Tag Archives: Al Pacino

Author! Author! (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playwright has family issues.

Ivan (Al Pacino) is a playwright struggling to get his next creation ‘English with Tears’ financed and produced. While he has managed to attain the necessary funding he still has a second act that everyone feels ‘needs work’, but before he can tackle that his wife Gloria (Tuesday Weld) leaves him for another man (Frederic Kimball). Now he must contend with raising the five kids alone with four of them being hers from a previous relationship.

The screenplay was written by Israel Horovitz and loosely based on his own experiences as a single parent. Horovitz has written many plays, over 70 of them, several have been considered at least in their day as groundbreaking, so this thing seems incredibly contrived by comparison. The scenes dealing with Ivan’s struggles in regards to his play and the politics that ensue in order to get it made are the most interesting aspects of the movie and the story should’ve solely focused on this angle while the home-life stuff proves sterile and better suited for a sitcom.

The kids seem too connected to the adult world around them. Children can certainly be astute at times, but they still dwell in their own little bubbles and this film shows no awareness of that and instead has them saying lines that more likely would’ve been uttered by an adult. Benjamin H. Carlin has a few cute moments as the young Geraldo, but Ari Meyers, who would later go on to star in the TV-show ‘Kate and Allie’ gives the best performance when she breaks down into tears as she describes the hardships of being booted around from one household to the next.

It’s nice seeing Pacino doing light comedy, which is a real change of pace for him, but he’s too intense and does not play off of Weld, who is more emotionally restrained, well at all. The scene where he tries to physically drag her into a taxi cab isn’t funny, but scary instead and most likely would’ve had those who were standing around witnessing it trying to intervene, or calling the cops.

Dyan Cannon is not effective as the kooky actress who stars in his play and then later moves in with him. Had her character’s eccentricities been played up more she might’ve at least been amusing, but the script doesn’t go far enough with this and having her call him up out-of-the-blue and ask to go to bed with him seemed too outrageously forward. There was some dramatic potential when, after she moves in with him and his kids, she is then asked to move out when Weld’s character comes back into the picture. This could’ve opened the door to a lot of dramatic fireworks and given the film a real lift, but instead she just leaves quietly and is essentially forgotten, which then begs the question why even bother introducing her character at all?

The scenes where Ivan frets about his play and the audience reactions to it are the best parts of the film because it shows the inner anxieties of just about any playwright or screenwriter out there, which is why this should’ve been the central point of the movie as it is the only thing that helps the story stand out. By comparison the family life stuff is generic and filled with too much manufactured cutesiness. It also wastes the talents of Alan King who is mildly amusing, at least at the beginning, as the play’s producer as well as the legendary comedy team of Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding who play the part of the play’s financiers.

The film’s title song ‘Coming Home to You’, which plays over the opening credits as well as the closing ones is so overly sugary that it is enough to make you want to turn the movie off before it’s even begun. It got nominated for a Razzie award for worst original song and it should’ve won as there could not be anything that would be worse, but what is even more amusing is that no one gets credited for singing it, which should’ve been a signal to director Arthur Hiller not to feature it in the film because if the song’s own singer is embarrassed by it then who else would like it.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 18, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Scarface (1983)

scarface

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Refugee becomes drug lord.

Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is a Cuban refugee arriving in Miami hoping to make it big in the land of opportunity. At first he is forced to do low paying jobs, but finally gets his break when he is hired to do a job for a rich drug dealer named Frank Garcia (Robert Loggia). Soon Tony becomes infatuated with Frank’s girlfriend Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the two begin a torrid affair. When Frank tries to assassinate Tony by ordering a hit on him at a nightclub Tony gets his revenge by killing Frank and becoming the top drug lord, which makes him quite wealthy, but the strain of constantly having to watch his back for whoever may be out to get him eventually wears on his personality.

This is a remake of the 1932 Howard Hawk’s classic that came about when Pacino watched the original film in a theater and felt compelled to make a modern day update with the drugs being the source of the criminal activity instead of alcohol. The result is only so-so, but it gets helped immensely by an incredible set design. Tony’s all-black office and a luxurious hot tub placed in the middle of his already kitschy living room are eye-popping as are the chic and lively interiors of the nightclubs, posh restaurants and exotic resorts. The graphic shootouts are equally arresting and keenly shot and edited for ultimate excitement.

Director Brian De Palma again digs into his bag of borrowed Hitchcock shots in order to tell his story, but here it works pretty well. My favorite one is when he uses the camera to track outside of a room where the action is occurring and onto a quiet street below. Hitchcock did the same thing in Frenzy where the bad guy strangles a woman inside her apartment, but instead of showing the violent act the camera moves out of the apartment and onto a busy street outside. Here the camera takes an equally fascinating journey from a man getting chopped up by a chainsaw to an idyllic afternoon day just a few feet away.

The supporting cast is strong particularly Pfeiffer as Tony’s bitchy girlfriend whose ongoing acerbic responses act as a good barometer to Tony’s ever changing social standing. I also enjoyed the transformation of Loggia’s character from intimidating kingpin to wilting coward. Harris Yulin is also memorable as a corrupt cop who ends up playing things a little too cool for his own good.

The thing I hated about the movie was Pacino’s over-the-top performance. Normally I’ve found him to be a great actor, but here the character comes off as too cartoonish and one-dimensional. He possesses no interesting character arch and is creepy and unlikable from the beginning and proceeds to only get worse as it goes along, which makes following his rise and fall quite boring and predictable.

The runtime is too long and encompasses a lot of lulls in between the action bits in a story that seems to telegraph where it’s going right from the start. The Cubans are also portrayed in a negative and stereotypical way with only a slight attempt to balance it. Had it not been for the excellent production values this thing would’ve been a real bore.

I was also confused as to why Charles Durning’s voice gets dubbed in during a scene involving Tony’s conversation with an immigration officer. If De Palma was unhappy with the original actor’s performance as the immigration officer then he should have re-filmed it with Durning present instead of just using his voice because his style of speaking is quite distinctive and I was thrown out of the scene completely due to wondering why I was hearing Durning’s voice, but not seeing him.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1983

Runtime: 2Hours 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Serpico (1973)

serpico

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A cop fights corruption.

One of the followers of this blog has requested that I review this movie, so today we take a look at Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) a policeman who fought against corruption that plagued New York’s police department during the ‘60s. Even though many of his partners on the force would accept under-the-table payouts from criminal elements in exchange for ‘looking-the-other-way’ he wouldn’t and when he would tell his superiors about it nothing would get done. Instead they would transfer him to other precincts only for him to find the same problems there. It was only when he decided to report the issue to the New York Times that people started to take action, but in the process he also made himself a mark and vulnerable to having his unhappy comrades set him up to be shot while on-duty.

The film is based on the Peter Maas novel, which in turn recounts the life of the actual Frank Serpico and the events he went through while working on the force between the years of 1959 to 1972. Not only does he remain alive today, but according to recent reports is even considering, at the ripe old age of 79, a run at political office. Equally interesting is that he and Pacino roomed together during the summer that this was filmed and became close friends.

It’s been years since I’ve read the novel, but I felt this film sticks closely to what actually happened and the always reliable Sidney Lumet manages to keep things exciting and insightful. The dialogue is sharp and the on-location shooting, which was done in every borough of New York except Staten Island, gives the viewer an authentic feel of the city as well as the police environment.

The film also does a successful job at showing the drawbacks of accepting bribes without ever getting preachy or heavy-handed. One might think, like many of Serpico’s partners do, that taking some kickbacks isn’t that big of a deal, but then the film shows in one brief moment a policeman shoving another man’s head into a toilet when he doesn’t ‘pay up’, which hits home how the police become no better than organized crime who would notoriously demand ‘protection money’ from business owners.

The only thing I didn’t like was the music, which was too loud and jarring. Fortunately it’s put in only sparingly, but its melodic quality takes away from the grittiness and the film works far better by simply relying on the ambient sounds of the locations that the scenes are in. In fact this is one movie that could’ve done fine without any music at all.

Pacino is fantastic and I loved how the character starts out as this clean shaven, boyish looking fellow only to grow into a bearded, long haired guy as the story progresses, which symbolically connects with the way he becomes savvier to the system. The character also sports earrings long before it became vogue for males to wear them.

Tony Roberts does well as one of the few cops that sides with Serpico and tries to help him in his fight and F. Murray Abraham can be spotted near the end as a member of a vice squad who tries setting Serpico up to be killed. This movie also marks the film debuts of character actors Alan Rich and Kenneth McMillan. In my mind this is also the debut of Judd Hirsh. Some sources state that his first onscreen appearance is in Jump, which came out two years earlier, but I watched that film and couldn’t spot him anywhere, but her I was able to spot him right away.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 5, 1973

Runtime: 2Hours 10Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Me, Natalie (1969)

me natalie 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homely girl finds independence.

Natalie (Patty Duke) has been plagued all her life as being unattractive and overlooked time and again by other men. Her parents (Nancy Marchand, Phillip Sterling) promise her that way day she will grow up to be beautiful, but it never happens. When she finds out that they secretly promise one of her potential suitors (Bob Balaban) that they will pay for his education to become an eye doctor if he agrees to marry her she becomes deeply hurt and decides to move out. Things are not easy at first, but she manages to find a job and a decent apartment in Greenwich Village. It is there that she meets David (James Farentino) an older man who she falls deeply in love with only to find out that he is married.

Duke does well in the lead role although this was at the height of her bipolar disorder, which was untreated at the time and it caused many problems on the set between her and director Fred Coe that was later chronicled her autobiographic book ‘Call Me Anna’ and subsequent 1990 TV-Movie of the same name. On the looks department the character really isn’t that bad and her ‘ugliness’ consists mainly of some bad buck teeth that could probably have been immediately resolved with a good orthodontist and some braces.

It’s the character’s personality that is really unattractive. She is extremely whiny as well as being bag of insecurities that falls completely apart the second she is faced with anything unpleasant or unexpected. She is constantly judging other women on their looks even though she expects everyone else to look past her own physical flaws and resents them when they don’t. There is even a scene where she coldly rejects an overweight man who asks her to dance by calling him a ‘loser’. While I applaud the film for showing us a candid portrait of an individual that goes well beyond the manufactured politically correct persona of a protagonist that we are so used to seeing it still may be tough going for most viewers to have much empathy for her.

What I liked about the movie is that it starts out as an old fashioned kitchen sink drama of this lonely girl stuck in a drab existence and simply looking to get married and then blossoms into something completely different as she gets out into the world and experiences the big city and late ’60s attitudes. The film has a few memorable scenes including her job at a topless and bottomless bar in which the waitresses are required to wear all black that covers even their faces and then they are fitted with prosthetic breasts and butts that they wear around the outside of their outfits and glow-in-the-dark. They then walk around the darkened restaurant taking customer orders while looking like a collage of floating female body parts.

The one thing that really hurts the film as a whole is the musical score by Henry Mancini. Normally I’m a big fan of his, but here his melodic stuff sounds out-of-date and not in touch with the late ’60s or the young people living in it. Simply because one may be a great composer doesn’t mean he’s a perfect fit for every project and this was clearly one of them as the music has a 1940’s quality to it that made the picture seem highly dated even at the time.

The movie though does successfully make a great point, which is that one can only find true happiness from inner peace and not by being dependent on the reactions of others. It also marks the film debut of Al Pacino who is seen briefly as a young man who asks Natalie for a dance at a high school social and then immediately asks her if she ‘puts out’.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated M

Director: Fred Coe

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: None at this time.

Cruising (1980)

cruising2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cop infiltrates gay underground.

A serial killer is attacking gay men who frequent New York’s S&M bars and young cop Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is chosen to go undercover as a gay and infiltrate these ‘leather clubs’ in order to bring out the killer. However, the job requirements demand that he must be completely isolated from the rest of the force and not carry a gun, which eventually causes a strain on his personal life particularly in his relationship with his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen).

The film, which is loosely based on actual events that occurred during the late 70’s and captured in Gerald Walker’s novel of the same name, was considered quite controversial at the time of its production. Protestors who felt the film accentuated the gay stereotype tried to create loud noises during filming and even shine reflective lights on the actors in an attempt to mess up the scenes. In retrospect it is hard to imagine that director William Friedkin is in anyway homophobic as just ten years earlier he did the brilliant adaptation of The Boys in the Band, which remains to this day one of the better films dealing with gay issues. The story certainly does wallow in ugly elements, but also makes the point to describe this as an extreme subculture and  not reflective of the gay lifestyle as a whole, which in my opinion made the film seem more enlightening to New York’s gay underground of a bygone era and less propaganda as its critics ascertained.

To some degree I liked the explicit uncompromising approach, but after a while it became one-dimensional and predictable. The scenes of the killings are unnecessarily prolonged and some of the segments showing large groups of men having sex at a bar come off as overly-stylized and looking reminiscent of a homoerotic scene from a Fassbinder film.

Friedkin does manage to add a few unique touches including having a well-built black man wearing nothing but a jock strap enter the room during police interrogations and violently slap suspects who he felt weren’t telling the truth, which according to one of the film’s advisors was an actual technique used by police at the time.  The way the movie captures the monotony and frustrations of investigating a complex case such as this and leaving open that there may have been more than one killer is also well done and helps elevate this a bit from the usual formulaic cop thriller.

Pacino gives a gutsy performance including one scene showing him tied up in bed naked during some kinky S&M play, but the character’s motivations are confusing particularly the way he so quickly accepts this difficult assignment that most others would be very reluctant to do. The fact that his experiences ends up affecting him psychologically isn’t compelling since that becomes a foregone conclusion right from the start.

Paul Sorvino is perfect as the police captain. His gray hair dye was a little overdone, but his limp was great. Allen has a good moment at the end when she tries on Pacino’s leather hat and coat that he brought home with him and Joe Spinell makes the most of his small role as a corrupt cop who harasses gays only to end up patronizing gay bars on his off hours. You can also spot Powers Boothe in an early role as a hankie salesman and Ed O’Neil as a police detective.

The idea of exposing the dark side of police life is no longer original or interesting and the film’s shock value has lessened through the years and thus failing to leave any type of lasting impression or message.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Friedkin

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video