written by Jonathan Cain, Steve Perry, and Neil Schon)
A few days ago I finally caught up with the 12 million Americans who watched the series finale of The Sopranos last July. It was hard to avoid hearing how it ended because it became a part of the National dialogue – I mean even Hillary Clinton spoofed it in a campaign ad! For those of you who like me don’t have HBO and held out from downloading it from torrent sites and haven’t gotten the DVD set that was released last week – don’t worry. I won’t give anything away about the controversial last scene except that Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) can’t parallel park to save her life and the Soprano family (Tony, Carmella, and A.J.) devour their onion rings whole rather than taking small bites. No surprise there. What was surprising is how much the scene left on the table and angered a lot of people because of it. I loved it though – the beautiful manipulation of the cutting and the use of Journey (quoted above) were glorious touches.

It’s well known that The Sopranos owes a lot (maybe everything) to Martin Scorsese’s amazing mob movie classic GOODFELLAS (1990). Creator David Chase once said that “GOODFELLAS was the Qur’ān for me”. Even the opening credits are done in the same style. Ray Liotta was reportedly offered the role of Tony Soprano but thankfully he turned it down. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else but James Gandofini playing the part and that connection may have been too much. Still, the connection is too strong to deny especially with Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico and Vincent Pastore being just 4 out of the over 2 dozen actors who have been in both GOODFELLAS and The Sopranos (See below). Unlike THE GODFATHER series which is referred to so many times that the characters mention the movies by their Roman numerals (I, II, III obviously) and watch bootlegs of the series in the days before Paramount released it on DVD, The Sopranos appears to take place in the same universe as GOODFELLAS. This is despite the fact that the film is name-checked by Christopher (Michael Imperioli) who lists it as one of his screenwriting inspirations when he’s taking a acting class. To my recollection that is the only time it’s mentioned. If I’m wrong – that’s what the Comments below are for.

If GOODFELLAS is the Qur’ān then Martin Scorsese is God which is what I’ve been saying on this blog the whole time! The second episode “46 Long” (1999) has Scorsese played by Anthony Caso (who was in GOODFELLAS as a truck hi-jacker) going into a club. From the crowd on the sidelines Christopher yells out “Hey! KUNDUN! I liked it!” One of all time favorite moments in the series. Christopher tries to show off that he’s a hardcore fan by loudly acknowledging one of the man’s least appreciated and little seen works. Kind of like if I saw Bob Dylan and yelled at him “Hey! “Knocked Out Loaded”! I didn’t think it sucked!” Scorsese is mentioned usually by first name throughout the series as when Silvio (Steven Van Zandt) muses in one of the last episodes about Christopher’s slasher movie-within-a-TV-show “Cleaver” – “Christopher was the last person I’d confuse with Marty but it wasn’t bad.”

So to really get a hold on this whole thing we gotta take a good look at the players –

The GOODFELLAS/Sopranos Master Crossover Cast List:

GOODFELLAS spawned The Sopranos – you know, the Mob can be quirky and funny and real and accessible. If you look at the main cast of The Sopranos about half of those you can see in GOODFELLAS.”
– Director Joe Carnahan (BLOOD, GUTS, BULLETS AND OCTANE) from the featurette MADE MEN – THE GOODFELLAS LEGACY on the GOODFELLAS Special Edition DVD – 2005.

Yep, there are a lot of familiar faces in said film/TV show though as you’ll see many of them appear only in the background of nightclubs or in crowd scenes at receptions and restaurants.

Frank Adonis – (pictured on the left) A veteran of many Mob-related movies (KING OF NEW YORK, GHOST DOG, FIND ME GUILTY, etc.) usually playing a guy named Frank, Adonis played Anthony Stabile in GOODFELLAS (GF) and Guest #1 (see what I mean?) on the episode “House Arrest” (2000) of The Sopranos (TS).

Frank Albanese – Played Mob Lawyer in GF and Uncle Pat Bludetto in 4 episodes from 2004 to 2007 on TS.

Anthony Alessandro – This unlucky backgrounder was never given a name – he’s just part of Henry’s 60’s crew in GF and a waiter in TS! Poor bastard.

Vito Antuofermo – Prizefighter in GF and Bobby Zanone on 2 TS episodes – 2000-2001.

Tobin Bell – Jigsaw from the SAW movies! Yep, this guy’s credits are extensive and impressive – he’s always the heavy or a crucial creep (He even played Ted Kaczynski in a TV movie!). He’s a Parole Officer in GF and Major Zwingli on TS. I also fondly remember him as Ron – the record store owner who refuses Kramer and Newman’s business on Seinfeld (“The Old Man” – 1993).

Lorraine Bracco – Like Liotta turned down the Role of Tony, Bracco turned down the part of Carmella Soprano because she felt it was too similar to the character of housewife Karen Hill in GF. She took instead Dr. Jennifer Melfi – the psychiatrist that attempts to treat Tony throughout the show’s run. Though Dr. Melfi does very much have a different dynamic to Karen – the motions that she goes through – her dropping him and taking him back as a patient again and again seems definitely rooted in that seminal scene in GF in which Henry Hill hands Karen a bloody gun. Karen: “I know there are women, like my best friends, who would have gotten out the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn’t. I’ve got to admit the truth. It turned me on.”

Nicole Burdette – Carbone’s girlfriend (that’s her actual credit) in GF is given a name – Barbara Giglione and a nice 5 episode run on TS – 2000-2001.

Gene Canfield – Plays a prison guard in GF and a cop in TS. A look at his filmography on IMDb shows that “Detective” comes up the most. Nice that he stays on the right side of the law, isn’t it?

Anthony Caso – Like I wrote above this guy oddly portrayed Scorsese on an early episode of TS. I thought it was Scorsese for years but from what I’ve read he’s barely seen the show. Maybe he has too strong a “been there, done that” feeling.

Nancy Cassaro – Joanne Moltisanti was a incidental female family member (seen mostly only at occasions like weddings and funerals) on TS played by 2 different GOODFELLAS actresses. See also Marriane Leone.

John ‘Cha Cha’ Ciarcia – One of Batts’ Crew (credited as #1 to be precise) in GF, Ciarcia played Albie Cianflone – Phil Leotardo’s (Frank Vincent) 1st hand man in the last season of TS.

Victor Colicchio – Another guy on the sidelines – one more of Henry’s 60’s crew in GF and a guy named Joe in an early TS episode.

Daniel P. Conte – I gotta like this guy because he almost always plays characters named Dan – Dr. Dan in both GF and CASINO, and Danny in THE DELI. However on TS for 3 episodes in the final season he was Faustino ‘Doc’ Santoro.

Tony Darrow – (pictured on the right) As restauranter Sonny Bunz, Darrow has one of my favorite lines in GF – “he looked at me like I was half a fag or something!” He parlays that same kind of charm (or lack of it) into Larry Boy Barase on 14 episodes of TS (1999-2007).

Joseph Gannascoli – Uncredited but listed on IMDb as “Guy who walks downstairs at Paulie’s house” in GF. Got a much more substantial role as Vito Spatafore in 40 episodes of TS 1999-2006.

Paul Herman – Just a Dealer in GF but got named as Beansie Gaeta in 5 episodes of TS – 2000-2007.

Michael Imperioli – (Pictured on the left) Probably the most connected cast member here because his small but piviotal part as young lackey ‘Spider’ is one of the most memorable characters in GF. Spider gets shot in the foot then later whacked by Tommy (Joe Pesci) in one of the most powerful scenes in the picture. As Christopher Moltisanti on TS, Imperioli is able to pay homage to his former personage – in an early episode he shoots a young guy at the bakery in the foot and the guy yells “you shot me in the foot!” Chris: “it happens.”

Marianne Leone – see Nancy Cassaro.

Gaetano LoGiudice – Talk about incidental – yet another member of Henry’s 60’s crew in GF and only listed as Bada Bing Patron, Guest at Wake, and VIP Room Guest on TS.

Chuck Low – Annoying wig salesman Morrie Kessler in GF and Hasidic hotel owner Shlomo Teitlemann in TS.

Vincent Pastore – Credited as “Man w/Coatrack” in GF – Think I’ll have to watch it again. Don’t remember seeing him. As Salvatore ‘Big Pussy’ Bonpensiero in 30 episodes of TS, 1999-2007 he’s unmissable.

Frank Pellegrino – Johnny Dio in GF, Agent Frank Cubitosi – 12 episodes, 1999-2004.

Angela Pietropinto – Paulie’s Wife in GF, Helen Barone – 1 episode of TS (2006)

Suzanne Shepherd – Karen’s mother in GF, Mary De Angelis in 20 episodes of TS – 2000-2007)

Tony Sirico – (Pictured on the right) Another major connection. Though he has a very small part only in the opening sequence as Tony Stacks in GF it’s such a glaring smiling mug he has that it resonates through to his immaculate performance of Paulie ‘Walnuts’ Gualtieri in 82 eipsodes of TS. A real hood back in the day, Sirico has carved quite a career out of his post Wise guy life. Nobody can scowl quite like him.

Frank Vincent – As Billy Bats in GF he gave the world a great catch-phrase – “why don’t you go home and get your shine-box!” in his tension-teasing taunting of Tommy (Pesci). His character of Phil Leotardo on TS seems rooted in Bats’ ballsiness. Of course looking at his other gruff work in DO THE RIGHT THING, COP LAND, and other Scorsese works like CASINO and RAGING BULL (in which his character’s name was Salvy Batts by the way) that may just be all Vincent.

I won’t go into detail on the music angle because I wrote a piece last year on the use of music in the movies of Martin Scorsese – Exile On Mean Street (Oct. 22, 2006). It was mostly from a Stones angle but touched on the scorching soundtrack selections that enhance his ouvre overall. The Sopranos builds on this by also featuring impeccable taste with an amazing synching of situations with the most perfect song. From Nick Lowe’s “The Beast In Me” in the pilot through the retro-lounge replayings of Sinatra and the moralizing of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” to the final cryptic but gorgeously overwrought Journey anthem quoted above every choice was dead on.

Ultimately, though I felt it would make a good blog post heading, to label The Sopranos as GOODFELLAS – The TV Show would be a gross simplification. While certainly built on Scorsese’s blueprint it has established its own identity and presented sometimes a deeper context to the consequences and the mundanity of the daily routines – it certainly spent a lot more time in hospitals than the fast paced world of GOODFELLAS allowed. I’m just thankful to The Sopranos because it gave us room to spend more time with those themes and some of the same people whether at the breakfast table in the morning or at the clubs at night. Since like many I loved GOODFELLAS so much I was sorry to see it end and with The Sopranos it felt like it didn’t have to. Now that we’ve got them both on the shelf – the special edition GOODFELLAS (have you heard the commentary the real Henry Hill did with former FBI Agent Edward McDonald? – It’s awesome T!) and the 86 episodes of The Sopranos we can just focus on the good times and know it goes on and on and on and on. So don’t stop… (cut to black)

More later…

10 Reasons The 30th Anniversary Of OH, GOD! Should Be Celebrated

Jerry Landers (John Denver) : “If you wanted to see me, why didn’t you just appear over my bed?”
God (George Burns) : “Ah, Hollywood. Next question.”

The film forums were flowing with tributes to the 30th anniversary of STAR WARS last summer but I think another little movie released that same year should get a shout-out. I’m talking about OH, GOD! – the Carl Reiner directed comedy that had God come to Earth in the form of a wise-cracking smug smiling George Burns. He appears to John Denver, of all people, in Denver’s only cinematic acting role and asks him to give his message of hope to the world. Wackiness doesn’t ensue like in lesser broader comedies (BRUCE ALMIGHTY – I’m looking in your direction) – no, a measured witty thoughtful tone carries Denver’s supermarket manager everyman character through the motions of his doubting wife (Teri Garr), his stern unforgiving bosses, and the scolding from the entire religious community that result.

Released on October 7th, 1977 to good box office and much critical acclaim, OH, GOD! is still not really considered a classic these days. It’s not on the American Film Institute’s 100 greatest movies list and it only gets a IMDb user rating of 6.2/10 but its Critics Tomatometer 82% approval rating shows there are a lot of fans out there. So, since I’m one of the film’s biggest fans I thought it would be fun to celebrate the 30 year anniversary and honor OH, GOD! so here are :

10 Reasons the 30th Anniversary of OH, GOD! Should Be Celebrated

1. George Burns (1896-1996) As God – On the DVD commentary (recorded in 2002) Carl Reiner says “somebody came to me and said ‘how about George Burns for God?’ and I said ‘who else?'” Despite this comment reportedly Mel Brooks was asked first to take the role but as Reiner joked Brooks didn’t want to take the demotion. Burns brings a crafty confident component to his portrayal of the grand deity and nails every line. Especially when he takes the stand at the concluding trial scene – “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me me.”

2. John Denver (1943-1997) – As Brooks was originally considered for God, Woody Allen was the first choice to play Jerry Landers – the grocery store manager chosen to spread God’s word. Allen turned the part down because he had his own take on God and that wasn’t it as the story goes. So they went to a top 40 folk singer who had never acted before – good ol’ boy John Denver. Not sure how they arrived there but I’m glad they did because Denver had the chops and plays no false notes here. His exasperating defenses to the skeptical ones around him – “I’m not some kind of nut!” and tense talks/fights with his wife Bobbi (Teri Garr) all show a range though not polished was still perfect for this project.

3. Teri Garr – As the disbelieving worried wife – a role she would perfect in her next film CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND Garr holds her own here. She recounts on the commentary – “around the time of this movie I also made CLOSE ENCOUNTERS… and I remember I used to do interviews and I’d say I just did 2 movies – one in which God is revealed as a cabdriver and one in which God is revealed as a chandelier!” Incidentally Barbara Harris was the original choice – glad they went with Garr.

4. Paul Sorvino – Way before he was an established powerhouse actor in such pivotal films as GOODFELLAS and NIXON, Sorvino had done little besides TV series work and bit parts in a few movies but when he took on the part of Reverend Willie Williams people started to take notice. Williams is a popular evangelist described as “God’s personal quarterback” who draws the real God Burn’s scorn. God considers him a phony and instructs Denver to tell him so. The Shrine Auditorium sermon that Denver interrupts to bring him that message is show-stopping largely due to Sorvino’s invigorated scenery chewing.

5. Great If Largely Unused Supporting Cast – From William Daniels (Benjamin’s father in THE GRADUATE, the voice of K.I.T.T. on TV’s Knight Rider) to David Ogden Stiers (Major Winchester on M*A*S*H – the TV series) and Ralph Bellemy as Williams’ lawyer every part is extremely well cast. Unfortunately a lot of performances appear to have been cut – Donald Pleasance (Blofeld in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, the President in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK among other mostly villainous roles) is given very little screen time and has only one or 2 lines. A montage during the trial sequence indicates there was a lot more material but until a special edition DVD comes along we’ll just have to make do.

6. Great Story – Adapted from the book by Avery Corman (who also wrote the original novel of Kramer Vs. Kramer) by Larry Gelbert (M*A*S*H, TOOTSIE) the premise is sound and well plotted out even though it follows a formulaic path it’s one well worth taking. Even the courtroom showdown ending which was well worn by ’77 comes across as fresh and necessary.

7. Great One-liners – Of course if you’ve got George Burns you would expect an arsenal of Vaudevillian one-liners and Gelbert’s Oscar nominated screenplay doesn’t leave him unarmed. Some examples – “The last miracle I did was the 1969 Mets. Before that, I think you have to go back to the Red Sea” and this literary gem “you know Voltaire may have had me pegged right? He said I was a comedian playing to an audience who’s afraid to laugh.”

8. Minor Miracles – As the before mentioned rip-off – sorry, uh…homage BRUCE ALMIGHTY and especially its lame sequel EVAN ALMIGHTY (with a budget of approximately $140 million – the most expensive comedy movie ever made) prove with their extensive use of CGI – money doesn’t equal funny. OH, GOD! shows this by giving us a God who bemoans special effects and considers major miracles beneath him and his message. When a still skeptical Denver insists on a sign to fully convince him – God makes it suddenly rain. The thing is – he only makes it rain in Denver’s car. He gets pulled over and tells the cop that he must have gone through a car wash with the windows open. The cop (John Ashton – talk about casting) buys it in a stormtroopers buying Luke by way of Obi Wan’s Force tricks way. The only other miracles that our Lord Burns perform is a vanishing card trick and disappearing himself by way of cheap editing in his final court appeal. Those work fine so why bother with big-time spectacle that never really pays off?

9. The Carl Reiner Cameo – Sure, it’s not in the league of director doing a cameo in their own film as say Hitchcock but Reiner’s appearance alongside Denver on The Dinah Shore show is still good stuff. As further Reiner self referencing goes – on a hotel room television set an episode of the Reiner created The Dick Van Dyke Show plays. God – this time dressed as a bus boy turns off the TV and remarks “so many repeats.”

10. A Sincere Positive Message – Yes, shut your mouth you cinematic cynics – it’s true, this film has a good solid message that believers and non-believers can embrace – that our world can work and it’s up to us. Best said by God himself: “you can love, cherish and nurture each other or you can kill each other.”

Okay! So put it in your Netflix queue and honor thy OH, GOD! with me – won’t you?

Postnotes :

I’ve got to at least mention the sequels as inessential as they are. It has been a while since I’ve seen them but the 2002 DVD of OH, GOD! has trailers for them and they trigger my memory. The thing that has always bothered me about making a sequel to this film is simply this – Burns tells Denver when he first appears – “I picked a look you could understand. For somebody else I would’ve looked different.” The sequels – OH, GOD! BOOK II (Dir. Gilbert Cates, 1980) and OH, GOD! YOU DEVIL (Dir. Paul Bogart, 1984) ignore this and just settle on God being George Burns. BOOK II pretty much repeats the same story as the first substituting a little girl (Tracy Richards) for Denver for extra cheesy results but at least OH, GOD! YOU DEVIL attempts a new premise – Burns plays the Devil as well and pulls off some amusing moments. Still, neither needs celebratory re-appraising – that’s for sure.

Then there’s the remake tentatively scheduled for 2008. According to my trusty Wikipedia source “there is currently a remake starring Ellen DeGeneres planned, which was confirmed by DeGeneres in a Time magazine interview.” It even has an IMDb page and original producer Jerry Weintraub is involved but it looks like no progress has been made since it has been announced and I hope it stays that way. Hey, I like Ellen but this is a bad idea and I’m not alone in that thinking – this John Denver tribute page has a petition you can sign to stop it. I just signed it – hope you do too.

More later…

Exile On Mean Street – Or Scorsese & The Stones Together Again

“He could stay up for days on end talking about movies and music, more about music than movies. He had this rock ‘n roll head, knew every lyric and every title. He understood that the music was really a critical aspect of the zeitgeist of the times.”
– Don Simpson (Warner Bros. Producer) on Martin Scorsese *

Okay so I loved THE DEPARTED as did most people I know and the majority of th
e critics but I didn’t just want to write a formal review for it so I decided to do a piece on the notable reappearance of the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack of a Martin Scorsese film. I know it is far from surprising – Scorsese has made many movies that are chock full of ’60s and ’70s classic rock chestnuts. I mean he got one of his first movie gigs editing the movie WOODSTOCK (arguably the sunny flipside to the Altamont Hell of GIMME SHELTER which George Lucas worked on weirdly enough) And of course Scorsese made the seminal concert film THE LAST WALTZ and the definitive pre-motorcycle crash Dylan bio NO DIRECTION HOME, sure but it’s his telling cinematic relationship with the music of the Stones, one song in particular that is the theme of this post which I call:


Or : Scorsese and the Stones Together Again

Martin Scorsese’s THE DEPARTED opens with a gruff Jack Nicholson voice-over monologue over archival news film of violence during Boston’s anti-busing protests in 1974. Eerily winding it’s way through the grainy footage comes Keith Richard’s stinging guitar intro to “Gimme Shelter” – the all-too familiar but still potent 1969 Rolling Stones classic. The film shifts to the present with shots of Nicholson’s character- Irish mob boss Frank Costello shrouded in a darkness that remains even when he enters a fully lit store-front. The piercing familiar strains of Richard’s guitar fade as the scene is set. The song has done its job of setting the ominous tone and spooky feel and can exit. Thing is, Scorsese has played this tune before – twice before as a matter of fact.

Several Scorsese soundtracks have been peppered with Stones tracks, always from the 60’s and early 70’s era and always as scene carrying tone-setters. MEAN STREETS, Scorcese’s 1973 breakthrough, has an early scene in which the 2 main protagonists each respectively get stamped with their own Stones songs. A barroom jukebox blares the soulful “Tell Me” to present a cool, calm and collected Charlie (Harvey Keitel) as he glides half-dancing through the smoky red-lit tavern. A few minutes later wild rough unpredictable Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) gets the jarring rollicking “Jumping Jack Flash” to greet him at the door. We assume back stories, identify the moods, and form some sort of a connection to these guys just from these songs doing their thing.

The Stones don’t show up in a Scorsese film again until GOODFELLAS (1990). Rightfully considered a return to form and probably his most popular film, the soundtrack was an amazing mesmerizing ride – mix-tape moviemaking at it’s finest with 3 Stones songs (or bits of) in the mix. Some kind soul (or someone with way too much time on their hands) posted an extensive listing of the 43 songs – most of them appearing as punctuating excerpts – and the place they occur in the film to the IMDb Message board for GOODFELLAS. When the era defining icons (Tony Bennett, the Moonglows, Johnny Mathis, Bobby Vinton) of Henry Hill’s (Ray Liotta) 50’s childhood descent into a crime filled adulthood dissolve into the unglamorous 70’s downfall we have “Gimme Shelter” make its Scorsese film debut. Only a minute of the song appears and its from the second half when Jagger’s and guest vocalist Merry Clayton’s wailing is at its peak. It defines the shot of Henry cutting cocaine at his girlfriend on the side Sandy’s (Debi Mazar) apartment. The jump-cut montage masterpiece finale sequence features bits of the Stones “Monkey Man” and “Memo From Turner” mixed in with snatches of the Who (“Magic Bus”), Muddy Waters (“Mannish Boy”), Harry Nilsson (“Jump Into The Fire”), and George Harrison (“What is Life”). These jarring song excerpts give a frantic jagged heartbeat to that one fateful day when Henry is on the run trading guns, setting up a major coke deal, hiding from helicopters, and trying to get a proper meal made at home (“keep stirring the sauce!” he yells on the phone to his wheelchair bound brother).

“Casino ? Caseen it . The first time when it was called Goodfellas. “
– David Spade (Hollywood Minute, Weekend Update SNL 1995)

Point is well taken – it’s true CASINO (1995) presents same the tone, tension, some of the same cast as GOODFELLAS (Robert Deniro, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent, Scorsese’s Mother Catherine) and this time 4 Stones songs among them “Gimme Shelter” as well, appear in the just as extensive soundtrack. CASINO does offer some good filmmaking and involving narrative drive but even for this hardcore Marty fan it has too much of ‘been there, done that’ feel. “Sweet Virginia”, “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” and “Heart of Stone” make their brief snatch cameos and it’s 5 Stones songs if we count Devo’s cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. Which I have to admit is an inspired choice here considering.

With the intro to “Gimme Shelter” setting off THE DEPARTED it’s almost as if Scorsese could argue that he’s never used the same part of the song in a film. Not sure if that’s true – I didn’t want to watch CASINO again but maybe someone will edit together a version of it from all three films and Youtube it. The new Stones addition to the Scorsese canon is “Let It Loose” from the 1971 album Exile On Main Street, possibly the most obscure Jagger/Richards composition to be chosen for his soundtracks. Appearing in a crucial scene it underscores the fear and intensity of boss Costello (Nicholson) roughly intimidating undercover cop Billy Castigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) in a barroom backroom. The Stones sound best playing on some sleazy jukebox in a run-down dive you understand. The scene is timed to “Let It Loose” – the entire song plays never dropping out or fading away. An searing effect that lingers comes off this standout scene. It makes the case for Marty to continue digging up, polishing off, and setting to visceral action whatever Stones song he wants (‘60s to early ‘70’s era only, mind you).

So why has Martin Scorsese used the Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” in three different films? Probably the same reason Woody Allen has used Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” (more than once – it’s an effective, exciting and historic piece of music. “Gimme Shelter” was born out of the same era that Scorsese was being born as a filmmaker. No other song captures the darkness that came when the ‘60’s Utopian dream went deadly wrong with such wicked passion. It is a depiction of a floodgate of war, rape, and murder threatening to break violently open and drown us all. It seemed to be talking about Vietnam, talking about race riots, it seemed to foreshadow Altamont (the documentary concert film of which was named GIMME SHELTER), and it seemed like it illustrated everyday life in that scary era.

While writing this I learned that one of Scorsese’s next projects may be a concert film of the Rolling Stones current tour. According to the info circulating Scorsese will be following the aging rockers between two shows at New York’s Beacon Theatre on October 29 and 31. The shows will be part of former US President Bill Clinton’s birthday celebrations. Ah, well it all makes sense now. Very good chance we’ll have “Gimme Shelter” in a fourth Scorsese film. Maybe this time he’ll really nail it. I mean, in our current scary era a live in the moment performance of this dark scorching song (with a former President in attendance no less) might get the real cinematic treatment that the previous appearances of the songs were mere auditons for. Scorsese might just yet capture the true force and nature of that rock classic beast and tame it with his camera and later master editing. I mean as the song says “it’s just a shot away”.

Notes :

* This quote was taken from Peter Biskind’s excellent book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (Simon & Schuster 1999)