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Danny Collins

Danny Collins (played by Al Pacino) has the world at his feet. His audience has aged with him and they’re still just as loyal as ever. They loved his songs in the 70’s and Danny became a huge pop star – and that’s all they want to hear now, so he delivers it for them, night after night. Danny’s lived the high life every day since his hey-day  … heck, he can afford it, so why not? But he’s done it to the detriment of his personal life – after three failed marriages, the latest to blonde-bombshell Sophie (by Katarina Cas), his only real friend is his manager, Frank Grubman (by Christopher Plummer). Frank dutifully books big tours for Danny, his audiences attend in their droves and the money rolls in. Then one day, Frank reveals a 40 year old letter that John Lennon wrote to Danny, which was unknown until a few months ago. This sparks a need in Danny to seek out his estranged family and try to make amends for decisions he made in his life – perhaps also to discover who Danny Collins really is?

This is a sweet movie – made more so because it’s based on a true story … well sort of, it’s actually about a letter to Steve Tilston. But the audience is clear about that from the outset – in a nod to the Cohen Brothers’ way of opening a movie. I found it a bit bizarre to see Al Pacino in a singing role, but once I got over that I found the actual story very nice. As Danny Collins, Al Pacino is the right fit – a hard drinking, hard living, drug taking, rough-around-the-edges kind of guy with a warm heart. His manager, Frank Grubman is beautifully played by Christopher Plummer and the young Donnelly family – father Tom (by Bobby Cannavale), mother Samantha Leigh (by Jennifer Garner) and little Hope (by Giselle Eisenberg) are all great. The gem in the movie is Annette Bening – as the demure and straight-laced Mary Sinclair, the foil to Danny Collins’ garish persona, she is lovely. It’s not a block-buster, nor is it a deeply emotive drama, but it’s a nice movie.

Made in 2015. Directed by Dan Fogelman.

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Posted by on January 13, 2016 in Movies

 

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Scarface

In the early 1980’s thousands of people leave Cuba bound for the United States to find a better life. One such immigrant is Tony Montana (played by Al Pacino) who’s had a few scrapes with the law and is desperate to become a success. He starts at a refugee camp in Florida, earning a living washing dishes at a food van, but he and his friend Manny Ribera (by Steven Bauer) pretty soon move on. In exchange for a Green Card they agree to do a contract killing. Tony and Manny get involved in a drugs operation and meet big time dealer Frank Lopez (by Robert Loggia). Tony’s got a knack for this type of thing and a few successes come  his way, so he partners with Frank and they start to do business with contacts in Columbia. Everything goes well, customers are happy and money rolls in. Frank marries the beautiful Elvira (by Michelle Pfeiffer) and he tries to look after his Mama (by Miriam Colon) and his sister Gina (by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), but his mother doesn’t approve and she rejects him. Tony’s relationships suffer but his business booms. A big drug dealer in South America, Alejandro Sosa (by Paul Shenar), starts to work with the Montana organisation until things go bad and get dangerous. Violence escalates across Miami and Tony’s business comes under scrutiny by the Tax Department and the Feds. Tony starts to panic when he realises life’s about more than just money and he can’t buy his way out of everything …

This movie is a good adventure story with some heavy action scenes. The improving lifestyle of the up and coming drug dealer is opulent and filled with excesses. Tony’s relationship with Elvira (played by a very young Michelle Pfeiffer) is interesting but not really critical to the story. The violence in the movie would have been graphic in its day and indeed the story would have been ground-breaking then too. Al Pacino is gritty and real as Tony Montana – he is good in these “down to earth” roles. I hate to say it, but Michelle Pfeiffer is little more than a decoration here, however as Gina, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio gives things a bit more life and emotion. The male characters are all pretty strong – well done to Steve Bauer, who has had quite a successful career since this one. It’s quite a long movie – nearly 3 hours, and  it probably doesn’t need to be, but overall it’s a decent adventure. It was nominated for a few Golden Globes, but went without any recognition through the awards season of 1984, perhaps as it’s a remake of a 1932 movie. This one is written by Oliver Stone.

Made in 1983. Directed by Brian De Palma.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2015 in Movies

 

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The Insider

Lowell Bergman (played by Al Pacino) is a long experienced producer on the US “60 Minutes” television show. One day he receives some heavy research on the health effects of nicotine and contacts industrial chemist Jeffrey Wigand (by Russell Crowe) to interpret it for him. Wigand has recently been fired from his job at a tobacco company and Bergman sees that he has deep resentment about it. He follows his instinct and when Wigand is reluctant to talk to him for fear he will break his severance agreement with the company, Bergman senses a big story. Wigand gets more company pressure not to talk, which exposes him to rising tension and risks the safety of his wife Liane (by Diane Venora) and family. He agrees to a high-risk interview with Mike Wallace (by Christopher Plummer), then CBS must navigate all the legal and business ramifications to decide how best to present the story, for the benefit of everyone involved – Wigand, the tobacco companies, the public and themselves. Jeffrey Wigand finds out how it feels have the courage to “blow the whistle” and tell the truth for the greater good, but to go up against the might of big business at the same time.

This is a good drama. It’s a long movie, but that’s important to develop the story appropriately. I was not aware of this incident at the time, so I thought the movie would be primarily focused on Jeffrey Wigand, – it is, but the real star is Lowell Bergman. Al Pacino shines here – he’s just a natural talent. He portrays Bergman with authenticity and his performance balances very well with both Russell Crowe’s work and the performance of Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace – all three are excellent. The production is dark, literally, and there is little in the way of enhancement with music or visuals – which puts the focus squarely on the story – again, quite appropriately. This is not a story to be played with. Russell Crowe was nominated in several forums as Best Actor for this role (including the Academy Award [Oscar]). He was awarded by several Film Critics Societies, but he was not awarded an Oscar, yet again. Christopher Plummer received an award from the Boston Society of Film Critics in 2000 for his marvellous work. The production itself was severally nominated for Best Cinematography, Film Editing, Best Picture, Sound and Screenplay. It is based on the 1999 article “The Man Who Knew Too Much” by Marie Brenner. It’s good.

Made in 1999. Directed by Michael Mann.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2013 in Movies

 

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Sea of Love

Detective Frank Keller (played by Al Pacino) is a New York cop of twenty years’ standing. He’s good at his job, but that (and drinking) is about all he has to do in his life these days since his wife left him for fellow-cop Gruber (by Richard Jenkins) who happens to be from the same precinct. Frank’s disillusioned and should retire from the force, but he just can’t come to terms with his marriage breakdown, so he carries on. A serial killer with a penchant for “lonely hearts” magazine ads and who kills each victim while playing the old record “Sea of Love”, is active and Frank and his partner, Sherman (by John Goodman) investigate. To get closer to a suspect, Frank places his own “lonely hearts” advert and it’s answered, by Helen Cruger (by Ellen Barkin). Frank meets up with her but she’s not what he was expecting … she’s tough, sexy and a headstrong, single mother. Despite her being a suspect, Frank’s loneliness gets the better of his judgement, he is entranced by her and they begin an affair. As Frank gets more involved in his relationship with Helen, his suspicion of her deepens …

This movie will keep you involved all the way through – the plot is compelling and it has great dialogue, strong characters and authentic action sequences. As always, Al Pacino is great – these are the roles where he excels – when he portrays vulnerability, intensity, deep feelings and the self-destructive behaviour of continuing a relationship when it’s clearly not the best idea he’s ever had. He can bring all this to the audience without uttering a word – such is his talent at facial expression, gesture and body language – he’s just marvellous. His character is his well balanced with Ellen Barkin’s portrayal of the enigmatic and classy Helen. They are plausible as a couple, each in it to meet their own needs. John Goodman brings a sense of realism and “down home-ness” to his almost comic character Sherman, which is entertaining. In 1990, both Ellen Barkin and John Goodman were nominated for a Chicago Film Critics Association Award for their performances here and Al Pacino was nominated for a Golden Globe for his work, in the same year. The great script, well constructed scenes and excellent cinematography bring this chaotic urban environment to the audience and we are taken along on this ride quite easily. This is a good movie.

Made in 1989. Directed by Harold Becker

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2012 in Movies

 

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88 Minutes

Dr. Jack Gramm (played by Al Pacino) is an FBI forensic psychiatrist and a college professor. He studies the world’s most notorious serial killers to profile and assess their guilt for the FBI. One such case, ten years ago, involved suspect Jon Forster, who allegedly attacked twin sisters Jo and Janie Cates (by Tammy Hui), which resulted in Jo’s murder. Forster is found guilty of these crimes and is still on death row, with his execution due within days. Suddenly, a copycat killer is active in Seattle, which involves Jack in further investigations – and although Jack is adamant that Forster was the right man the first time around, the case against him (particularly Jack’s testimony) is questioned, in an attempt to achieve a stay of execution for Forster. Jack then receives a death threat claiming he has only 88 minutes to live, so he must use all his knowledge, experience and skills to evade the increasing risks to this safety and to solve the mystery of the copycat killer. But who can he trust? – his best ally has always been his assistant Shelley Barnes (by Amy Brenneman) and then there is his teacher’s assistant Kim Cummings (by Alicia Witt), but these days who’s on his side any more?  …. and 88 minutes is not long to solve this mystery and keep alive ….

This movie is okay. Al Pacino is good (as he always is), but his performance here is not as intense as I have seen him in other things. It’s all a bit pedestrian really – it tries to be a thriller and a mystery, but doesn’t quite achieve it somehow. Amy Brenneman is a strong support and credible as his technical support but the rest is just a little bit lacking.  It’s alright if you have nothing better to do and you need to while away a couple of hours.

Made in 2007.  Directed by Jon Avnet

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2012 in Movies

 

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Dog Day Afternoon

It’s a hot summer afternoon in 1972 in Brooklyn. New York City. Three desperate but inexperienced men – Sonny Wortzik (played by Al Pacino), Sal (by John Cazale) and Stevie (by Gary Springer) intend to hold up the First Savings Bank of Brooklyn. Their plan is simple – get in, take the money and get out. They enter the bank just before closing time, but their ineptitude quickly shows – Stevie immediately loses his nerve and backs out of the heist so Sonny and Sal remain. They fumble their way through the first few minutes to frighten the bank staff, then make their way to the vault – but it is virtually empty, so Sonny takes the travellers’ cheques instead and sets fire to the register, which causes smoke outside the bank and arouses suspicion in those nearby. Before long, police have surrounded the bank – leaving Sonny and Sal trapped inside the bank with all the staff and no plan.  Thinking fast, Sonny takes the staff as hostages and negotiates a getaway with Detective Moretti (by Charles Durning). The hold-up starts to draw a crowd who watch how the police handle this escalating incident. By this stage there are hundreds of armed police and media surrounding the bank and the crowd start a general protest against police brutality. The stand-off deteriorates further as the media uncover issues in Sonny’s past and people arrive to reason with Sonny, including his mother (by Judith Malina) and one of his closest friends Leon (by Chris Sarandon), which causes more anxiety and brings the situation to near flash-point. Sonny is out of his depth and struggling to maintain control of the situation. At length, he manages to negotiate a plane for his escape – in exchange for the safe return of the hostages, but he still doesn’t trust the police and FBI there.

This is a dramatisation of events that occurred in the real bank robbery of 1972. It is a fascinating movie – Al Pacino’s performance is intense. There is clearly a lot going on for Sonny and apparently he thinks more deeply about issues than his associates – this is clear in Pacino’s sensitive and gripping portrayal of his erratic nature. I understand that there is some fiction in this version of events, but the story is told very well. The tension inside the bank with the group of staff is palpable, but their actions towards the two gunmen are intriguing – although terrified, they (mostly women) have the presence of mind to appear relaxed and warm towards the frightening and clearly disturbed men. In watching the total ineptitude of the two protagonists and they way their luck runs, if you didn’t know it was based on true events you would think it was a well-written comedy. It’s an interesting movie and I think quite a good demonstration of the culture, politics and general community behaviour of the times.

In the 1976 presentation, the movie won the Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Writing, Original Screenplay and both Al Pacino and Chris Sarandon were nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role respectively. It was also nominated for Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Picture.

Made in 1975. Directed by Sidney Lumet

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2012 in Movies

 

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