ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

JER: AN EDITORIAL FOR NOVEMBER & RECOMMENDATION OF "PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES"


Just JER!
JER: Greetings Friends of CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT. I wanted to take this time in thanking you, the readers, for all of your support and the many comments we have received throughout the 2011 year. As JOHNNY CHAZZ and I are coming around to celebrating the blog- site’s one year anniversary since its launch on January 31, 2011, we entered into a verbal pact when talking about the premise of the site: It would always focus on topics pertaining to our love for cinema and everything relatable, we would both be brutally honest with our individual opinions and that we would always shake hands and come out fighting in support of our expressive views AND finally… we would continue doing this as long as we had fun along the way!

JOHNNY CHAZZ!
 I am happy to report that from a recent phone call to my fellow co-critic and partner in cinema crime, Johnny Chazz... we are still having fun presenting our weekly endeavors for your reading pleasures!  Due dates, sleepless nights and countless hours hammering away on the lap- top can be pressing at times, but the words come together that makes it all worth it in the end. I know I speak for my counterpart when I also thank those family members and friends (you know who you are) that have continually given us the strength, the encouragement and the moxy to get this off the ground and fuel this ever- growing project for as long as we have been going! THANK YOU!

In celebration of the upcoming holiday, CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT will take a needed break, with a new posting to be delivered on Wednesday December 7, 2011.

While you are enjoying your celebrated Thanksgiving Weekend, or whatever you prefer to call your time with your loved ones, I cannot help but make a quick recommendation while I am here…

Thanksgiving, by way of film, doesn’t get much love! There are Easter films (EASTER PARADE, JESUS OF NAZARETH); Holiday films (WHITE CHRISTMAS, A CHRISTMAS STORY, 8 CRAZY NIGHTS) … even Halloween gets a film named after the day! I can be extremely evil and off my rocker and recommend the enjoyment of director Eli Roth’s (HOSTEL) faux trailer included in 2007’s GRINDHOUSE. The trailer in question is for a horror film entitled THANKSGIVING… enjoy, if you dare!
Gobble- Gobble! Gulp! The fake trailer for THANKSGIVING!!!

Now, if that doesn’t get you all excited about leftover turkey sandwiches, then I don’t know what will! OK, seriously, I will lean in the direction of something much more pleasant by recommending the 1987 comedy classic PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES directed by the late John Hughes.

Neal Page (Steve Martin) is an advertising executive who just wants to fly home to Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with his family. But all he gets is misery instead! Misery named Del Griffith (John Candy) - a loud mouthed, but nevertheless loveable, salesman who leads Neal on a cross- country, wild goose chase that keeps Neal from getting home and tasting his turkey!

Although the film is Rated R (there is an ‘f-bomb’ rant that Martin goes through at the Car Rental kiosk) the film is quite sweet and touching. Both Martin and Candy are hysterical and both play off each other as Martin is more the straight man to Candy’s dumb- lug comic. Writer and Director John Hughes was at the top of his game when he pieced this project together and the proof is in the smartly written and laughable dialog, the timing and execution of physical comedic moments and the tenderness one came to expect from Hughes’ films.
Enjoy the hilarious trailer from this holiday delight!

So, undo your belt straps and girdles, slip into your sweatpants and put your feet up with a slice of pumpkin pie and enjoy this tasty treat! Enjoy your Holidays and we will SEE YOU DECEMBER 7th!

Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!

JER'S TURN: RECOGNIZING DIRECTOR JOE JOHNSTON

JER: It is probably safe to say that all film lovers, at any level of dedication to the art, goes through various stages. Sometimes you can stay stuck in a groove of watching love stories or action films. Other times it may be your personal film festival on an actor or actress of choice… as we go into the core of real cinema lovers, we start looking at more specific genres like classics, or epic films of the 1950’s. The more deranged, I included, enjoys staying on a film studios’ favorite releases, music composer…even a director of photography… and even a very specific film director.

I know this will be a controversial subject to my ‘counterpoint’ partner, Johnny Chazz, but I feel that one director in particular deserves recognition for a huge body of work but whose name is seldom spoken of. Ladies and Gentlemen, you know his films; I now introduce you to director Joe Johnston.

Director Joe Johnston

I dubbed Johnston as ‘the director who can’ for a number of reasons. He is the film maker who went up against 1989’s explosive release of Tim Burton’s BATMAN with his own debut film of Disney’s HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS and pulled off a very impressive box office take despite the comic frenzy of caped- crusader fans! Johnston breathed new life into a possible dying franchise when he was hand- selected by Steven Spielberg to helm JURASSIC PARK III. Finally, he was the man who threw his own hat into the ring during the ‘Comic Book Year of 2011’ when he submitted CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER and went up against the likes of other superhero/ action movies like THE GREEN HORNET, THOR and THE GREEN LANTERN and still grossed a whopping 178 million dollars worldwide.

Not a bad track record for a man who isn’t a household name! Let’s start from the beginning…

Born Joseph Eggleston Johnston III on May 13th, 1950 in Austin, Texas, he was a towering man that stood 6’ 1 ½ “ (1.87 m) and expressed an interest in film early on in his life. During the time he attended Cal State- Long Beach in California, he answered an ad belonging to George Lucas, who was seeking employees at the time. He was brought on board and worked as a storyboard artist for Lucas and was responsible for the final designs for STAR WARS’ characters Yoda and Boba Fett. Lucas encouraged Johnston to attend USC, his alma- mater. He accepted in 1984 and Lucas paid his tuitions and kept him on the payroll as a part- time employee.     

While working for Lucas under  his special- effects company: Industrial Light & Magic, Johnston would go on fine- tuning his skills to win him an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK in 1981. The award was shared with Richard Edlund (GHOSTBUSTERS), Kit West (STARGATE) and Bruce Nicolson (ARMAGEDDON). Being around the company of such talented directors like Spielberg and Lucas only led him to his directorial debut with HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS.

The summer of 1989 belonged to the highly- anticipated BATMAN starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. At the time, pre- merchandise sales prior to the film’s release was so astounding that it rivaled the days of STAR WARS sales during the late 70’s- early 80’s. No studio dared go up against the box- office predictability foreseen on its opening weekend and beyond… no other film would stand a chance… or would it? The Walt Disney studios budgeted an estimated 18 million dollars and released HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS, a family/ adventure/ comedy about an average ‘nutty professor’ who created a miniaturizing laser machine that accidentally shrinks his children. Despite BATMAN’s earnings that summer, HONEY brought in a gross of approximately 131 million dollars. Soon thereafter, Hollywood was taking notice of Johnston and awaited as to what he had in- store for his next feature.

Disney’s very prestigious project, THE ROCKETEER, was given to Johnston to direct after the success of HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS. The studios’ expectations were that it would be a potential franchise and spawn merchandise sales and sequels to follow. The story opens in 1938 and centers around a jet pack created by Howard Hughes. Meant to modernize the US military, the pack is stolen and chased after… eventually ending up in the hands of an airfield stuntman. Curiously, the pack is worn during a stunt show and audiences are wowed and amazed by the acts performed… the news makes its way back to the villains who want the pack for potential Nazi use to win over America and beyond.  It would seem as if THE ROCKETEER had all the right elements: it was a family- friendly Disney film, the storyline was based off a comic book taking place in Los Angeles, CA before the outbreak of World War II and it had heroic do-gooders and evil Nazi baddies. Unfortunately, the studios financial expectations were not met during its theatrical run. After its release in 1991, however, the film eventually picked up an audience over the years and celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 2011 with a special theatrical presentation at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood and a new digital presentation release on blu- ray.
Enjoy the original trailer of THE ROCKETEER!

1994 would still have Johnston dabbling in the genre family- friendly world with his next release, THE PAGEMASTER, a combination of live action sequences taking the story into an animated world of literature enchantment. The film starred child actor Macaulay Culkin, best known for his role as little Kevin in HOME ALONE. 20th Century Fox was hoping that Culkin’s success with his earlier films, combined with Johnston’s track record at Disney, would bring in revenue for the film…it did not. The film’s gross was actually under what the budget was. The film would eventually compensate in foreign release and video sales.

Johnston had a formula he had been working with within his first years as a director: family films that combined action and comedy, but could still be special- effects driven. He tested that theory once again in 1995 with the release of JUMANJI starring Robin Williams… the theory would prove to be very effective and lucrative for Tri- Star Pictures. Grossing over 260 million worldwide, the adventure film focused on a curious board game centered on the mysteries of a jungle- type safari… whatever happens as you role the dice, would happen to you in real life! The film also incorporated some new advances in computer generated imagery (CGI) by making many jungle creatures come to life. Effects would include Williams coming face to face with a lion and a runaway parade of monkeys, rhinos, zebras and others run down an intersection of town! By today’s standards, the effects may come across a bit crude and underdeveloped, but it was a strong step ahead in the world of visual effects for its time.

Johnston with actor Jake Gyllenhaal
After a few years of rest and focusing further on a variety of different directions Johnston could take to challenge himself, 1999 would allow him to flex- out into the world of dramatic tellings minus the visual effects with OCTOBER SKY. Based on a true story about a small mining town within the 1950’s, a coal miner’s son expresses interest in the stars when in October 1957, Sputnik goes into orbit. Although it was the departure Johnston was hoping for as well as favorable reviews from critics, the box office didn’t see the figures racing into space…

Moving into a new decade and century hoped to provide new projects and new directions for Johnston. 2001 would kick- off the new decade with the highly anticipated JURASSIC PARK III, adding another chapter in the very popular series. Steven Spielberg, director of the first two film of the series, decided to step down and act as Executive Producer. Grossing over 366 million dollars worldwide, the film proved to be a hit with thrill- seeking audiences and for Universal Studios. Taking yet another step forward in the advancement of visual effects, the film made improvements on its dinosaurs’ appearances as well as provide new prehistoric foes to fear!
A behind-the-scenes look at JURASSIC PARK III!

HIDALGO, released in 2004, would tell the heart- warming tale of a down- on- his- luck cowboy living in 1890 and the travels he made with his horse to Arabia to compete in a wild and dangerous desert race. The film was produced by Disney’s sister company, Touchtone Pictures and presented a great mixture of wild west adventure blended with a scoop of humor and family- friendly fun. Its opening was a misguided March date and suffered box office receipts due to what clearly would have presented itself as a Summer or Winter film instead.

DelToro as THE WOLFMAN (2010)
Universal Studios called upon Johnston again…and he answered. Having just successfully given JURRASSIC PARK III to Universal, the studio was looking forward to breathe new life into one of its classic monster films, to which Universal was greatly known for during the 1920’s and 30’s. THE WOLFMAN (2010) would bring many elements into the spotlight: Anthony Hopkins and Benecio Del Toro were casted as father and son with deep and dark secrets, the film would call upon creature and make- up special effects artist Rick Baker who won an Academy Award for his on- the – screen transformations of man into wolf for AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981). Baker had always wanted to be a part of a remake of the original 1941 version with Lon Chaney Jr. as an upright wolf man that walks on two, not four, legs. Baker would go on to win another Academy Award for bringing that vision to the screen 29 years later. The story stayed classic by taking place in 1891 within the European countryside and was penned with dramatic overtones and not relying on humorous antidotes to amuse the storyline. The film had suffered a number of production flaws including a change in release date originally set for October 2009 (what would have been an ideal Halloween box office hit) was pushed back to February of 2010.

In looking back at Joe Johnston’s directorial career at this point in time, there are a few things that define his body of work; it is clearly obvious that he loves family films (THE WOLFMAN is the only “R- rated” film he has directed), his films are ladled with visual effects and his stories are usually family- friendly. It would almost be fitting to see Johnston take it to the next level as he has with his following film?

As mentioned earlier in the premise of my blog, 2011 was one filled with many entries into the adaption of comic book stories into films. It is also my opinion that many of them horribly failed as well... all, but one. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER would play along to a string of tie- in stories, each of them introducing a new super hero into what will forge an alliance as THE AVENGERS (projected release date is May 2012). This is a large project for Marvel Comics and its film studio… but I am getting ahead of myself. Originally, director Jon Favreau was chosen to direct, but he opted for the IRONMAN series instead. Johnston, however, was selected for his period films (THE ROCKETEER and OCTOBER SKY) since the premise of the story takes place in 1941. Chris Evans (‘The Flame’ in FANTASTIC FOUR) stars as Steve Rogers, a military reject who will do anything to fight for his country. Recognized for his good ol’ American attitude, Rogers serves as a government guinea pig to produce ‘elite and strong soldiers’ to fight and eventually win World War II. No longer the scrawny Rogers, he is to become and be known as Captain America.
See the exciting trailer for CAPTAIN AMERICA!


BOBA FETT: The Movie???
 At present time, it would seem as if Joe Johnston has no future projects in the works. Talks in mid 2011 had him negotiating a possible re-working of the JURASSIC PARK franchise that would take the action out of the island, but it seems as if the story has been shelved. Another rumor is a possible BOBA FETT film, fittingly so considering Johnston’s designs on the STAR WARS character. No official confirmation is available.

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Jer mentions that this week's blog will be a controversial subject to his ‘counterpoint’ partner - me of course. He is right.

Although Joe Johnston is certainly not what we would refer to as a poor director, his career and life-work ("Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"; "Jurassic Park 3", "Jumanji", "The Wolfman", "Captain America" and "The Rocketeer") it is really a challenge to place this director anywhere near the upper echelon of directors today and yesteryear.

"Psst... Hey, JC...bring it, bitch!"
 It is fairly easy to make a small list of directors that I feel are vastly overrated. These would likely include, but of course not be limited to the likes of Robert Zemekis, Ed Wood (lol), Tyler Perry, Michael Bay and more. Still, I am sure that there is a flip-side with some of our readers considering my praise of Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Fellini and Godard to be a bit ridiculous.

Now, we must understand that any director is capable of and will eventually make a "flop", but doing it on a consistent basis is hard to do - and it becomes even more difficult to give any acclaim to a director with that kind of track record.

Jer presents us with the career and films of Joe Johnston this week, so let's take a closer look at his filmography and attach 'picture points' to each:

"Honey I Shrunk The Kids" (1989): A family-oriented movie that people seemed to enjoy and was a big hit that year which I found extremely surprising to this day. Rick Moranis is dull and far too much of a goofball to watch and is completely over the top. To add, so many of the effects and sets just look plain fake and cheap. I think you have to be a kid or at least a kid at heart to even begin to accept a movie of this caliber. Pass ~ * Picture Points: 3/10

"The Rocketeer" (1991): This film bombed when it was released and rightfully so, unless you are a hardcore fan of this genre, which I am not. This comic book themed movie has a throw-back feel to it with a cast that was actually fairly decent. My primary concern with the movie was the whole "Nazi" thing that seemed to be extremely overwhelming during the film and especially towards the end. It's not hard, therefore, to see why this movie flat out flopped -and it wasn't just the Nazi thing. What is so bizarre is that the film deals with a time period that likely escapes so many audience members: Classic Hollywood, Al Capone, Howard Hughes and more. Thus, the film seems to work on some levels and is intriguing in parts - especially with the classic feel, but the Sci-Fi aspect of it simply makes it a bit too fantastic......ridiculous that it. **Picture Points: 4.5/10

"Jumanji" (1995): This is perhaps my favorite movie from Joe Johnston. As one of Robin Williams' top performances, this certainly is not - but the movie did hold my interest. To be honest, I actually thought the effects in the film as well as the score were entertaining enough for me to stick around and watch. Believe it or not, I re-watched "Jumanji" the other night and it seems to stand the test of time with its' clever imagination and decent story-line. *** Picture Points: 6/10
The original trailer for JUMANJI!

"Jurassic Park III" (2001): This series simply got worse as it moved along and the original wasn't exactly something to write home about. A decent cast, really, with Laura Dern, Sam Neil and William H.Macy, but “Jurassic Park III” was really bland and what is even more disappointing is that the cast really did not perform that well in the movie. The director must take some blame for that - and he does.

As for the movie itself, we saw the same old action and the same creepy and scary-looking dinosaurs that we were subjected to years prior. Everybody in the movie does the same thing that they did in the original - they run around like animals to try to escape from the island and free themselves from the terror. Simply put, there is nothing original about "Jurassic III" and I have no quarrels about labeling it a complete waste of time. *** Picture Points 3/10.

"The Wolfman" (2010): Here is a movie that everyone raved about prior to its release....and yet - another stark disappointment. Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins were an intriguing pairing here, but were the elements that make a good film there? Once again we plainly see in this movie that both character and plot / story development takes a backseat to special effects and make-up. Additionally, the concept of the Wolfman as a creature never really interested me - so I label the entire concept as boring. How cool it was however that Geraldine Chaplin makes an appearance in the film - but my, oh my, is she in the wrong place......mercy. Remember “Dr. Zhivago”, “Peppermint Frappe” and “Talk to Her”? What was she doing in this film? No clue really. *** Picture Points: 3.5/10
The trailer for THE WOLFMAN- Winner: Best Make-Up Effects!

"Captain America: First Avenger" (2011): I have not seen this movie yet, but something tells me to save the $10. Superhero films are done like burnt toast these days and there is no way that I could be dragged to this thing. To add: is it just me or does the cast look fairly lousy? Who in the world is Chris Evans and why should I even begin to care? It appears to me to be just another comic / pulp movie put together by Johnston, and although there is a bit of "buzz" out there, I am certain that I will not be listening. *** Picture Points: Undetermined, but duly anticipated.

I guess Joe Johnston has made a few dollars and maybe that is what he was after. When you are best known for the films listed above, something is terribly, terribly wrong. His association with Lucas and Spielberg had an obvious impact on the types of films he would go on to make - and that genre has become worn-out. His casting is somewhat respectable, but the focus on storyline and character development is virtually non-existent.
Johnston talks about BOBA FETT & making CAPT. AMERICA!

Jer dubs Johnston as ‘the director who can’. What does that mean? From my perspective, I guess he is the only director who can draw a red-line through his name come awards-night every year. I and so many other film lovers do not want to spend our time watching comic book movies - it is simply insulting. Johnston's movies present themselves at a level far, far below what is required from a quality director. The fact that he has no future projects in the works is in all actuality, a blessing. In sum, it is a far, far reach for me to find any justification as to why we offer any praise here on Cinema: Counterpoint to this director's career…

JER: Once again, JC, the boat has taken off and has left you waiving from the docks! I believe that not ALL films/ movies need to be in- depth or cerebral in order to get through the velvet ropes and make it to the party. There is a wide range of entertainment options…the key word is ‘entertain’, being ¾ of the word. I find that variety makes the world go round… within reason. As openly acceptable as I can be to films stretching the imagination…or tolerability levels to others, there are most definitely movies I would avoid and have a few choice words to share with those responsible for splattering them onto my sacred silver screen.

I think that your ‘Picture Points’ are too critical and laid upon too thick on films that are merely presented as ‘entertainment’ (there’s that word again) prospects and not ever intended as contenders for Academy Award nominations! It may be a word unfamiliar with some, but the key ingredient here is ‘fun’.

Johnston with cast the from THE WOLFMAN premiere
On an earlier phone call during the midst of our topic discussion, you accused me of blatantly selecting topics that would raise your eyebrows… the more recent being my recommendation of THE UNTOUCHABLES and my very- early Oscar predictions that you deemed controversial on the last page discussing our favorite film, THE ARTIST. This, of course, is not true…although, I would love to sprout horns and a pointed tail and wickedly laugh out my reply as, “YES!” I believe that Joe Johnston is a man who has contributed many imaginative offerings and I felt that it was high time that a little love be directed his way.

I have to contradict several statements made by you that were I derived as direct insults. Johnston is not overrated… he is unrecognized, thus the reason I dedicated this page to him. I would also throw any of his films as non- overrated… his films are recognized, but let’s not confuse the two statements. Secondly, your remark about ‘the focus on storyline and character development is virtually non-existent’ when referring to his films is false. If anything, he has been consistent with imaginative storylines with intriguing characters. I would also appreciate the fact that he takes his time selecting his projects then throw himself into something that would favor his technique and abilities.

With that mentioned, let’s let our readers tell it how they see it… what do you think? Is Johnny Chazz right in saying that his films aren’t worth mentioning or do you agree with me and believe that he deserves a little recognition? Comment, comment, comment all you like! We always look forward to them and all will be addressed and replied! Check us out next week as JOHNNY CHAZZ enlightens us with his views of the art with a unique topic… as always, we will SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!
 
Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!

Monday, November 14, 2011

JOHNNY CHAZZ' TURN: "THE 'ART' OF THE POSSIBLE..."

JOHNNY CHAZZ: It’s too early for predictions right? Maybe not.

With the Academy Awards just a few months away, perhaps it is time to take a simple look at a relatively simple film, and one that might be right there in the thick of things on Award night 2012.

Without getting too deep into Academy Award ‘contender’ discussions, I will acknowledge here on Cinema: Counterpoint that the early favorites appear to be “War Horse” (Spielberg’s attempt to please audiences), “The Descendants” (Clooney stars in this emotional rollercoaster and tear-jerker), “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (I have a feeling Jer will relish this one…..perhaps it’s a Gary Oldman thing – but the film looks quite intriguing) and perhaps even “J. Edgar” (Eastwood and DiCarprio tandem). We will put all that aside for a moment however and throw a film at you this week that could be one of those big surprises that comes in small packages.
For your consideration: Steven Spielberg's WAR HORSE

"The Artist" takes place in Hollywood as films are making that stark transition from silent movies to talkies (sound). Filmed on real locations in Los Angeles (primarily the Hollywood area), director Michel Hazanvicius brought French stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo to Los Angeles and mixed-in American stars such as John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller. As an added note, by the early 1930s, the ‘talkies’ as we say had become, well – globalized.

What is so intriguing to me is that we must ask ourselves (an American audience that has been sadly numbed by trash films over the past 20 years) “When was the last time any of us actually sat down and watched a silent film”? Well, here is one that may keep you on the edge of your seat and you are virtually guaranteed to enjoy. An open mind and an understanding of where film has been and where it is at now remains paramount however.
Judge for yourself, the trailer for THE ARTIST

Cannes loved the film and “The Artist”, but it was just one of the twenty (20) films shown there. What remains in questions is how is will perform at the Palme d’Or. A win there or at least a gain in momentum could secure its’ place in the Academy Awards in 2012. The just film was released in United States on November 9, 2011.

Dujardin & Bejo as George Valentin and Peppy Miller
The plot in essence focuses on character George Valentin – a silent film star (played by Jean Dujardin who may be best known for “99 Francs” and “Contre-Equette”) in Hollywood during 1927. The drama and potential tragedy occurs when the talkies begin to surface on sound stages which immediately spells trouble for George’s career. On the other hand, enter Peppy Miller (played by Bérénice Bejo), is destined to relish in the fact that the films now have sound and stardom awaits.

The costuming is lavish and highly significant and reflective for this period piece. The men of course are in tux and tails and the pearls and gowns dress the ladies. What is fascinating is that a pit orchestra accompanies the action on screen, but the sound we, as an audience, hear is non-existent since the score is, at times in the film – ‘silent’ as well.

Once confronted with the new trend – movies with sound that is, George simply finds the entire idea ludicrous and impractical. As a reaction, George stays true to his heart and decides that only “true art” and “real story telling” can be accomplished in the silent fashion. Thus, he invests a small fortune into a silent film that is scheduled for opening on Oct 25, 1929.

The films will succeed on three (3) counts. It is a classic Hollywood picture; it is the classic story of one man struggling with his career and his ego due to an advent in society; and it is a strong commentary on the media then and even today. If there was a fourth reason for this film to make noise at the Academy Awards next year, it is the unique concept of the film that remains its’ major strength.

“The Artist” is a fairly low-budget film – and extremely low-budget compared to the likes of American Cinema today. Yet, less is more – especially with the minds of the European influence, the concepts, the formidable dialogue and the overall passion and flair. “The Artist” appears both entertaining and rich – and in that sense, it is highly original. The score is also quite entertaining, but a wonderful complement to the film – and it better be since this is really the only sound that we hear. It is charming, witty, vibrant and clever – a true throwback to the Gershwin sounds of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Still, the score is intended to be dark reflecting the melodramatic feel of the film. It is just sensational.

Penelope Ann Miller
Thus, “The Artist” is not only a major contender, but my early choice to take home the top prize at the 2012 Academy Awards. ‘Tis true that foreign-language pictures are at a disadvantage over what audiences are comfortable with here in the States (i.e.: "War Horse" and "J. Edgar"), but “The Artist” has such a unique quality and aura while maintaining a melodramatic feel and timely hints of “surrealism” – that very feeling that always seems to surround silent films. Additionally, the score as well as the inter-titles make the film so charming and reflective of the ‘Roaring Twenties’. The International cast is also a major asset and this very blend of the two promises to lend richness and vivacity to “The Artist”.

If audiences open their mind a bit and let their guard down, they are likely to be pulled into this film while drawn to the overall charm of “The Artist” portrayed in each and every scene. Being well-received at Cannes, this could also be enough to relay to American audiences that they had better take a serious look at the most unique film of 2011.

Now, I eagerly await Jer’s response to perhaps the most intriguing of films audiences will experience in the 2011 season.

JER: Here is where it begins. Dare I mention the possibilities of Martin Scorsese’s adventure/ family 3D extravaganza HUGO being nominated? If the Academy goes another year with bloating the Best Picture ballots to 10 nominations again, there is a likelihood it may fall into an empty slot, but it looks to be a strong contender for some technical nods for sure. Could HUGO be this year’s AVATAR? At a recent sneak preview screening at the Director’s Guild in Los Angeles, director James Cameron announced HUGO to be the best 3D feature film he had ever seen. However, in following AVATAR’s footsteps…could this also mean that it may be the dark horse in the potential race to the Oscars? Also, could Scorsese possibly see a second nomination for Best Documentary Feature for GEORGE HARRISON: LIVING IN A MATERIAL WORLD to which he served as director and producer of the project? Chances look highly likely, reflecting on his track record and consistent recognition from the Academy for his efforts. The feature focuses on the life, love and spiritual mantra of the ‘silent’ Beatle through a series of interviews with family and friends and archived photographs and various clips.
A double Scorsese feature- Enjoy them both



I will also touch on J. EDGAR; the Clint Eastwood directed drama about the man who would become the Director of the FBI. I must say that I have started to warm- up to Leonardo DiCaprio over the years and he actually looks great as J. Edgar Hoover. The film takes you through a time span of Hoover’s life, including the alleged ‘closet’ homosexual double- life he kept away from the public. Let’s talk possible nods here… the screenplay is by Dustin Lance Black who won a Best Screenplay award for 2008’s MILK starring Sean Penn. Chances are that Black might receive another nomination, however, early previews are showing signs of a lackluster screenplay. Eastwood and DiCaprio are possible shoe- in’s for their respectable categories of Director and Actor. Of course we should also be looking at a Best Picture nod as well. While I am playing ‘Fantasy Academy Awards’, let me bring up some other wishful thoughts… Oscars, are you listening? Here I go…

Best Supporting Actor: Alan Rickman for HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PT II. The subject of ‘supporting’ has always given more slack when it has come to nominations and actual wins. In less serious roles, actors as Cuba Gooding Jr, Kevin Kline, Geena Davis and Marisa Tomei have all walked away with the golden statuette. As Professor Severus Snape, Rickman portrayed the role of a martyr for a cause that would end catastrophically. This final act should get some attention but Rickman should be a must. Is it a far stretch to go by way of a Best Picture nom? I can only imagine what JC would say in reaction to this comment, but let us not forget LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING receiving a vote but also winning Best Picture in 2004.

Best Picture: Thus far I could dream big and place Spielberg’s WAR HORSE, Scorsese’s HUGO, Eastwood’s J. EDGAR and THE ARTIST would be the ‘best bets’ for potential nominations. Minor considerations might include Roland Emmerich’s controversial tale about William Shakespeare’s writings in ANONYMOUS and an even slimmer chance for a nom would be HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PT II and possibly REEL STEEL. . Seven openings filled with three more to go… wait a minute, you don’t think Generation Zero would consider 50/50? I mean, if JUNO meant something to anyone back in 2007...
Clint Eastwood's latest feature: J. EDGAR

Alright, back to the main topic in hand. The main focus is on a little- known film that caught my eye somewhere in the early part of October 2011. I came across an intriguing trailer that I might have normally bypassed if it weren’t for the fact that it took place in the ‘Golden Age’ of yesteryear Hollywood. Our attention is turned towards THE ARTIST.

John Goodman
In today’s vast and highly technological world of the early 21st century, we have seen the introduction to the digital world, high definition television, blu- rays, GPS, smart phones, I-pods and I-pads…just to name a few of the toys our grandparents only read about in science fiction novels. So then, how is it that a blatant black- and- white, silent, foreign film squeaks its way to get some recognition and still cause pre- nom talk?

I give strong kudos to JOHNNY CHAZZ for haven beaten me to the punch and spread a little more publicity to a movie that sparkles and shines, if ever so briefly, during its 2- minute trailer. You will not read a ‘counterpoint’ objective on my part to what has been already written by JC. I am looking forward to seeing this film ever since I previewed the trailer.

Director Michael Hazanavicius
 After reviewing the trailer, the film speaks volumes with the irony being that it is a silent picture. Director Michael Hazanavicius is believed to have always wanted to direct a black and white silent film but couldn’t find any studios willing to finance or release that type of film in this day and age. The success of two of his native French films, the OSS 117 series (reminiscent of the James Bond films) allowed him to call the shots on his project and do it as he wanted to. As JC had previously mentioned, it is a foreign film first and foremost. It was made on Euro- dollars and produced by French companies starring French actors in the protagonist and antagonist’s roles. Yet, it was shot in and around Los Angeles and Hollywood USA and has a supporting cast of American actors like John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller.

THE ARTIST had its premiere in France on May 15, 2011 during the Cannes Film Festival. It was nominated for two awards including the Palme d’Or Award and won Best Actor (Jean Dujardin).

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Ok - it looks as though we do share interest in the upcoming film "The Artist". Yet, how - and I am still wondering...well, how did "Hugo" and "Harry Potter" even begin to get into the mix of the blog this week? Additionally, DiCaprio is such a "tired" subject and every year we have to endure his films over and over whilst the general public makes it a front-runner to win it all.

It really comes down to this for me these days: If I have to bear through another movie trailer dealing with vampires, the Harry Potters of this world or Leonardo DiCaprio, I am literally - and I mean LITERALLY going to cash in my chips and avoid the cinema all-together. It is completely meaningless and exhausting - and it goes on and on and on........it is just wretched.


Theater front from THE ARTIST
 "The Artist" is a little-known film as you mentioned Jer simply due to the fact that American audiences just are not ready for this type of film or subject matter. The very fact that it is little-known speaks volumes and volumes. American audiences are lost - lost in a haze of Deathly Hallows, Vampires, DiCaprios, and Hugoland - how sad.....how incredibly feeble.

A film (whoops - a movie / cartoon) such as "Hugo" has little chance of winning Best Picture. "The Artist" as discussed in detail this week will absolutely tower over this film in virtually every single category. Also, come awards night, "Harry Potter" has an even slimmer to zero chance of winning the top prize. As a matter of fact, it really has no business being nominated in the top-10. Why in the world are we even discussing these two movies?


 
Realistic long shots to win at this point may include the up and coming "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (deals with a real issue such as 9/11); "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."; or even "The Ides of March"(a tremendous cast and a hot issue). Now those are quality films that actually have a shot at winning next year. Realistic front runners remain "The Descendants"; "The Artist" and "'War Horse".

So, let's stop kidding ourselves, and let's also quit playing around. The best films deal with real people with real problems; real drama; real dialogue, and real issues. This is what cinema is about, and this is precisely what it takes to win Best Picture. Nothing will change this year - - -


JER: Normally, I would close the topic by the ending statements made by the person who begins it…however, I will not keep my mouth shut without firing off a few rounds! Now, let me now ‘counterpoint’ some statements made by my associate and partner in cinema crime!

I must admit that this blog topic was going to primarily shed light towards THE ARTIST and it took it as a vehicle to bring up Oscar predictions as well... that was my fault entirely... however...

Hmmm, could it be? NAH!
My remarks about what are MY thoughts and mine alone came from comments you actually began when introducing possible films taking position for the Oscar race. As you were allowed the chance to chime- in your opinions…so am I. Mere mentions of my first- run thoughts such as HUGO or HARRY POTTER are my guesstimated predictions. I hold no crystal ball or Ouija board as to what will ultimately fill the emptied ten slots for Best Picture… so I will be allowed my guesses until I get to actually view these films for myself.

Another point needing clarification is that I do not hold THE ARTIST any less a film nor do I give grandiose implications to either HUGO or HARRY POTTER… where did you get vampires from? Are we anticipating TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN a little too much? You know how I feel about that tripe myself!

Taking a look back at what has historically won Best Picture throughout the years… I don’t know if I can go with your statement of “…real drama…is precisely what it takes to win Best Picture”. Can you argue your views on such films as AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, TOM JONES, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH or YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU as “real people with real problems; real drama; real dialogue and real issues”? I am not apposed to these films, just using them as contradictions to your statements.

The point of the matter is that the views of film and cinema are like those opinions on politics and religion… everyone has their own thoughts and one can talk until their eyes bleed out to their standpoints! One view that I am sure everyone can agree with is that great film and cinema is what one thinks is great film and cinema. I can argue about TWILIGHT and movies by Tyler Perry but there is a fan base for them as well… all we can do, the lovers of quality films, is remain true to the art and not give the high- signal to the power-s that- be to make movies like PORKY’S 9 or THE LOST BOYS 2 1/2 : THE SMELL OF FEAR! Oh, as a final closing thought, let us remain factual to one last true statement…as the scene comes to a close… one last glimpse left as we fade to black… JC, HUGO is not a &%$@ cartoon! Put that in your pipe and smoke it! LOL and Hahaha...

So, after taking the kettle off the stove and letting the steam out…we want your opinions and comments on either THE ARTIST or other films we have talked about. What about your views on cinema or the race to the Academy Awards? We look forward to your words and keep the age open to our audience! Keep it right here as I take my turn at the jukebox and drop a quarter to play my tune…SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!

 
Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!

Monday, November 7, 2011

JER'S TURN: FILM RECOMMEDATION OF THE WEEK- THE UNTOUCHABLES


JER: June 3, 1987… continued impressions and enthusiasm for better cinema was a thriving hunger that could never be satisfied. Graduation from high school was days away and a dream to direct film was still a nervous wish. Movie trailers and opening film dates in theaters acted- out like the night before Christmas… I waited impatiently for the opening of new films and weekends were planned by showtimes. Love and continued respect for a long list of directors kept growing and growing. Every day was another opportunity to learn more from the likes of Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg, Kubrick, Scott and Brian DePalma.

Director Brian DePalma
Brian DePalma had already established himself as a recognized director, although, some would argue if he has the respect that he deserves. With earlier films like CARRIE, DRESSED TO KILL and BLOW OUT… his filmography was criticized for reading like a list of over- produced B- movies mixed with cliché Alfred Hitchcock storylines and suspense ploys. This opinion was of some but not of mine. He would begin to mature as a film director when he surprised audiences and critics alike with his attempt to try something that would take him to the next level of his craft…the year was 1983, the film was SCARFACE! Starring A- Listers Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer and written by Oliver Stone, DePalma would take a gamble in the re-telling of the original Howard Hawks 1932 mob film by updating the storyline to 1980 Florida and involve the Cuban deployment of refugees into America. Oh yeah… let’s not forget the excessive use of drugs, violence and language to boot!

Fast forward to June 3, 1987: audiences and critics would waiting for DePalma’s next big film… could lightning strike twice? How about “yes” for an answer and how about a bigger lightning storm than the last. The date in question would release THE UNTOUCHABLES.
The original 1987 trailer


Martin Smith, Kostner, Connery & Garcia
STORY SYNOPSIS: It is 1920’s prohibition Chicago and Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) controls the streets. At the same time, newly promoted Federal agent to the Treasury department Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is assembling a group of men who will not take a bribe, thus ‘untouchable” to slipping onto the wrong side of the law. Learning that he cannot trust his own department, Ness takes it upon himself to outside the available pool of men and begins to build his own personal force. Along the way, he gathers a rookie officer fresh out of the Academy (Andy Garcia) and an accountant (Charles Martin Smith) while under the mentoring ‘streetwise’ expertise of an old beat cop that walks the streets of Chicago (Sean Connery). As the agents are hot on the heals of Capone, there are back- stabbers and crooked politicians doing everything to sidetrack the ‘good’ being down by the new squad.

Robert DeNiro as Al Capone
CHARACTER OVERVIEW: The overall take of the film’s feel is that no one is safe! That rule is established early in the film when a child is a murdered victim in a bar’s establishment bombing caused simply for not wanting to partake in Capone’s liquor vending. The bad guys are ruthless and Capone is an unstoppable force. He has two sides to himself: he has that ability to coyly smug for the reporters and act as if he is the Mayor of Chicago. He has a dry delivery in his humor with a rough Brooklyn accent… reminding all what streets he calls home. The flip side emulates the true businessman he has used to abandon the slums of New York with. He will claim what he wants and take anything he pleases and puts the price he wants on the things you buy from him. DeNiro’s portrayal of Al Capone is brilliant. DePalma actually teases us with Capone, using a ‘less is more’ technique by only allowing the audience brief encounters of his screen time. His presence is known and felt as a sort of puppetmaster that controls his henchmen to do his dirty deeds. He would never dare allow his hands to get dirty when someone else can do it for you! His appearance is stocky, as DeNiro gained weight for the role. He is a prime example of a Chicago mob boss. He has the cigar dangling off the side of his mouth, the pushy talk and the relentless attitude that he will prevail.

Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness
The film’s “untouchables” are ones to root for. A sense of ignorant innocence establishes Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Ness from the beginning. He is a devoted husband and father who just wants to be proud of what he does. His idea of justice is by the book and becomes a task much greater than expected. He is given the disposal of Chicago’s police force to aid in his first attempt at cleaning the streets based off an alleged reliable tip. When the raid becomes an embarrassing failure, Ness takes it as a lesson to learn from. Instead of crawling back from his shame, Ness cuts out the newspaper clipping and posts it on his office corkboard… serving as a harsh reminder that he will do right the next time. Costner may play Ness with a sense of blandness, compared to his previous bit as the two- gunned 'loose cannon' role of Jake in SILVERADO (1985). But I believe that adds a level of innocence... we do see Ness grow from unaware to insightful throughout the course of the film.

(left) Sean Connery as Jimmy Malone
Riddled by his failures, an unexpected run- in with Officer Malone (Connery) sets him right and informs Ness that he must literally fight fire with fire and possibly break certain rules to uphold the rules he was sworn to protect! The audience gets to see a different man grow from the changes in his life beginning with minor victories favoring his unit. Ness grows darker still as he is challenged and his work becomes more personal… threats against his family’s safety and the mortality of his men are tested. No longer can he be so squeaky clean… he almost needs to think with a criminal mind in order to survive the concrete jungles created by Capone. The rules have changed!

The Untouchables aided by the Canadian Mounties
TECHNICAL ASPECTS: Cinematographer Stephen Burum would have a career history with director Brian DePalma. Previous to UNTOUCHABLES, Burum would lens the cameras for BODY DOUBLE (1984) and then do future work with films CASULATIES OF WAR (1989), RAISING CAIN (1992), CARLITO’S WAY (1993), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996), SNAKE EYES (1998) and MISSION TO MARS (2000). Many wonderful photographic opportunities were bestowed in shooting this film. The film opens with a wonderful overhead shot of Capone sitting in a chair having a shave while a few men of the press ask questions. Other views begin with capturing the streets of Chicago: daylight shots are very crisp and colors are vibrant and sharp. Nighttime brings a casting- over of blue lighting against outside walls and streets. Towards the middle of the film, we are introduced to a sequence occurring at the borders of Canada: DePalma calls UNTOUCHABLES a western, not an action film. The scenes definitely defines the director’s views as we open with a great crane shot of the Canadian hills on a wide- open plain. A pan upwards reveals the men and the Mounties on horseback overseeing the bordering bridges that Capone’s men must pass with the smuggled liquor. A gorgeous opportunity is presented in the cinematography within these scenes. However, nothing can top two great moments caught on film.
Frank Nitti rides with George and Agent Wallace
One has accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) escorting captured henchman George with an accompanied police officer… turns out it’s Capone’s right-hand executor Frank Nitti (Billy Drago) in disguise as the elevator doors close, already guessing the fate of the two unsuspecting men. Walking into the scene with great timing is both Ness and Malone walking up the hallways discussing the birth of Ness’ son. The camera shot is one continuous scene showing the men entering the elevators and then panning over to the others coming up the hall without an edit to another scene for quite some time… capturing a continued sense of tension and growing concern for the innocent.

The second is what I personally consider to be one of the best sequences ever shot on film involving a continually growing intense moment occurring within the Union Station towards the latter half of the film. The set piece is actually pays homage to the Odessa Steps sequence in the silent classic BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925). Capone’s accountant is accompanied by an entourage of henchmen taking a train to safety away from the law… however, a tipped- off Ness and fellow cop George Stone (Andy Garcia) are already there. Also at the station are a cavalcade of people arriving and leaving including a few sailors and a single mother carrying her luggage in one hand and pushing a baby’s carriage up the long flight of stairs. Timing is literally everything as Ness, Stone, the accountant, the henchmen, a few sailors and our unsuspecting mother are all caught in a heart-pounding, slow- motion sequence of peril and suspense as shots are fired in all directions: ever- guessing where the next bullet will land! Again, fine work brought forth by Burum: classic and contemporary at the same time, if that makes any sense at all!
The Union Station shoot-out!

Composer Ennio Morricone
Another key ingredient to the film is the Academy Award nominated soundtrack written and conducted by Ennio Morricone. Even though he didn’t win Best Original Score in 1987 for THE UNTOUCHABLES, Morricone received an Honorary Academy Award in recognition or his contributions to the art of music in film. His soundtracks include memorable scores including A FIST FULL OF DOLLARS (1964), THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966), ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968), LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (1978), THE THING (1982), CINEMA PARADISO (1988) and BUGSY (1991) just to name a select few. A man able to construct music using smaller orchestrations, THE UNTOUCHABLES proved to be an achievement in music using a larger, more expanded orchestra utilizing more classic instruments including woodwinds and strings to more contemporary devices such as a well devised drum machine for the film’s introduction theme. As has been the key instrument in more classical “spaghetti westerns” scored for Sergio Leone films, Morricone has a revisiting harmonica manifesting throughout the entire film’s score. A sad and low playing harmonica, similar to the occurring notes used in the theme for Charles Bronson’s character in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. The orchestra is best utilized in a wonderful, stand-up-and-cheer musical piece used in the introduction of the Canadian sequence and again the closing theme of the film.
The piece can be heard accompanying the following scene!

Overall, the film is a masterfully designed contemporary classic that should not be taken for historical accuracies, as it is solely based on Ness’ memoirs while pursuing Capone.

A definite highlight in what was an already marvelous film career for director Brian DePalma proving that his talents would not be pigeon- held into the gems of his thriller/ suspense films that he best be remembered for.

JOHNNY CHAZZ: 1987 was an intriguing year for movies including the likes of "The Last Emperor", "Moonstruck", the underrated yet wonderful "Au evoir Les Enfants" from France "Babette's Feast", "Full Metal Jacket" and of course...."The Untouchables", a film we are discussing this week.

From the outset of the film ("The Untouchables"), audiences are confronted with a mob situation in Chicago primarily due to the effects of prohibition sparking organized crime and prostitution activity not just in Chi-town, but Nation-wide. Meanwhile, Chicago police were turning a blind eye to these irregular and questionable activities. Still, this was the method for the mob to build their new empire. 

 
It is perhaps the plot of the film and the narrative that primarily drives us that keeps our interest complemented with an honest and pertinent musical score that heightens at every climactic moment of the film. The train station shoot-out scene probably stands out as a real highlight in the film as far as action, suspense and score are concerned. Thus, these elements in conjunction are what make "The Untouchables" work on at least some level as a crime / mob / dramatic film. 
Costner with DePalma
It's not "The Godfather" or "Once Upon a Time In America" nor even "Casino" or "Scarface", but perhaps this film is on par with the likes of "Donnie Brasco" or "Goodfellas" (a film I always considered to be vastly overrated). Still, DePalma's style is apparent in "The Untouchables" as he once again faces dark themes head-on and as Jer said - it was a "definite highlight" in a tremendous career for the director. Perhaps that is what DePalma has always done so well - give the audience a contrast between the sweet life and the violent aspects of the mob / gangster world. His films are a play on juxtapositions in theme, sound, color, costume (the gangster's Armani suits), sets (the red carpets and lush interiors) and more - and in some ways, it works.

It's become a bit of a cliché, but you really can't go wrong with DeNiro in a film unless of course you try to "Analyze this and that....." - Ok, bad humor there. Still, the truth surfaces in jest. Infamous gangster and Chicago boss Al Capone is played by Robert DeNiro who oversees the operations and dealings of the speakeasies, the bars, the backroom casino gambling, and the prostitution. You stand in his way and it is really quite simple - you get gunned down on the spot.


There are concerns with the film however. Kevin Costner seems to receive a strong reputation for everything he does and in the majority of his films he seems to offer a lackluster and robotic / passionless performance. Sean Connery was a plus however and Andy Garcia also lent solid support to the casting.
Capone gets a shave in the opening scene
Hollywood and DePalma pretty much changed history here. The true facts of what Al Capone was all about and the world around him were skewed in "The Untouchables". Capone always boasted ‘I own the Police’ and the film needed to play more off of that philosophy. He was the real and true ‘Scarface’ of his time and very few of the characters in the films really felt like true "racketeers" to me. Another shortcoming of the movie is that Al Capone and his associates really only play a relatively minor role in the film and for some reason Hollywood and DePalma only choose to focus on the four law enforcement men - and frankly speaking, that is boring. Capone's role was, in essence - underdeveloped in the film and that is a crying shame.


The screenplay also has issues of its own. It seemed dummied down for audiences thru and thru and compared to the likes of "Casino" or "Once Upon A Time In America" and "The Godfather" it simply falls short.

Television's THE UNTOUCHABLES
In sum, "The Untouchables" is watchable, but only classifies as a decent mob film. For those who really understand mob history (I do classify myself in that realm) - the original television series "The Untouchables" in 1959-1963 on ABC was so much more realistic and impressive. It was the Great Depression that was focused on and what anyone would do to sell, cheat and lie their way through it.


The vast majority of movie lovers and even some critics feel that this is DePalma's masterpiece in comparison to the likes of "Scarface" and perhaps "Body Double". So I am going to nutshell this for our readers and see what their take is: "The Untouchables" was nice for the time period, but the 80's really had little to offer in the way of outstanding films. As a mob film, it is marginal - and the only parts that really stand out to me are, well - once again, the score and the sets / costume design. It seems as if it had been years since Hollywood had seen a mob-film and especially a period piece that surfaced during the 80's when films were primarily focused on the sci-fi and action genre. It is the harsh truth, but some of us film critics could easily have disposed of the 80's all-together and nothing would go amiss.

'Hey, JC: you're alotta talk and a badge!'
It is not a stretch to say that many of us could list at least five (5) or six (6) gangster / mob films before "The Untouchables" was even up for discussion. This is not a powerhouse film, and there are holes in specific point of the film - primarily in the dialogue, periodic dull performances, and an account of the life of Al Capone that was created by Hollywood for Hollywood. Where is the passion? Where is the sensuality and focus of the film? Al Capone's final words in the final scene are quoted as: "You're nothing but a lot of talk, and a badge." Perhaps that is the way I view the "The Untouchables" as a film - a lot of talk, and no chalk. There is little merit here, and in now way can it be included with the likes of the great mob and gangster films that have spoiled audiences over the years. "The Untouchables" simply does not measure up to what we have seen before 1987 and after. *** PICTURE POINTS: 6.5/10.

JER: I am a bit, no, overly surprised with your take on this film.  Not only did you take an upper jab on what is an absolute favorite film of mine but you also kicked me in the groan with your comment about the films of the 80’s in general!
 
Screenwriter David Mamet
To begin with, I think you are understating this film by large degrees. I do not understand what is meant by the comment of “dummied down” ...meaning that the audience could only comprehend a film of this caliber by having the author (in this case Playwright virtuoso David Mamet) keep the language to a lower- grade so that general audiences could get the dialog and make it easy to follow? I think it was a smartly written screenplay and the dialog plays very realistically with its protagonists and antagonists alike. The words may seem a little ‘operatic’ or play- like but I think that it works for the era that our story takes place. Human language and tones used to communicate change at almost every decade and we most definitely speak and communicate far differently then they did in Chicago back in the 1920’s!

I think that THE UNTOUCHABLES plays fairly to what the film is supposed to be portraying…after all, the title is a reference to the men who cannot be bribed and after Capone and likes of…it isn’t titled CAPONE or MOB BOSS. We cannot expect the film to be taken- over by the baddies as it focuses on the good being done and the temptations along the way. I think director DePalma played the appearance of DeNiro’s role carefully by not overdoing it and showing too much. The timing was right and should be left alone, not a minute more!

Andy Garcia as George Stone
Could it be very Hollywood to take the story of actual events and make it more than what it really is and take liberties in its storytelling? Yes… alright, I will give you that. It tells, however, the tale well and the ‘spirit’ of the thrill and the pursuit is never exhausted…rather heightened to give an audience more to feel and be a part of. Is exaggerating or embellishing the truth a necessary evil to draw audiences into the scope or feel of things to make them truly understand the plights of true events? When is it considered a line drawn or crossed… meaning, too much is simply too much? In the case of THE UNTOUCHABLES, although historical, it isn’t a historical recounting that all Americans know like the first man on the moon or the assassination of JFK.

Shot as seen: Chicago!
Going back to the fact that it was made in the 80’s (1987 be to exact) doesn’t phase the film negatively for me. I couldn’t or wish for it to have been made 10 years earlier or later… it was made prior to the days of the dreaded CGI, meaning, the film was shot on location throughout the greater areas of Chicago for authenticity. DePalma was on the top of his game and was ready for this! He proved to be a wise and perfect director for this project. It has been known that DePalma understands his limits. He actually passed- on the project of TAXI DRIVER to Martin Scorsese simply because he felt he was the better director for the project. That shows much integrity as far as I am concerned.

JC, once again, I feel that you are in the minority on this one. What are you honestly expecting? Bare in mind that you have often times expect too much and I am wondering if that isn’t the case again with the topic at hand. The talk is talked and the walk was definitely walked! Taking a quote from Connery’s Malone character, “So endith the lesson."

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Let's remember that it is the "film" that I am concerned with and upper jabs and groin kicks are certainly not intentions of mine. I think your comment about Hollywood taking liberties with the storytelling is just a part of the whole concern with this movie. True, a film like "Casino" was 90% accurate (and maybe more) and that was what gave it such merit and value - and you will probably find that there are more "Casino" lovers out there in the film world than "Untouchables" fans.

Now, this is not a battle between "Casino" and "Untouchables", but I do expect (taking a look at your last paragraph) a better script, a primary focus on the mobsters themselves (not the agents) and a historical account that is true and, for the most part - accurate. It also seems as if DePalma is more concerned about who is starring in his film and giving them ultra-camera time instead of focusing on the real story at hand - that disturbs me and detracts from my interest in the film.

 

Additionally, it is not the fact that "The Untouchables" was made in the 1980's that lessened the rating of the movie for me. It is simply the idea that we have seen far superior mob-genre films prior to this and even after this time period. This is the case for most of the films in the 1980's and to prove the point, simply one look at AFI's top 100 films of all time (not that we should consider that gospel....but it is a strong reference) it is hard to find any film in the 80's in the upper-half of that list as most films fall in the 1940's-1970's. This does not even include foreign films which would likely topple this list by a landslide.

As for DePalma passing on the "Taxi Driver" project, well - let's be thankful for that or the film would have probably been set in Chicago and casted Sissy Spacek in the role of Iris (Jody Foster's role).....mercy.


Director Brian DePalma
Was DePalma really that strong as a director? If so, what was his true message? I'm still not sure. Since 1993 we have seen nothing from this director ("Black Dahlia" and "Redacted") were both a disaster and a complete embarrassment and some of his films from prior decades were also forgetful - "Get to Know Your Rabbit?"; "Mission to Mars?"; "Bonfire of the Vanities?", "Casualties of War?" - Yikes. I could probably name 10 films on this director's list that could never make the cut. That is a miserable track record.

Maybe "Scarface", "Blow Out" and "The Untouchables" were his best work, but if that is all that we see in a career from this director, we can look elsewhere - and well, I do. None of these films were really outstanding and each would be lucky to surpass a 7/10 rating on my list.

Yes, I am critical - and that is done for the sole purpose of our fans who consider themselves both shrewd and discriminating (used in the proper sense of course). They deserve to know the good, the bad and the ugly. Still, I strongly believe that the value of what we offer here in Cinema: Counterpoint is two (2) perspectives that both make valid points in respect to "The Untouchables". So now, I guess we leave it to our readers to see what their thoughts are regarding this week's topic: "The Untouchables" (1987).


JER: To cap this off… if Director DePalma’s concern was “on- screen” time for his actors, then half the film would have been about Robert DeNiro and the other half about Sean Connery, since they were the two biggest names in the film. Connery is a supporting character as well as DeNiro.
Watch a memorable DeNiro moment as Capone

I also think it was a low- blow to bring up the ‘disastrous’ films DePalma has directed. The topic at hand is THE UNTOUCHABLES and nothing more. If so be the case, I would say that every film director has had a ‘miss’ or ‘disaster’…some more than others. Some will argue that Brian DePalma is more of a director than you are giving him credit for and I may decide to pay my respects to him and his works on CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT some day soon. I cannot wait to see what that will stir up!

Until our “Thrilla In Manila” arrives, I will say that we always have a high respect for our individual comments and we know we can duke it out right here! We definitely look forward to your comments and thoughts… what do you think? Please chime in! Keep it locked- in when JOHNNY CHAZZ takes a turn on the cinema speedway..as always, we will SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!

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