THE DARK KNIGHT – The Film Babble Blog Review

THE DARK KNIGHT (Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2008)

As the best of the movie franchise re-boots over the last decade, BATMAN BEGINS differentiated itself from the rest of the pack by taking the whole Batman thing so damn seriously. It was gritty yet precise and had a roster of amazing actors (well except for Katie Holmes) who brought a gravitas to a comic book legend which made it into glorious epic cinema. The long awaited follow-up, made even more anticipated by the untimely death of Heath Ledger, is even grander with an operatic majesty that even the best superhero movies have never even gotten close to attempting. Christian Bale returns as Bruce Wayne/Batman and with the sharp focus of a heat-seeking missile proves himself, yet again as one of the most solid actors working today. Also returning is the laconically witty Michael Caine as butler Alfred, a haggardly effective Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon, and Morgan Freeman as Luscious Fox who provides Batman with a new line of crime-fighting toys. It has been called an upgrade for Katie Holmes to be replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaall in the role of Rachel Dawes and I definitely agree. Aaron Eckhart is also a new addition as Harvey Dent, a noble D.A. that Batman believes is the real saviour of Gotham City despite that he’s dating the caped crusader’s true love (Gyllenhaal).

As suspected, and fortold by nearly everybody on the internets, Heath Ledger steals the show as the Joker and appears to have a had a great time with the part. Ledger has a frenetic energy and unique tone to his version of the classic character that takes over every scene he’s in; sometimes disturbing, sometimes funny in a sick twisted way, but always intense and compelling completely justifying the “too soon” talk of a posthumous Oscar. I’ll avoid any further story description; there are so many powerful surprising plot-points that it would be a shame to spoil but the action sequences are all top notch and despite its length it never lags. To label or consider this film just a superhero movie seems an incredible injustice for it’s more aptly a crime epic that definitely is in the league of Martin Scorsese’s and Michael Mann’s forays into that territory. One of the most satisfying and electrifying movies of the year if not the decade, THE DARK KNIGHT doesn’t just live up to its hype – it blows it away again and again.

More later…

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Clash Frontman Joe Strummer Gets The Julien Temple Treatment With Great Rock Doc Results

“I need some feeling of some sort – hey, we’re all alive at the same time, at once, you know!”

– Joe Strummer yelling at the US Festival crowd 5/28/83

I sadly missed this film on its extremely brief theatrical run in my area but happily just viewed the newly released DVD so here’s my review:

JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN (Dir. Julien Temple, 2007)


Tracing Joe Strummer’s life from a “mouthy little git” to “punk rock warlord” (Strummer’s words) Julien Temple’s lively and loving documentary is full of insights and powerful ideology that render it immediately essential.


As the frontman for the seminal British punk rock band The Clash, Strummer was rawly outspoken, always passionate, and brutally honest so he’s the best one to tell his story and by way of BBC radio recordings of him as guest DJ and audio from many interviews over the course of his career – he does.

These archival Strummer soundbites are helped along by a bountiful bevy of talking head comments from such stars including Johnny Depp, Steve Buscemi, Bono, and John Cusack as well as those with a more personal connection – former bandmates, girlfriends, and family members who I wish were better identified.

That’s one of the only beefs I have with this project – we know who Matt Dillon or Bono are when they appear at a campfire shot to offer their takes on Strummer but without a name and caption many folks like girlfriend Palmolive (from the lesser known but still vital bands The Slits and The Raincoats) fly by with their context not properly placed *. Also would be nice to have concert dates and events better titled. Small quibbles though, the rest is rockumentary gold or at least rock doc crack.

* Luckily the DVD has an over an hour and a half of bonus extended interviews which does identify each participant and is also essential. A couple of the highlights: Angela Janklow tells of a hilarious chance meeting of Strummer and Monica Lewinsky & Martin Scorsese relays how Clash music fueled his inspiration making RAGING BULL and later GANGS OF NEW YORK.

Born as John Mellor, the son of a British diplomat and a Scottish nurse, his family moved quite a bit during his childhood; living in Eygpt, Germany, and Mexico before John ended up at a boarding school in London. It was there that he was turned on to The Rolling Stones, learned to play the ukulele, and starting going by the name of “Woody” ostensibly because of an affection for Woody Guthrie. He went to art school with cartoonist aspirations (many of his drawings are sprightly animated and interspersed throughout) but music was his real calling and he was soon playing guitar in a band called the Vultures which didn’t last long. At the same time he toiled in such vacant career opportunities as carpet salesman and grave-digger. Because of his style of guitar playing he changed his name to Joe Strummer and angrily derided anybody who called him by another moniker.

As it certainly was suspected the center piece here is Strummer’s years with, as the hyped phrase goes, the “only band that matters”. Having disbanded another band – the popular pub rockers The 101ers, Strummer met guitarist Mick Jones and manager Bernie Rhoades. With bassist Paul Simonon, drummer Terry Chimes, and another guitarist Keith Levene they formed The Clash. They were immediately embraced by the blossoming British punk scene and signed to CBS within a year of their live debut (in 1976) with Chimes replaced by Topper Headon and Levene being axed. Great grainy footage abounds – most notably The Clash playing to a giant crowd of pogo-ing punksters at an Anti-Nazi League benefit. Their political themes, fueled by Strummer’s leftist views, were not lost on their fans as Bono from the mega-band u2 pretentiously but accurately explains: “I never knew who the Sandinistas were or where Nicaraqua was, the lyrics of Joe Strummer were like an atlas; they opened up the world to me and other people who came from blank suburbia.”

“I couldn’t believe we turned into the kind of people we were trying to destroy” Strummer laments as we see The Clash reap the rewards of success/excess. Contrasting professional arena concert footage from the early 80’s with the grimy black and white basement video of their early days of the same song illustrates beautifully his case: “we were part of the audience, part of the movement. Once it became thousands of miles removed from that I began to freak out.” Mick Jones final appearance was at the US Festival in 1983 (which again, is not properly identified) at which point Strummer, most likely way after the fact, describes the band as a “depleted force”. The Clash carried on however with some replacement blokes but the glory was gone so yep, here comes death. The death of the band that is, Strummer had many years of soundtrack work, acting roles (he appeared with Buscemi in my favorite Jim Jarmusch film MYSTERY TRAIN, solo recordings, and powerful performances with his band the Mescaleros. As a former global punk superstar he struggled a bit: “You meet a 17 year old guy and he’s never heard of The Clash; that’s the moment my feet touch the ground again.”

Strummer died of a congenital heart defect on December 22nd, 2002. Just weeks before he played with Mick Jones for the first time since 1983. It was an impromptu appearance with Jones getting on stage to join Strummer and the Mescaleros on the Clash classics “Bankrobber”, “White Riot”, and “London’s Burning”. The footage from that gig, albeit brief, adds enormously to the emotional last third of the documentary. Temple’s clever construction of the different strains of pop culture, even utilizing clips of ANIMAL FARM and the classic British flick IF…. to symbolize oppressive British society, is incredibly compelling from the before mentioned concert footage to even an appearance on South Park (1998). As both a enjoyable touching tribute for the long-time fan and a teaching-tool for the uninitiated, Julien Temple’s JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN is one of the best of its kind and a new addition to the definitive rocumentary checklist.

More later…

Helen Hunt’s Directorial Debut & A Few New DVD Reviews

THEN SHE FOUND ME (Dir. Helen Hunt, 2007)

Best known as Paul Reiser’s wisecracking wife on the rom sit-com Mad About You, Helen Hunt has forged a cagey career on the big screen. Despite her Best Actress win for AS GOOD AS IT GETS her other roles have been less than stellar – her sideline spouse part in CAST AWAY could’ve been done by just about any actress and her tone and delivery in Woody Allen’s THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION were so off the mark that I would consider it among the worst acting of the last decade. So, surprise surprise – I wasn’t looking forward to her first-time out as director but lo and behold, I actually ended up being won over. Based on the 1990 novel by Elinor Lipman, it’s being marketed as a comic drama but I’d but the emphasis on drama and as such it’s definitely a more genuine work than Noam Murro’s recent SMART PEOPLE – another piece about aging, pregnancy, and over educated middle-class white anquish. And it has a cameo by Mr. “Satanic Verses” himself Salman Rushdie as Hunt’s gynecologist!

Hunt casts herself as a withdrawn elementary school teacher and Matthew Broderick as her pensive husband. Shortly after their marriage he tells her he doesn’t “want this life” and moves out after she isn’t able to change his mind with some spontaneous kitchen floor sex. Within 9 hours of the break-up, Colin Firth as a befuddled divorced parent is hitting on her in the parking lot of her school but her biological clock is ticking so loudly that it barely registers. Then, if the timing couldn’t be any worse (or better for the sake of the drama) Bette Midler, as a local TV talk show host, shows up out of the blue saying she’s Hunt’s long lost Mother and drops another bombshell: Steve McQueen was her father. Hunt is skeptical of this, and rightly so, but charmed by Midler’s schtick – which is undeniably the funnybone of this film. Wanting to pursue a relationship with Firth is confounded by Hunt finding out she is pregnant with Broderick’s baby. Broderick, in a part that’s more pathetic ELECTION-style than FERRIS BUELLER-ish, wants back into Hunt’s life…maybe. Hunt, using long takes and a good sense of lighting, effectively portrays the stressful pulling of her character’s sensibilities in every direction and does it with a nice lack of snarky one-liners and manufactured quirk. THEN SHE FOUND ME shows that Hunt has learned a lot from the film makers and actors she’s worked with (James L. Brooks, Robert Altman, Nancy Meyers, Jack Nicholson, et al) and, weirdly enough, makes her a film maker to look out for. Never thought I’d be writing that.

YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 2007)

When Martin Scorsese finally won an Oscar last year the award was presented to him by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. That wasn’t just a group of honored directors walking off the stage afterwards, that was what was once called New Hollywood walking off the stage. The surviving members of the maverick auteur movement that saved the movies in the late 60’s and 70’s were still majorly representin’. Of course we know where Marty’s at with his DeCaprio epics and rock docs, and Spielberg/Lucas, of course, we know what’s going on with them with the #1 movie right now, sure but what of Francis Ford Coppola?

Well, for his first film proper since 1997’s THE RAINMAKER it appears that he’s the modern movie maker equivalent to Sisyphus from Greek mythology. If you don’t know, Sisyphus was a King cursed to have to roll a huge boulder up a steep treacherous hill, only to see it roll all the way back down again and then have to repeat this action til the end of time. So Coppola, yet again at square 1 gives us this curious case – a movie about a 70 year old man struck by lightning that makes him young again and gaves him another chance at love and finishing his previous life’s philosophical work.

Tim Roth, as the old man turned young, has a gravitas and intensity apt for the part but the premise is far from satisfactorily played out. His tortured, and unfortunately tedious, time recovering in his hospital bed as too many headlines tell us the timeframe (World War II) takes away from the story’s momentum. Roth meets Alexandra Maria Lara, (a stunning woman even when speaking in tongues) who also plays his lover from his early life, who is overtaken by the same lightning shining (or whatever it is) and they form a bond which of course becomes something more. The fractured-ness of the film gets a bit tiring – right when I was thinking ‘hey, that last shot didn’t make much sense’ Coppola starts showing shots upside down. There’s a lot that’s confusingly mismatched in the material here – I’m seriously unsure what the point was to a lot of it. I got that Coppola was trying make some sort of a new cinematic language (he says something like that on a “making of” featurette on the DVD) out of choppy yet beautful imagery interspersed with trying narrative introspection but come on! There’s very little here that someone who is not a hardcore film buff would care to follow. If APOCALYPSE NOW was a failed film experiment that still turned out to be a great movie, this is a failed film experiment that just ends up a puzzling curio. So come on Sisyphus – it’s time to start rolling that boulder again!

DELIRIOUS (Dir. Tom DiCillo, 2006)

As I wrote before (Buscemi Now? – Dec. 17th, 2007) Director Tom Dicillo doesn’t think his film, which got good reviews, didn’t get a fair shake at the box office. Well having finally seen it upon its recent DVD release I can honestly say he’s right. While no masterpiece it is a better than average independent movie that surely deserved better distribution and surely would’ve gained some audience support. Michael Pitt plays Toby, a homeless 20something New York kid who by chance comes across a plethora of paparazzi waiting for a chance to photograph K’Harma Leeds (Alison Lohman) – the pop star flavor of the day. After that shoot goes awry, Toby makes an unlikely friend in Les the acerbic (Steve Buscemi) who doesn’t consider himself to be paparazzi but a “licensed professional” and declares: “Rule #1: There are players and there are peons – I am a player.” That becomes a running joke as there are many Rule #1’s throughout the film as in “Rule #1: Never let a hooker slip you the tongue.” Les, for all his cynical arrogance prides himself on getting photos of Goldie Hawn eating lunch and Elvis Costello without his hat.

Toby as an unpaid assistant joins Les in his celebrity stalking quests and learns the tricks of the tawdry trade driving around in Les’s beat-up station wagon, hauling around gear, and trying to crash into celebrity parties. At one such event Toby gets swept up into K’Harma’s entourage. K’Harma and Toby hit it off back at her hotel while Les is left in the dust. Toby and Les patch things up the next day but then Les blows it by taking photos at K’Harma’s birthday party (of Elvis Costello!) that he weaseled his way into. “Rule #1: Know where you belong” Les says but by this point Toby has tired of his teachings. Gina Gershon plays a sexy saavy sop opera casting director that helps Toby on to the ladder of actor success he longs for while Les (Buscemi in full bug-out mode) toils on the lowest rung. The themes of parasitic tabloidism and the trials of being a celebrity in the spotlight are obvious but it’s the chemistry between Buscemi and Pitt that makes this work. Lohman’s diva issues with stardom are fairly transparent and there are some unneeded artsy interludes (such as the one with flower petals falling from the sky) but DiCillo has made a funny appealing film with a heart that beats through the equal measures of grime and glitter. It would make a good double flipside feature with INTERVIEW – Buscemi’s fine film about a serious journalist having to do a piece on a B-movie/TV star (Sienna Miller). In my before mentioned Buscemi Now? post I said that Buscemi pulls off the task of being “extremely creepy yet incredibly lovable at the same time”, the same could be said about DELIRIOUS.

More later…

Exile On Mean Street Part II – Shining A Light On Scorsese & The Stones Yet Again…

At the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year Mick Jagger made the joke before anybody else could: “I want you to know that SHINE A LIGHT is the only (Scorsese) film that ‘Gimme Shelter’ isn’t played in.” I had written before about Martin Scorsese’s Stones obsession with “Gimme Shelter” singled out in Exile On Mean Street – Or Scorsese & The Stones Together Again (October 22nd, 2006). In that post I speculated about the proposed concert film/doc and how it may capture the definitive performance of “Gimme Shelter” – well alas, as Jagger quipped this is not to be. No matter – the prospect of America’s greatest director taking on the greatest rock band in the world (just go with their own self generated hype on this will you?), in a ginormous IMAX feature no less, is enough to wipe away such pop culture pigeon-holing persnickety. So let’s get on to the show:

SHINE A LIGHT (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2008)

The Rolling Stones are no strangers to being the cinematic subject of famously impulsive control-freak film makers. Jean-Luc Godard, The Maysles Brothers, and Hal Ashby have had their turns at capturing the legendary rockers on celluloid but now the British hitmakers have met their match with Martin Scorsese – not because he is a more of a meticulously-minded master director than those luminaries but because he is more of a giddy hardcore fan of the band in the spotlight. As the film begins in grainy black and white Scorsese is seen scurrying around trying to get the setlists for the 2 Stones shows at New York’s Beacon Theater he is preparing to shoot, with 18 cameras * mind you, and comically getting the rock star brush-off from frontman Mick Jagger. This opening has a frenetic almost SPINAL TAP-ish quality to it but when the Stones hit the stage splashing into full color with the picture expanding to the full screen I was swept up into the cross-fire hurricane of the ferociously jolting “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”.

* Helmed by such cinematographers and behind the scenes A-listers as Robert Elswit, Robert Richardson, John Toll, Emmanuel Lubezki and Albert Maysles (GIMME SHELTER!)

As the Glimmer Twins (the nickname and producing credit of Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards) and their mates tear through their classics (“Sympathy For The Devil”, “Brown Sugar”, “Start Me Up”, etc.) and a few obscurities for the faithful (like “Far Away Eyes” for one) Scorsese’s cameras swoop down and around the band, barely ever pausing to rest lest anyone would get bored with a shot. Scorsese’s scrupulous sense of timing and exciting effective editing rocks as hard as his subject material making this the best concert film since Jonathan Demme’s STOP MAKING SENSE. It’s awe-inspiring to watch Jagger conducting his fellow Stones, the back-up singers, the audience, and all the cameras into a riotous groove then drive it into a frenzy over and over again. The effect was so powerful and absorbing that I had to refrain myself from clapping at the end of several songs, having to remind myself I wasn’t in the audience at the Beacon – I was just one of a handful of people at an IMAX theater in Raleigh.

The 2 shows (Oct. 29 and Nov. 1, 2006) this film was constructed from were star studded affairs – both onstage and in the audience. Former President Bill Clinton, whose 60th birthday was being celebrated by this charity benefit, introduces the band (which is fitting because he was called the first “Rock ‘N Roll President”) and Bruce Willis can be seen but despite this Scorsese thankfully keeps audience shots at a minimum. What’s more notable is the musical guest stars – blues legend Buddy Guy calmly appears to throw gas on an already raging fire by duetting with Jagger on Muddy Waters’ “Champagne & Reefer” and a starstruck Jack White (from The White Stripes) joins the band for a infectious moving rendition of “Loving Cup”. Christina Aguilera helps bring out the raunch in the lusty “Live With Me” gyrating then grinding with Jagger while long-time Stones sideman Bobby Keys’s saxophone levels out the showbiz sleaze with some pure class. The only minor quibbles I have would be with some of the archival footage from old interviews that serve as segues between some songs. They are brief though and only cut into one song (the Keith Richards sung “Connection”) so they don’t hold up the proceedings much.

Living in a town of snarky hipsters (Chapel Hill, N.C.) I am highly aware that many have long ago dismissed the Stones (especially their recent output) as overplayed Baby Boomer bombast long past its expiration date. I wish those folks would get their bed-heads out of their asses and make the trip to their nearest IMAX theater to see SHINE A LIGHT. It’s as fast paced and exciting a concert experience that can be imagined on the big screen (no, I haven’t seen U2 3D!) and it is powerful enough to re-ignite the fanatic spark in even the staunchest Stones cynic. Sure, they’ve become part of the machine they used to rage against with inflated ticket prices and infinite rehashes of their greatest hits but they’re still THE ROLLING STONES. When these grand old men who can still bring the rock are seen through the loving lenses of Scorsese I doubt many rock movie lovers will complain that they get no satisfaction.

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New Release Drama DVD Round-Up

When it comes to Netflix I’m what is considered “a heavy user”. I view many DVDs and often send them back the same day I get them writing about them as I go. Since I realized that most of what I’ve seen lately have been dramas I decided to round ’em up for this post. I also noticed that all of these movies have funerals in them but that would make for a pretty depressing blog post title so I’m going with the drama angle. Okay! Let’s get to ’em:

GONE BABY GONE (Dir. Ben Affleck, 2007)

Ben Affleck’s directorial debut is everything his run aspiring to A-list leading man status (in such blockbuster wannabes as PEARL HARBOR, PAYCHECK, THE SUM OF ALL FEARS and DAREDEVIL) wasn’t – it’s assured, multi-layered and extremely entertaining. Affleck doesn’t appear on camera here *, which is surprising considering his many bit cameos throughout the years, and yes it would be easy to take a pot shot by commending him for that alone but the weight and power of his Boston based crime drama cancels that immediately out. Brother Casey Affleck does the protagonist duty as a small scale private detective who works with his girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan) out of a tiny Boston apartment. When the young daughter of some neighborhood low-lifes goes missing and a media circus ensues, they are hired by the girl’s Aunt (Amy Madigan) to help find her.

The police (particularly Ed Harris as a police detective) are skeptical of the inexperienced but intrepid couple and the dangerous battered barfolk they encounter when they go snooping are little help as well but C. Affleck and Monaghan plug away. Morgan Freeman as a police Captain lends his reliable folksy demeanor (glad he’s not narrating for once) also talks down to our heroes – indeed it is often pointed out how young and green Casey Affleck appears: “he just looks young” Monaghan remarks to Freeman’s scolding. As you should know by now I’ll give no further spoilers but I bet you can see how the couple gets in other their head in a world where nobody can be trusted – Man, that ought to be the tagline!

Hate to call them twists because they are displayed with more class than in many standard thrillers but the turns of the second act are surprisingly successful because of the refreshing lack of gloss or flash. A tad high in melodrama maybe but GONE BABY GONE doesn’t overreach. The supporting cast all bring it – Harris and Madigan (who are husband and wife in real life) both have some standout scenes and John Ashton (who many will remember as a cop in the BEVERLY HILLS COP series) gets in some good gruff gestures. Amy Ryan as the lost girl’s mother plays a messed up “skeezer”, as one drug dealer character calls her, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and she’s pretty dead on but some of her line readings seem a bit forced so I’ll be pretty shocked if she wins it. Casey Affleck really should have been nominated for this performance over his part in THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES…, as much as I liked him in that flick, because he really gets it right in his manner and tone here. On the cinematic chopping block MYSTIC RIVER comparisons are inevitable but Ben Affleck’s moving film makes a case that Clint Eastwood doesn’t own the terrain – I believe a new up and coming director dog has just marked his territory.

* Actually Affleck can be seen moving through a shot in a dark bar but you could blink and miss him. On the DVD commentary co-writer Aaron Stockard calls it his “Hitchcock moment”.

WE OWN THE NIGHT (Dir. James Gray, 2007)

The opening with black and white archive photos (by still photographer Leonard Fried) of 80’s era New York cops brings to mind the grainy real-life riot footage that opened THE DEPARTED. Scorsese’s Best Picture winning crime classic again rears its head as once again we have a premise resembling a good cop/bad cop scenario and Mark Wahlberg as the blunt good cop doesn’t call foul on such accusations. But let’s get past that and see what we’ve really got here in James Gray’s period-piece police Vs. Russian mobsters flick that slipped through the cracks in its release last Fall. With Wahlberg we’ve got Joaquin Phoenix as his druggie nightclub managing brother and Robert Duvall as their grizzled police chief father trying to recruit Phoenix to be a mole. Duvall is one of the few actors that can convincingly pull off such a cliched line as “Sooner or later, either you’re gonna be with us or you’re gonna be with the drug dealers”. Phoenix is indifferent to his Pop’s war on drugs plight as he posits himself as a future “king of New York”. His club El Caribe is obviously modeled on Studio 54 with its clientele selected by bouncers, scantily clad dancing girls on the bar, and non-stop Blondie blaring on the sound system.

When Wahlberg gets shot and Duvall’s life is threatened by the drug running gangsters, Phoenix changes his tune and starts singing like a canary. He even agrees to be wired in order to lead the cops to the bad guy’s lair. Phoenix’s girlfriend (Eva Mendes – looking like a supermodel in a magazine photo spread) is a possible target too but she is disapproving of Phoenix’s new law enforcement involvement. The dialogue is repetitive and too often spells out every action. The story is full of predictable rote elements and the villains appear to be sent by central casting. It is set in the 80’s not for any interesting premise reasons like the opening implies but possibly because the filmmakers knew they were unable to write any cool modern cellphone trickery plotpoints. Which once again brings up the inferiority of this to Marty’s previously mentioned movie. So yeah, when it comes right down to it – skip this slickly produced pap and watch THE DEPARTED again. Wish I did.

ROMANCE & CIGARETTES (Dir. John Turturro, 2005)

This is a very odd movie. Co-produced by the Coen brothers and made 3 years ago but only now making it to DVD, possibly because the studio didn’t know how to handle it, Turturro with what he calls “a down and dirty musical comedy” is another actor turned director who made a movie that didn’t really catch on. James Gandolfini is an adulterous NYC construction worker whose wife (Susan Sarandon) knows about his mistress (Kate Winslet). They have three daughters (who all look too old to be believable as Gandolfini and Sarandon’s offspring) – Mary-Louise Parker, Mandy Moore, and Aida Turturro who have a riot grrl punk band and are constantly banging away for their piece of the soundtrack. Then throw in Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Bobby Cannavale, and a strangely subdued Eddie Izzard and you’ve got a faultless cast but a weird musical mix. I did mention it was a musical, right? That’s what makes it so odd – the cast members sometimes lip synche to classic songs and sometimes sing on top of them; rarely does the song feature the actor’s voice alone. When it does have Gandolfini or Sarandon or Winslet sing by themselves it seems to be to make a particular point. I just couldn’t figure out what that point was.

I really couldn’t for the life of me really get into this movie but I did appreciate quite a few moments. Gandolfini and Sarandon have a great scene, done in one take, sitting at their dinner table where he admits to her for some reason that he never liked Ethel Merman with her “foghorn of a voice”. He excuses Ernest Borgnine’s abuse of Merman in their marriage that only lasted one week back in the day by concluding “‘You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun’ would drive any man crazy.” Somehow this amounts to one of the only warm exchanges between the couple. Winslet really goes at her role with gusto especially in her introductory dancing scene wearing a scorching red dress in the window of a burning building. She and Sarandon have a ferocious cat-fight while Walken sings along in the background to Bruce Springsteen’s “Red Headed Woman”. See what I mean? Weird.

Turturro’s directional sense does comes through – a shot of cigarette butts littered all over a patch of snow is exceptional and it is obvious he has a good collaborating relationship with everybody in this movie; it may have been a mistake to cast his sister Aida though – she just ends up recalling her Sopranos character Janice. Mary Louise-Parker appears again in a movie she is barely used in – this is a shame as anybody who has seen Weeds knows, she can do better. At one point Gandolfini says when trying to reconcile with his wife: “Maybe I don’t know how to show it like they do in the movies or in books but I love. I have love to give.” Maybe Turturro doesn’t know how to show it either but this film if nothing else is definitely a work of love. Just why did it have to be love of the weird variety?

SHOOT THE MOON (Dir. Alan Parker, 1981)

It’s easy to forget that in the late 70’s and early 80’s there was a genre that held its own against the science-fiction blockbusters that dominated that era – the divorce drama. KRAMER VS. KRAMER, of course, was the leader of the pack but close behind were such families getting torn apart tangents like AN UNMARRIED WOMAN, TWICE IN A LIFETIME, and ORDINARY PEOPLE. Long out of circulation but now newly re-issued on DVD is a pivotal player from those ranks – SHOOT THE MOON which features Albert Finney leaving wife Diane Keaton for a younger woman (Karen Allen). As the film opens we are introduced to the couple with their four daughters (Dana Hill, Viveka Davis, Tracey Gold, and Tina Yothers) and their creaky old house on the outskirts of Marin County in California (many misty shots of the house and valley are throughout the film). We see as acclaimed novelist Finney and his former student now wife Keaton prepare for an evening at an awards ceremony that their marriage is on the outs. Finney calls his lover and the oldest daughter (Hill) picks up the phone to eavesdrop. On their ride there and back to the televised event their car is full of tension as we realize the gravity of what’s not being said and strongly feel the giant gap between the tortured pair. The next morning Keaton confronts Finney, while doing dishes mind you, and he responds not by owning up to his affair but by leaving with a bag that she had already packed in anticipation.

The couple attempts to sort out the rubble and move on with their lives but they keep on hitting emotional roadblocks. Finney moves in with Allen, who except for one signature scene basically has little to do but stand around looking pretty, while Keaton takes up with a contractor played with just the right tone by Peter Weller (ROBOCOP!) that she hired to put in a tennis court on her (actually legally still her and her separated husband’s) property. The film seethes with energy that explodes from underneath in a few surprisingly violent scenes. Finney is compelling as always as he stalks the screen in a manner exposing his stage roots and Keaton displays that the keen quality she can bring to dramatic roles is equal to the comedic skills she is better known for. Dana Hill (who died in 1996 from complications due to diabetes) has perfect poise as the oldest wisest daughter who knows her parents’ faults as well as their habits – she knows her mother smokes pot for example – and she has a great scene in the third act that among other things explains the movies title. It’s interesting to see Tina Yothers and Tracey Gould as sisters for as students of pop culture know they went on to be daughters in competing 80’s TV sitcom families – Yothers in Family Ties and Gould in Growing Pains respectively. A flawed but stirring drama with an absolutely shocking ending, Alan Parker’s SHOOT THE MOON is an oft overlooked film that deserves a place in your Netflix queue.

More later…

2007 Spills Over And Over And Over…

Yeah, I know it’s February 2008 but it always takes a few months to catch up on the previous year’s film releases so bear with me. Some are only now making it to my area theatrically and every few days NetFlix envelopes arrive with films from the tail-end of 2007 so I’m gradually catching up. Here’s what I’ve been seeing starting with a few movies recently viewed at the theatre-hole:

THE SAVAGES (Dir. Tamara Jenkins, 2007)

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are two siblings (Jon and Wendy Savage – hence the not so subtle title) who have to deal with their father’s (Phillip Bosco) worsening dementia in this almost too real to life film that hurts so good. I felt like a voyeur watching this at times because the situations come from such personal places. Early on Linney and Hoffman are established as liars – to themselves and everyone around them. Both have literary aspirations – Hoffman is a Professor with a Doctorate and author of obscure books on obscure topics; Linney is an aspiring playwright so you can see where they might competitively clash. They both have to travel from New York to Pop’s place in Arizona to figure out what to do about their father’s housing. Bosco is foul mouthed and forgetful (he mistakes his new nursing home for a hotel) so our brother and sister duo have more on their plate than their already exasperated lives will allow.

In a movie full of great natural-feeling moments, Gbenga Akinnagbe as a caretaker steals some vital screen time and as Hoffman and Linney’s respective lovers Cara Seymour and Peter Friedman fill out the great but spare cast. Tamara Jenkin’s first film – the underrated late 90’s SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS, as much as I hate using the phrase, showed promise but surprisingly not as much as this film delivers. “Maybe dad didn’t abandon us. Maybe he just forgot who we were” Linney says at one point and you can feel every syllable – not a single one of them phony or feeling like they exist only in a “movie” world. Hoffman and Linney are both top notch actors and they never falter here (this could be very well adapted to a great 2 person play); both deserve nominations (this should have been what Hoffman got a Oscar nomination for – not CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR). Jenkins, who also wrote the screenplay, has a smooth assured directorial style and that’s impressive with such rocky neurotic material. If I had seen it sooner THE SAVAGES may have made my top ten of 2007 but now I don’t want to knock anything off. Still it’s in my ongoing spillover and one I urge you to seek out. This is one of those slices of life that really cuts.

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (Dir. Julien Schnabel, 2007)

A few weeks back at the DGA Awards actress Sean Young (BLADE RUNNER, NO WAY OUT) heckled director Julien Schnabel when he took the stage because she thought he was taking too long to get to his remarks regarding his best director nomination for this film. “Come on – get to it!” she yelled, “have another cocktail!” he replied before walking off. Nobody could rightly yell at the screen for this movie to “get to it” because it immediately gets there with its premise, with its visuals, and with its remarkable sense of purpose. The premise: Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalricis) is paralysed after a stroke and can only communicate by blinking one eyelid. In this locked-in syndrome he is surrounded by women – his wife (Emmanuelle Seigner), his therapist (Marie-Josee Croze) who devised the one-eye communication method, his mistress (Agatha de la Fontaine), and a few pretty nurses (incuding Schnabel’s wife Olatz Lopez Garmendia) so he at least is never at a loss for beauty. We are never at a loss for beauty either – even though the first 10 minutes or so are a bit disorienting (images are seen through Bauby’s blinks) once one gets accustomed to the style the film is as engaging and colorful as one could desire.


It is funny that to fully appreciate and understand the title one has to see the film (or read the book), in other words it would be a spoiler to tell you what the title means so I won’t go there. There are many flashbacks, which are seemlessly stitched into the film’s fabric, so we see Bauby in better days. We get insight into his character, or lack of character when you consider the mistress, and get a great extended cameo by the legendary Max von Sydow as his stern cranky father. I got lost in this movie in its last third in the best possible manner – swept up in the notions of splendor one can only fully visualize from a state of confinement. Reportedly Johnny Depp was originally going to portray Bauby. I’m so glad that didn’t happen (he had PIRATES commitments apparently) for Depp’s ginormous star presence would have surely distracted from the real show. THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY is another candidate for 2007 spillover and a gorgeous experience that one doesn’t need “another cocktail” to get to.

And now some new release DVDS:


THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD
(Dir. Andrew Dominik, 2007)

Despite some good word of mouth in its theatrical release last fall this got majorly overlooked – even in the nonsensical “is the Western still alive?” debate that some critics indulged in. At the year’s end it made a number of top ten lists and recently garnered Academy Award nominations for Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor (Casey Affleck) so wider interest in it will be sure to spread. It absolutely deserves a bigger audience for it’s a great movie; it’s powerful as well as subtly moving and comes off as a true story, which it is, and a tall-tale at the same time. A gaunt Brad Pitt is the infamous outlaw Jesse James – a notorious bank robber, bloody murderer, and “legendary figure of the Wild West” (as Wikipedia puts it). As a timid awkward newbie to the James Gang, Robert Ford (Casey Affleck) longs after some of that legend glory and posits himself in the line for history by…uh…just reread the title – I guess I don’t have to worry about spoilers here!

The film could as well be titled “The Last Days Of The James Gang” for over its 2 hour and 40 minute running time the other members (including Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, and Paul Schneider) get a lot of screen time and their all fates intertwine with those of the two title characters. There is a large chunk of the film that Affleck is absent from as we learn family backgrounds and the score on deadly set-ups past and future. Pitt, understated with a persona drenched clean of razzle dazzle, is the best I’ve ever seen him – not a second of actorly digression. Casey Affleck once again makes the case that he’s the Affleck brother that should be in front of the camera as his Ford progressively seethes from within – outwardly idolizing yet quietly despising the aloof but intense James.

As I said before this was nominated for Best Achievement in Cinematography and it definitely deserves to win. Roger Deakins’ (also nominated for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) work here is explemporary – every single shot is beautiful whether they are of open terrains, spare wooden house sets, or the snow covered woods where a body could be dumped and not found for many seasons. Affleck also deserves his nomination but I doubt he’ll get the gold (I’ll refrain from Oscar predictions just yet) – overall the entire cast is well chosen with Sam Shepherd as James’ brother Frank James, Mary-Louise Parker (who barely has any lines but a great screaming and sobbing scene) as James’s wife, and the previously mentioned Rockwell in a manically precise part as Robert Ford’s brother Charlie – see how ‘in the family’ this all is? In my review of 3:10 TO YUMA last September about the fate of the modern western I said that “it’s a genre that will never die”. Great sprawling masterworks like Dominik’s THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD make me re-affirm that statement.

THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (Dir. Seth Gordon, 2007)

Out of the entire global classic gaming hobby, there’s one significant rivalry that’s equivalent to the big rivalries in history: Yankees/Red Sox, Maris/Mantle, Heckle and Jeckle…all the big rivalries in history you know? This is up there on that level. – Walter Day (founder of Twin Galaxies, an international organization that tracks high-score statistics for the worldwide electronic video gaming hobby – thanks again Wikipedia!).

One thing is certain if you watch this film you will come to know 2 names very well: Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe (pictured above). Billy Mitchell (pictured on the left below) who has been called the “greatest arcade-video-game player of all time” and is documented in the Guinness Book of World Records for his high score on the old school 80’s classic Donkey Kong. Wiebe is his competitor – a failed baseballer, grunge musician, laid-off from Boeing surbananite who took to his personal in the garage Donkey Kong machine as a time killer when out of work and just happened to beat Mitchell’s score. After many of Mitchell’s minions doubt the validity of Wiebe’s score self appointed records keeper turned gamer referee Walter Day invites him to prove his skills “live” – that is, at a public venue (one of the last standing arcades – Funspot in Laconia, New Hampshire). This is where the tensions rise – Mitchell sends a videotape that shows a game that tops Wiebe’s score. Mitchell is a no-show for a “live” showdown but is constantly monitoring his competition from his phone while Wiebe lives up the the challenge and continues to play on the spot. More such devious developments occur as we wonder if a real confrontation is in the cards.

For somebody who isn’t a gamer and had no idea of this outdated videogame subculture I was really riveted by this production. It’s the best kind of documentary – one that invites you in to a world that you’ve never known, introduces you to folks you end up really caring about, and leaves you with the passion and pathos of every day life from an angle that feels fresh as well as very funny. Maybe this film too simplistically casts Billy Mitchell as the conniving villain and Steve Wiebe as the innocent underdog hero but then again sometimes you’ve got to call ’em like you see ’em. The DVD is essential because the bonus material is not of the disposable variety – there are many vital extras including Q & A sessions from film screenings, a lot of crucial cut footage, and most importantly – updates on where the players competition stands now. As one of the bonus features is called (in a STAR WARS scroll) “The Saga Continues” – the story is going on to this day with Mitchell and Wiebe still battling it out down to the Donkey Kong “Kill screen”. One of the few documentaries ever where a sequel follow-up wouldn’t just be justified; it would be greatly appreciated.


Post Note #1: I wrote this review before I found out that a follow-up will occur but it’s not a sequel – a scripted dramatized movie adaptation is in the works I read on the internets. Hmmm.
Post Note #2: This hilarious recent Onion AV Club interview with Billy Mitchell is a sequel/rebuttal in itself.

THE BRAVE ONE (Dir. Neil Jordan, 2007)

The first ten minutes almost resemble a Meg Ryan rom-com set-up – a perky Jodie Foster with bedhead bangs is a New Yorker NPR-type radio personality madly in love with her fiance (Naveen Andrews) who looks like he stepped off the cover of a romance novel. But since this is a Jodie Foster movie we know the track record set by PANIC ROOM and FLIGHTPLAN – the happiness will be short lived and we’ll soon see our heroine stressed and ferociously working her eyes’ worry lines in a mode one character calls “in lock down” (not quite like Bauby in THE DIVING BELL above mind you). She and her beau Andrews are assaulted in Central Park and he is beaten to death by three thugs – the type who only exist in the movies; they videotape the attack yelling lines like “are you ready for your close-up?!” Foster is in a coma for 3 weeks and wakes up to find her lover has been buried and her view of what she calls incredulously “the safest city on earth” is forever altered. She buys a gun illegally and becomes a Bernard Goetz (who of course is referenced) style vigilante killing a convenience store robber, a couple of thugs on the subway, and an evil murdering businessman. A sympathetic heart of gold cop played by Terrence Howard investigates the killings and obliviously becomes friends with Foster. Their conversations are the heart of the film with Foster and Howard playing at the top of their acting game – it’s just unfortunate that the film doesn’t have more soul.

It’s hard for me not to think of TAXI DRIVER – the Scorsese/De Niro 70’s classic that happened to have a 13 year old Foster as a prostitute (a role that got her a Best Supporting Actress Nomination – she didn’t win but won later for Best Actress for THE ACCUSED). In THE BRAVE ONE Foster stalks the same mean streets that Travis Bickle did and she obviously would relate to the sentiment when he lamented: “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.” Neil Jordan’s (MONA LISA, THE CRYING GAME, THE BUTCHER BOY) direction is fluidly fine and it is a gutsy move for Foster to take on this female variation on DEATHWISH. Her fierce frightened performance provides plenty of grip but the play-out here is predictable and so is the ending. The combination of Fosters and Jordan’s panache does help this rise above standard thriller status – it just doesn’t rise far enough up to ring that cinematic circus bell.

By the way:

This picture of Jodie Foster doing her take on Tippi Hedren in THE BIRDS from the recent Vanity Fair photo spread “Top Stars Recreate Hitchcock Moments” is better than anything in THE BRAVE ONE.

More later…

Blasting Bogdanovich & 10 Definitive Rockumentaries

Who knew Peter Bogdanovich could rock?

This guy – the refined ascot wearing autuer who directed THE LAST PICTURE SHOW but is best known to the masses as Dr. Melfi’s shrink on The Sopranos not only can rock but he can rock for a long ass time. 4 hours in fact – the length of his new rock documentary TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS: RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM.

I made it through the whole thing and loved it (I hope my review below won’t take 4 hours to read) and it got me to thinking about other great rock documentaries, or rockumentaries if you will, so yeah – I made another official Film Babble Blog list. First though let’s take in Bogdanovich as he goes off on a Tom Petty tangent:

TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS: RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM (Dir. Peter Bogdanovich, 2007)

“Marty took 3 hours and 40 minutes to tell 6 years of Dylan and I figured, if that’s the case, why shouldn’t we take 4 hours to tell 30 years of Tom Petty?”
– Peter Bogdanovich on Sound Opinions (broadcast January 7th, 2008)

A big package this is – 4 discs, 2 of which are the 4 hour 15 minute director’s cut of the documentary, the 3rd disc is the complete 30th Anniversary Gainesville, Florida concert from September 30th, 2006, and the 4th is a soundtrack CD featuring 9 previously unreleased songs. Whew! Hard to claim to be just a casual Petty fan after absorbing all of that. Bogdanovich’s film even at its bloated length is engrossing and never lags.

Framed by footage from the before mentioned concert we are taken through the history of the band with interview segments spliced with photos, fliers, home movies, TV appearances, grainy videotape material, and every other source available. The ups and downs are perfectly punctuated with Petty standards – the punchy pop bright Byrds influence that brought forth the break-through single “American Girl” captures the band on a television stage young and green while the promotional video for “Refugee” shows them freshly on the mend from battles with lawyers and declaring bankruptcy.

Of course there are unavoidable rockumentary clichés that are as old than THIS IS SPINAL TAP – recording studio squabbles, the trials of transporting drugs over the borders, and the “Free Fallin'”-out of the band when they aren’t on the same page but they are amusingly displayed in a knowing manner that transcends the usual VH1 classic fodder. It’s hard not to think of Scorsese’s landmark Dylan doc when putting in disc 2 of RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM for the most obvious reason – as Part 2 starts the first words uttered, by Petty, are “Bob Dylan, I don’t think there’s anyone we admire more”. So the collaboration with Petty and Dylan begins – there is great footage from the HBO special Hard To Handle. Bob thrusts his hand behind him while playing his harmonica on the intro of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” to stop the band from coming in too soon and it’s an amazing moment – the greatest songwriter ever (as Petty and I call him) directing the best working class Americana band of the mid 80’s and beyond.

Tom and Bob’s collaboration led to the Traveling Wilbury’s – the ultimate supergroup filled out by former Beatle George Harrison, legend Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne of the elaborately Beatle-esque Electric Light Orchestra. Petty’s approach was forever altered – which we see as certain band members have to cope with his new direction. Especially former drummer Stan Lynch, (who refused to be interviewed for the film but is presented in archive footage) who says bluntly of Petty’s biggest selling album “Full Moon Fever” – “there were more than a couple songs I just didn’t like.” Through the 90’s up to now we see Petty and the Heartbreakers weather grunge (Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl played with them on SNL right after Lynch left), a death of a long time but still considered “new kid” bassist Howie Epstein, and the competition from a world in which “rock stars were being invented on game shows” all with their self declared “I Won’t Back Down” spirit.

Though you ordinarily wouldn’t think of him in the same company as Orson Welles and John Ford, this masterful showcase of material makes a solid case that Petty is indeed in the pantheon of those previous subjects of Bogdanovich’s. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, who seems to show up in every rocumentary or rock related movie these days (even WALK HARD), appears at one point to sing a duet with Petty on “The Waiting” at a recent concert. When the song ends and the giant audience erupts Petty says to Vedder, “Look at that, Eddie – rock and roll heaven.” He’s right – for 4 hours and 15 minutes it sure is.

So since Bogdanovich’s Petty opus joins the ranks of great rockumentaries and because this year new docs ’bout U2, Patti Smith, and Marty’s huge Rolling Stones project will be unleashed on the market it’s time to appraise those ranks. So here’s:

10 Definitive Rockumentaries

1. A tie – DON’T LOOK BACK (Dir. D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) /NO DIRECTION HOME: BOB DYLAN (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2005)

Despite the fact that I hate ties this shouldn’t surprise anyone, I mean have you met me? D.A. Pennebaker’s document of Bob’s 1965 British tour coupled with Marty’s wider scoped portrait of Dylan’s rise to fame are equally essential so I could not separate them. The Bob shown in these docs, with the wild hair, sunglasses and mod clothing is the same Bob that Cate Blanchett portrayed in I’M NOT THERE – the one most caged in his persona and held to the highest levels of scrutiny. Incredible concert footage flows through both films and hits its pinnacle in May 1966 when Bob faces a hostile crowd and a historic heckler – “Judas!” is shouted from the darkness one night in Manchester. “I don’t believe you – you’re a liar!” Dylan sneers before launching into a mindblowingly rawking “Like A Rolling Stone”. Scorsese and Pennebaker both capture lightning in a bottle and leave us with glorious glimpses of the greatest songwriter ever in his prime serenading the world even when most of the world wasn’t quite ready for his weary tune.

2. I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART (Dir. Sam Jones, 2002)

Not a career overview but a capsule of one particular plagued period when a great band – Wilco – made a great record (“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”) and it was rejected by their record company. Chicago critic, and co-host of the great NPR show Sound Opinions Greg Kot puts it best: “It’s not a VH1 “Behind The Music” story. It’s a not a drugs-groupies-celebrity kind of story at all. This band’s story is the music. 20 years from now their probably going to get more of their due than now.” Well let’s get them their due right now because this a compelling black and white film full of great music both in the studio and on stage. Key scene: leader Jeff Tweedy and guitarist Jay Bennett have a tense awkward argument over a crucial edit while mixing the album that shows how far they have drifted apart as collaborators. Indeed Bennett was asked to leave the band while the film was being made. The band grows stronger and gets a label and has a hit album which gives this rockumentary a happy ending and a nice second placing on this list.

3. THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (Dir. Jeff Stein, 1979)

Sure there’s that new more extensive and correctly chronological AMAZING JOURNEY: THE STORY OF THE WHO but this hodgepodge of Who with its odds ‘n ends, warts ‘n all, kitchen sink approach is much more exciting. In the first five minutes explosives go off in Keith Moon’s drumkit from a performance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Show then we zigzag around to such ’60s shows as Shindig and Beatlcub, seminal gigs like WOODSTOCK and the Monterey International Pop Festival and then conclude with specially shot for the film footage from Shepperton Film Studios mere months before Moon’s death in ’78. We don’t get narration or anything in the way of historical context – none of the bits are titled and nobody is identified and it is all out of order – but the collage effect satisfies and everything jels together like one of best movie mixtapes ever. Key scene: The Who blow the Stones off the stage on their own TV special with a ferocious “A Quick One, While He’s Away”.

4. GIMME SHELTER (Dirs. Albert Maysles, David Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin, 1970)

The 60’s dream died here, or so the tale goes – just ask Don McLean. That fatal night at Altamont Speedway where Hells Angels acted as security for a free Rolling Stones gig made what could have been just an assembly line concert film (see LET’S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER
for that) into a piece of true crime documentation that could play on MSNBC as well as VH1 Classic. The Stones had shed psychedelia and were getting back to their roots so in 1969, touring with Ike and Tina Turner and we get a good sampling of a Madison Square Garden concert (also featured on the album “Get Your Ya-Yas Out”) and a stirring performance of “Wild Horses” at Muscle Shoals Studio in Alabama before proceeding to the scene of the crime in California. We see Mick Jagger and Keith Richards watching the Altamont footage in the editing room and they freeze the image of a knife in the hand held above the fighting crowd and it is one of the most chilling images in cinema that has ever been seen. I don’t know if Satan was laughing with delight like McLean sings in “American Pie” but he was sure smirking.

5. LET IT BE (Dir. Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1970) Actually the 60’s dream died here too. The break-up of the Beatles with their final public performance on a rooftop in London is a tough sad watch but one that’s vital in understanding exactly how the mighty can fall. Unfortunately because as producer and former Beatles assistant Neil Aspinall said recently “When we got halfway through restoring it, we looked at the outtakes and realized: this stuff is still controversial. It raised a lot of old issues” – the film may not see the light of a DVD player anytime soon. That’s too bad – even though it’s not the Beatles at their best it’s them at their most human and as uncomfortable as George Harrison’s studio squabble with Paul McCartney is (George: “‘ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to play, you know. Whatever it is that’ll please you, I’ll do it.”) we still somehow feel the love in what they were trying to make. And in the end isn’t that what they were trying to tell us all along?

6. DiG! (Ondi Timoner, 2004) Though most haven’t heard of either of the bands studied here – The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre this tale of the sometimes friendly rivalry will make people listen up. Billed as “a real-life Spinal Tap” DiG! follows these bands with their retro rock through a few years of touring, arguing, getting wasted, busted, and getting up to do it all again. Despite the fact that DW frontman Courtney Taylor narrates, BJM member Anton Newcombe steals the show over and over with his asshole antics and crazy talk like “I’m not for sale. I’m fucking Love, do you understand what I’m saying? Like, the Beatles were for sale. I give it away.” Maybe the funniest rockumentary on this list.

7. TIME WILL TELL (Dir. Declan Lowney, 1992) Bob Marley’s story is pretty glossed over in this doc but that is okay because it is so full of great footage with many full songs represented. Interview footage doesn’t really provide insights – except that Marley was always stoned – but footage from the One Love Peace Concert and various 70’s TV shows (particuraly the footage from the Old Grey Whistle Test, BBC 1973 pictured left) is worth many repeat viewings.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (Dir. Alek Kekishian, 1991) I’m sure there are those who will scoff but I added this not just because I realized that this list was too much of a sausage party but because it’s seriously a notable rockumentary. There sadly aren’t many docs about female artists so this will have to some representin’. This follows Madonna on her controversial Blond Ambition tour and has the backstage bits in DON’T LOOK BACK-esque hand-held black and white while the concert sequences are in color. We do actually get some amusing insights like when Warren Beatty, who briefly dated Madonna during the filming of DICK TRACY, says of her when she’s having a dental appointment filmed: “she doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing? ” None I can think of.

9. THE LAST WALTZ (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1978) Sure Marty and the Band (they were Bob’s band in 1965-66 under the name The Hawks) were both represented at the #1 spot on this list but this film deserves to place on its own. It’s a doc wrapped around a seminal concert film – the farewell performance of arguably the greatest Canadian band ever who play an incredible set helped out by their friends – including ace work by Eric Clapton,Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, Ronnie Hawkins, Ringo Starr, Neil Diamond (!), and their old bandleader Bob Dylan. The interview segments with Scorsese sitting casually around for conversations with Band members Robbie Robertson and Co. were parodied by Rob Reiner as director Marty DiBergi in THIS IS SPINAL TAP and they set a precedent for rockumentary etiquette. But for my money, the sequence in which Neil Young sings “Helpless” with The Band and accompanied by the beautiful backup singing of Joni Mitchell in the wings is one of the most infectious pieces of musical celluloid ever presented. That Marty had to visually edit a nugget of cocaine hanging off Young’s nose by rotoscoping in post production only adds to the affecting edge.

10. STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN (Dir. Paul Justman, 2002) This film provides a great service – it shines a light on the largely unknown supporting players on some of the greatest music of the 20th century. The Funk Brothers provided the backing for literally hundreds of hits that defined “the Detroit sound” – the memorable melodies behind Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, The Supremes, and many others. This film gives us interviews with Bandleader Joe Henry and various other surviving Funk Brother members and we see new live performances where they play with such soul notables as Me’shell Ndegeocello, Chaka Kahn, and Bootsy Collins. An incredibly entertaining and emotional experience with a band that should be grandly celebrated for, as narrating actor Andre Braugher tells us, “having played on more number-one records than The Beatles, Elvis, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys combined.”

Postnotes: I tried to focus on wide-ranging documentaries not straight concert films hence the ommision of the Jonathan Demme’s amazing STOP MAKING SENSE (which would place high on a list of straight concert films) and other worthy films of that caliber. Some other honorable mentions:

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (reviewed on filmbabble Oct. 11th, 2006)
GIGANTIC (A TALE OF TWO JOHNS) – A great doc about They Might Be Giants, a band who many left behind in college but is still part of our Daily Show lives.
THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY – If you ever have a day to kill you could do much worse than watching this 674 min. production.
MONTEREY POP
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER – This hilarious doc about a once mighty metal and going into therapy is the real-life Spinal Tap IMHO.
THE FIFTH AND THE FURY– Julien Temple and the Sex Pistols – need I say more?
THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILISATION This and its 2 sequels which cover the history of decadent underworld of punk and metal are as essential as rockumentaries can get.

Whew! Okay, that’s enough rockumentaries for now. If you think I’ve left out your favorite – that’s what the comments below is for.

This post is dedicated to
Brad Renfro (1982-2007)

He appeared as Josh in one of my all time favorite movies – GHOST WORLD (2001). At least he fulfilled that old maxim to die young and leave a good looking corpse. Sigh.

R.I.P.

More later…

Just Some More New Release DVDs – No Big Whoop

Yep, some more recent DVD viewings are now blog-worthy:

RESCUE DAWN (Dir. Werner Herzog, 2006)

“Inspired by true events in the life of Dieter Dengler” so says the credits at the beginning. After some basic-training back story, this film wastes no time – on his first tour of duty in 1966 Vietam Dengler’s (the yet again reliable Christian Bale) shot down over Laos within the first 10 minutes; 15 minutes in he is captured by the enemy. He refuses to sign a war criminal document and is dragged, literally, to a Viet Cong camp to be held captive. That’s what the bulk of this story is about – his and a few other fellow inmates (including the dead on and almost dead looking Steven Zahn and Jeremy Davies) tortuous imprisonment where there thoughts of escape are discouraged as futile from every angle. Dengler doesn’t think so and plots to overcome all obstacles. Obviously this story wouldn’t be told if he didn’t do just that – so no accusations of spoilers please. With its gripping storyline and clarity of vision RESCUE DAWN has a lot going for it but is bogged down with unconvincing dialogue and Herzog’s choice of fast fades that make this choppy where it should be fluid. “The quick have their sleepwalkers, and so do the dead” Bale says early on in his captivity and it falls flat – really not provoking much of a reaction. Perhaps because this film seems to sleepwalk all too quickly into oblivion.

HAIRSPRAY (Dir. Adam Shankman, 2007)

It would be hard to dump on this one. Though I have friends who are big fans of the original John Waters 1988 movie and its soundtrack, then the 2002 Tony winning Broadway musical adaptation and its cast recording, I didn’t understand why a new film version (with its soundtrack) was necessary – I mean wasn’t this pretty much covered? But this movie is so damn cheery – earnest and smiling right at you without a cynical frame on any of its reels that questioning or dismissing it makes one feel like a Blue Meanie. The most enjoyable of the cast is Nikki Blonsky (who fits into Rikki Lake’s shoes perfectly) as Tracy Turnblad. Blonsky is a triple threat who she out-sings, out-dances, and yes, out-acts everybody here. As the perky beyond belief Tracy she causes a stir on a local Baltimore American Bandstand type show in 1962 when she exclaims that “everyday should be Negro day” (the show only had one day a month that black kids were allowed to dance on the air). With her angsty-acting friends (Zac Efron, Ellijah Kelley, and Amanda Bynes) behind her, they plot to take over the program to sing the praises of progress and integration.

The supposed trump card here is – taking over the part from the legendary Divine – John Travolta in drag (including a fairly realistic looking fat-suit) but he and husband Christopher Walken as Tracy’s parents never rise above the level of SNL sketch caricatures. Travolta, who looks ridiculous and has an awful weirdly accented voice, is never believable as a woman but his shenanigans somehow breeze by. Queen Latifah fares better with some of the most sincere soulful singing here on some of the best songs though like the movie itself most of the set-piece musical numbers go on too long. In a movie where just about every older face is familiar (Michelle Phieffer as the villainous TV producer, and in incidental roles – Paul Dooley, Jerry Stiller and Allison Janey) it’s really the youngsters show – especially Blonsky and Kelley. If you love musical romps you’ll love it. Me, I have a mild aversion to romps but I have to admit that HAIRSPRAY is adequately amusing.

CIVIC DUTY (Dir. Jeff Renfroe, 2006)

Peter Krause, best known for playing Nate on Six Feet Under (HBO 2000-2005), is a downsized accountant who thinks a new neighbor (Khaled Abol Naga), whom he refers to as “that Muslim guy”, is a terrorist plotting destruction from his tiny apartment. Effectively crisp and creepy first half but the second half desolves into a worn out scenario – i.e. a hostage situation. Krause is a lot like his former character Nate – only more of an asshole; likewise Richard Schiff as a unsympathetic FBI agent is playing only a slight variation on his cynical Toby Ziegler part from The West Wing. What could have been a sharp cinematic study of post 9/11 paranoia is just another regular guy goes crazy and alienates all of society plot. I’m sure somebody has said this before but I liked this movie better the first time – when it was called ARLINGTON ROAD.

Now, this is more of my kind of romp:

HELP! (Dir. Richard Lester, 1965)

Superintendent (Patrick Cargill): “So this is the famous Beatles?”
John (John Lennon): “So this is the famous Scotland Yard, ay?”
Superintendent: “How long do you think you’ll last?”
John: “Can’t say fairer than that. Great Train Robbery, ay? How’s that going?”

A seminal film I saw many times in my youth reissued yet again – this time in a 2 disc DVD edition in fancier packaging than before * and it’s nice to have. Though the extras are inessential – the 30 min. documentary is fine but who’s going to watch a featurette about the film’s restoration process more than once? The movie does look better than I’ve ever seen it – sharper with much more vivid color. Colour (British spelling) was pretty much its only original gimmick – The Beatles now in full colour! Their first feature, black and white of course, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT is widely regarded as a classic, one of the best rock ‘n roll movies ever, blah blah blah while HELP! has been almost lovingly dismissed. I’ll say this – A HARD DAY’S NIGHT may be the better film but HELP! is a lot more fun. It captures the group right before they discarded their cuddly mop-top image and became another entity all together and it makes a strong case for their oft overlooked mid-period music as well.

* It is available also in a collector’s edition with book of the screenplay, lobby card reproductions, and a poster that all retails at $134.99!

The plot? Oh yeah, some ancient mystic religion hunts down laconic but wacky drummer Ringo Starr and his mates because he happens to be wearing their sacrificial ring. They hunt him across the globe with locations in Austria and the Bahamas (simply because the Beatles wanted to go there so it was written in). Along the way they play (or more accurately lipsynch to) a bevy of great songs – the title track, the Dylan influenced “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”, “Ticket To Ride”, and George Harrison’s unjustly underrated “I Need You” among them.

Watching it again I remembered why I loved it so much as a kid – it displayed a fantasy version of the Beatles’ lives in which they all lived together in a groovy connected townhouse flat that had grass as carpet in one section and a neat bed compartment sunken floor that John slept in, it has moments of comic surrealism like when Paul McCartney is shrunken to cigarette size (“The Adventures Of Paul On The Floor” the subtitle calls it), and has a silly James Bond spoofing plot that doesn’t matter at all. If you haven’t seen HELP! it’s one to put in your Netflix queue or on your Amazon wish list – if you have seen it before you should really re-discover it now because of how splendid this new remaster looks and how funny it still is. Or you could wait a few years ’til the next reissue or whatever the new format’s version of it will be.

Post Note: Another bonus that this new DVD set has is an essay in its booklet by Martin Scorsese. He writes “Everyone was experimenting around this time. Antonioni with BLOWUP, Truffaut with FAHRENHEIT 451, Fellini and Godard with every movie – and HELP! was just as exciting.” I would’ve never thought to put Richard Lester’s work on HELP! in that class but if Marty says it is – it is.

More later…

I’M NOT THERE Soundtrack Is Where It’s At

“There was a movie I seen one time, I think I sat through it twice.
I don’t remember who I was or where I was bound.”
– Bob Dylan (from “Brownsville Girl” – Knock Out Loaded, 1986)

So with less 2 weeks to go til one of the most anticipated movies of year (at least by me), I’M NOT THERE comes to my area (it’s released here Nov. 21st) I thought I’d post a review of the spectacular soundtrack to this film which is largely known by the masses as the film in which Cate Blanchett plays Bob Dylan (see above pic). It seemingly has a lot more to offer than just that – from this soundtrack alone it appears to have something for everybody. So hey ho – let’s go:

I’m Not There (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack produced by Randall Poster, Jim Dunbarm and Todd Haynes) Dylan covers (and collections of such) have been commonplace ever since the era when he first became a household name. Some are the product of a an artist or a band showing off their hipster literary chops (Judy Collins, Bryan Ferry, The Byrds, The Hollies, Odetta, etc.), some are of various artists under a genre categorization (Is It Rolling Bob?: – A Reggae Tribute, Tangled Up In Bluegrass: A Tribute To Dylan, and Dylan Country), and some are artists not content just to cover a single song – they cover full albums like Mary Lee’s Corvette’s version of Blood On The Tracks or they cover entire concerts – like Robyn Hitchcock’s faithful re-recreation of the incredible 1966 Royal Albert Hall concert. So what’s so special about the new soundtrack from I’M NOT THERE? Well, it has great new renditions of Bob classics from modern as well as old timey acts that form a narrative over the 2 disc collection seemingly inspired by the film, it has Bob’s approval, and most importantly it has Bob himself on the 40 year-old never before released title track. But more about that song later.

This new batch of Dylan interpretations features a veritable who’s-who of the recent respected rock scene – Eddie Vedder, Sonic Youth, Calexico, Cat Power, Iron & Wine, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Sufjan Stevens, the Black Keys, and so on. From the old guard – Roger McGuinn, Richie Havens, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and Willie Nelson show their hands on the table admirably and perform alongside their younger counter-parts fluidly (Nelson and McGuinn are backed by Calexico). John Doe from the legendary L.A. punk band X has one of the collection’s most show-stopping numbers – “Pressing On”. One of Dylan’s most overlooked Gospel era songs is presented with such soulful gruff conviction that it is sure to elevate the scene in which Christian Bale lip-syncs it (I’ve seen the clip and it does).

Film babble favorites Yo La Tengo put in a rowdy blazing take on “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and a plantive pretty “Fourth Time Around” as well. Stephen Malkmus of Pavement has 3 songs (including the subtlety-on-fire “Ballad Of A Thin Man”) with the soundtrack house band ( The Million Dollar Bashers *) – all of which sound more relaxed and rocking than he has in years. Mason Jennings, a young folk singer from Bob’s home state of Minnesota, does 2 Bob songs, one of which has been covered to death – “The Times They Are A Changing” but it doesn’t seem so when he sings it. Just about everyone else (including Los Lobos, Mark Lanegen, Charlotte Gainesbourg, and The Hold Steady) clock in with nice Bob tributes. Only one or two miss the mark like Eddie Vedder’s “All Along The Watchtower” (talk about overdone !) which has him repeating the last lines over and over in such an unnecessary fashion – to be fair Neil Young and Chrissie Hynde have done the same thing in their covers of the song but it’s just more obnoxious when Vedder does it!

* The Million Dollar Bashers feature Steve Shelley, Tony Ganier (long-time Dylan bassist), John Medeski, Tom Verlaine, Lee Ranaldo, Smokey Hormel, and Nels Cline.

What makes this disc worth buying alone is the original 1967 title track originally named “I’m Not There (1956)”. It has been available only to the connoisseurs of bootleg Dylan – it came from The Basement Tapes – the informal demos Bob made with the Band in Saugerties, NY while he was supposedly recovering from his alleged motorcycle accident. To be honest the sound quality on this first official release of the song is not that much better than the bootlegs I’ve heard over the years – seems like some of those hardcore Bob fanatics know a little about re-mastering. This is despite that this new mix comes from the master – long hoarded by Neil Young on his ranch since the time of tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming. It’s ballsy for Todd Haynes to title his unconventional biopic after an unreleased song only known to mostly hardcore Dylan fans – even ballsier to name it after such an unfinished unreleased song. That’s right – there are lines in which Bob hums or inserts what he later called “dummy lyrics” – line fillers until the real line was worked out but as history tells us – that never happened. It doesn’t matter though – the song, even unfinished, is as mystic and enveloping as any in his catalogue. A series of murky declarations set against a hazy bar-room organ background it seems at first listen to be impenetrable; every further listen renders it sublime.

It’s funny – Sonic Youth usually deconstruct musical norms, but here in their cover of the title track “I’m Not There” (yes, it appears twice here – in Dylan’s original and in this cover) they reconstruct an unfinished song as best as they can and like Malkmus’s tracks it’s one of their most recent likable efforts. As the booklet for the seminal Scorsese doc NO DIRECTION HOME said “this is not a soundtrack in the traditional sense” – this is an amazing amalgam of many diverse styles to form one big picture and that bodes very well for this reportedly grand but off kilter biopic. One of the only true to the soundtrack sense-of-being renderings is Marcus Carl Franklin’s (known among the 7 actors playing Dylan as the little black kid) magnificent “When The Ship Comes In.” Since by all reports the film is full of Bob originals this soundtrack appears to be more of a ‘inspired by’ compilation but I can’t vouch for that until I actually see it. When I do – you’ll be the first to know.

This post is dedicated to Norman Mailer (January 31, 1923-November 10, 2007). Yesterday on Wikipedia it said that among the literary highlights of his illustrious career he had co-written episodes of the 70’s buddy cop show Starsky And Hutch. This is unconfirmed by IMDb and yeah, I know the changing nature of the Wiki-reliability. Turns out it was somebody’s joke as that tidbit is gone today. Whew! That’s a relief – the thought that the author of The Naked And The Dead wrote dialogue for Huggy Bear would take a lot to process.

Another funny thing recently removed from Wikipedia (on the grounds that it was too trivial) – “In the film SLEEPER Woody Allen is shown a picture of Mailer, Allen confirms his identity and states that Mailer donated his ego to the Harvard Medical School.”

R.I.P. Mr. Mailer.

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…