Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, and Kevin Spacey all in one movie, each with significant time in front of the camera. Who steals the show? If you guessed none of the above, you either were too afraid to guess or you’ve seen Glengarry Glen Ross. GGR does have all of these actors for the entire movie; it also has Alec Baldwin for one scene.
In the end, three minutes of Baldwin overshadow an hour and a half of some of the greatest actors of more than one generation. His brief, but memorable performance can be likened to that of Matthew McConaughey’s in The Wolf of Wall Street. In both cases, they achieve the goal of all actors/characters — to be memorable in just one scene.
Continue reading Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Discovered an alternate universe the other day. Stumbled upon it by accident, stayed for a while to check it out. Pretty weird. Their eggs and ham are green and Transformers: Age of Extinction won Best Picture. Hoverboards are the primary mode of travel, everyone’s wearing Air McFlys. Don’t know why, but strong suspicion that George Bailey never existed. Can’t tell which universe is good and which is evil. Met their film director David Gordon Green and discovered him to be a talentless hack who sold out after making a few good movies and now just makes big budget stuff. He did the Oscar-winning Transformers. They’ve him to thank for those Batman/Terminator crossover movies and can look forward to his upcoming Star Wars anthology film R2-D2 Rises. In their universe David Gordon Green also directed Pineapple Express and Your Highness and The Sitter…ah, no, wait, that’s ours.
Thankfully, our David Gordon Green turned away from the big budget stuff in order to make movies like Manglehorn. While Bizarro DGG turned to the dark side and never came back, the chunk of studio comedies characterized by Pineapple Express, Your Highness and The Sitter just seems like a temporary detour in our world. Even if you liked those flicks, the point stands that Green’s career has followed one of the more unpredictable paths you’re likely to find on any Hollywood résumé. His first several features were intimate character dramas, beginning with the phenomenal coming-of-age tale George Washington. Most were well-received and all were small-scale, independent features. Understandable, then, that when three green things converged — money, weed, and David Gordon — and resulted in Pineapple Express, more than a few eyebrows headed north.
Continue reading Manglehorn (2014)
Oftentimes our “reviews” here at Motion State aren’t reviews at all, really, but just tangentially-related trivia-night factoids stretched into meandering essays posing as criticism (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, among others). Think sitting down for dinner and accidentally filling up on appetizers — every now and then it just happens. This is that, essentially, except today we’re filling up on dessert.
During the grueling production of Francis Ford Coppola’s seminal Apocalypse Now, his wife Eleanor took copious notes and video footage with an eventual resolve to distill it all into a documentary about the making of the film. She never found the proper “angle” for a documentary feature, but Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now was eventually published in 1995. And the unedited, uncensored writings are probably a better peek into Apocalypse Now than a film would have been, because here there is no “angle” — there’s only the experience of being there as the film came together.
Continue reading Apocalypse Now (1979)
At least as far as the majority of the American public is concerned, Erich Maria Remarque is one of those authors who only wrote one book. It’s not true, of course, but his seminal All Quiet on the Western Front eclipsed his other work in the same way that Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest eclipsed everything else they wrote. In some cases this all-encompassing book isn’t even the best work by the given author, and there’s certainly a case to be made for that notion as far as Remarque is concerned. Heaven Has No Favorites, his 1961 novel, was serialized before publication but joined the rest of his works in achieving only minor notoriety. But it’s a hell of a book, heartbreaking and beautifully written even with the knowledge that it’s been translated from German.
And it would be nice to say that Bobby Deerfield yanked Heaven out of obscurity, but it really didn’t. Alvin Sargent (who would eventually win an Oscar for his screenplay for Ordinary People) penned the adaptation of Remarque’s novel, and the treatment soon piqued the interest of Sydney Pollack. By this point Pollack was well-established in Hollywood, having the Robert Redford-starrers Jeremiah Johnson and Three Days of the Condor under his belt, and so the next stop in the life of the script was in front of the on-fire Al Pacino. Pacino was drawn to the role of American F1 driver Bobby Deerfield, saying he identified with his journey more than any role he’d taken to date.
Continue reading Bobby Deerfield (1977)
A smash cut can be a beautiful thing. It can also be a broadly-defined thing, somewhat unfortunately, which means I have to reel you into a conversation about Michael Mann’s The Insider by providing a narrowed definition of smash cut. Excited yet? The added problem, of course, is that one of you
damn dear readers will no doubt have the time to point out precisely where I’m mistaken in my definition, holding my hand and stating that, no, that’s not a smash cut, that’s a match cut, and that one over there is a jump cut, and over there is…my, oh my! Is that a Dutch angle shot in its natural habitat?
Anyway, the thing I’m thinking of might not even qualify as a smash cut, but for now that descriptor will have to suffice. Mann loves an extreme close-up, especially in his earlier works like Heat (I’m thinking of that early bouncing shot of Val Kilmer), and in his follow-up The Insider we probably get closer to the facial pores of Russell Crowe and Al Pacino than we’ve ever been before. But there are a few close-ups not of faces but of objects, inserted for a second or a half-second right smack in the middle of a scene, and those cuts are what I’m talking about. They smash to the forefront when you’d least expect them, these otherwise uninteresting objects. Why does Mann shove these in so boldly, and how does he get it to work so damn well?
Continue reading The Insider (1999)
Calling Daniel Day-Lewis the greatest cinematic actor of all time certainly isn’t a stretch, and his performance in Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot is the reason why. Day-Lewis plays Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy. The only control Brown has over his body is his left foot. However, he uses this one appendage to achieve fame as both an artist and a writer. Throughout the film and in real life, Brown works through the adversity of his condition as well as the poverty of his large family. The movie is set mostly as a flashback; Christy’s life unfolds as his nurse, Mary Carr (Ruth McCabe), reads his autobiography while at a charity event with him.
The decision to set the movie as a flashback was a solid one as it shows the progress Christy makes in so many regards to arrive to the fame that lands him at the charity event. Also, the film does not focus much on the actual writing of the autobiography. Rather, the focus is more on his art. Thus, seeing his life through his own writing highlights his talent as a writer while also providing an appropriate backdrop for his story.
Continue reading My Left Foot (1989)