Tag Archives: Sidney Lumet

Film & TV News: June 15

News

  • The great Christopher Lee passed away earlier this week at 93. He’ll be remembered for countless roles, for Dracula, for Saruman in Lord of the Rings, for Count Dooku in Star Wars, and for his symphonic metal concept albums (yes).
  • Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight will be screened in 70mm, meaning theaters near you will either have to outfit their booths with new projectors or decide against screening a Tarantino flick. It’s a great power move by Tarantino, because once major theater chains have that capability alongside their digital projectors it opens the door for more films on actual film.
  • Videosyncrazy, David Fincher’s HBO series about the music video industry in the 1980s, has mysteriously halted production. No word on what the primary issue is, but as Fincher’s the perfect guy for a series like this we really hope the pieces get reassembled soon.
  • Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, having already completed all of the voice work, has now turned around and completely recast nearly every voice actor. Production on this one has always been rocky, but Pixar’s no stranger to that. As long as it’s not called Cars, we’re safe.

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The Pawnbroker (1964)

I read The Pawnbroker at the wrong time. Jewish American author Edward Lewis Wallant published the thin novel, his second after The Human Season, a year before his untimely death in 1962. I wouldn’t be hitting the scene for another few decades, and by the time I did The Pawnbroker existed only in relative obscurity. I read it in college, where I sort of zipped through the little volume in between zipping through others.

In doing so, I read Sol Nazerman’s tale largely as a tale of urban woe. Those of suburban woe — by Updike, Cheever, O’Hara, and  even a few guys who weren’t named John — were in great supply back then, from Rabbit, Run to Bullet Park to Appointment in Samarra. These books had protagonists that were either downright miserable or just miserable without knowing it, perhaps indifferent to the constant comings and goings or the constant stillness of life around them, and in that feeble criteria they were all grouped together. Bernard Malamud’s The Assistant, about a Jewish shopkeeper in postwar New York, seemed a worthy companion to The Pawnbroker  because the protagonists seemed so similar. Assistant‘s Morris worked out of Brooklyn while Sol Nazerman’s pawnshop was in Harlem, but both were simply exhausted by life.

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Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

How badly can two brothers mess up a supposedly simple robbery? Apparently, very, very badly. This is what we learn in Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead when Hank and Andy try to rob their parents’ jewelry store to cure some financial woes and, well, it doesn’t go according to plan, which is to say their plan did not involve botching the actual robbery and leading to six deaths, including their own mother, in just a few days. Definitely not good.

At the very least, I can say that the movie is done much more pristinely than the brothers’ plan, but, like the attempted robbery, it certainly could have been executed better. Before I get to any of my problems with the film, I must first admit that the acting is superb. The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman is fantastic as Andy, the older brother pushing for the robbery. Then there’s Ethan Hawke (who just loves being in movies that start with “Before”, as he’s been in four such movies) who plays Andy’s younger brother Hank, a loyal, but non-custodial parent (Boyhood, anyone?), behind on child support. Hawke, as he has been known to do, truly captures the role.

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A Most Violent Year (2014)

A Most Violent Year is set in New York City in 1981, the most violent and murderous time in the history of the city. Oscar Isaac plays ambitious immigrant Abel Morales, manager of a successful oil enterprise, and Jessica Chastain plays his beautiful wife/accountant. On the eve of a major business deal, Abel must simultaneously contend with a federal investigation into his practice and a band of hijackers attacking his drivers.

Things fall apart fast for Abel, A Serious Man style, with pretty much everyone turning against him, and it’s in this set-up that A Most Violent Year seems like it’s going to be a pretty great gangster film. Abel is beaten down but never defeated, constantly levelheaded and rarely unprideful. In one scene he speaks to three new employees about business procedure, and though we know he should probably be frantically dealing with everything that’s happened to him in the past week we find him here instead, describing sales tactics with such gusto that Jordan Belfort would buy oil from him. In scenes like this Isaac’s Abel recalls Pacino’s Michael Corleone more fully than any character you care to name, stonefaced as he looks people directly in the eye, staunch in his beliefs.

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