Tag Archives: James Gandolfini

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Albert has been bullied by his classmates for as long as he can remember. He’s black and blue and getting fed up with it. Even his mother doesn’t seem to pay him any attention. He gets a magic kit for his birthday and he loves it from the second he opens it. One day at school he meets a fellow-bully victim in his class, Anthony, and they become instant friends. Years pass and they become superstar magicians Burt Wonderstone (played by Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (by Steve Buscemi) in “Burt and Anton’s Magical Friendship” show. They rule the Las Vegas strip for over a decade and their host, hotel owner Doug Munny (by James Gandolfini) loves them – and the money they’re raking in. When a new trickster daredevil, Steve Gray (by Jim Carrey) comes on the scene, the double-act suffers. Soon the crowds stop coming and the friendship falters. Burt’s massive ego gets in the way and the partnership ends. But is there still a future for the Incredible Burt Wonderstone? only if Burt can get back in touch with what made him love magic in the first place. They decide to try to pull off the ultimate magic trick …

This is a nice family movie. Fans of Steve Carell and Jim Carrey will probably love it and find it hilarious, but I didn’t. Of course, I do see where the humour is though. There’s nothing outstanding about it, but it’s fine for whiling away a couple of hours. It’s got it’s good points – a nice story, some witty moments, reasonable performances by James Gandolfini, Alan Arkin and Olivia Wilde. The best is from Steve Buscemi (he’s good in this type of role with deadpan humour) and overall messages it delivers are nice.

Made in 2013. Directed by Don Scardino

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Posted by on January 18, 2015 in Movies


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Enough Said

Eva (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a massage therapist who runs her own business in Los Angeles with a range of regular, quirky clients. She’s doing alright – but her daughter, Ellen (by Tracey Fairaway) is about to leave for college and Eva’s bracing herself for the inevitable moment of separation. Since she divorced from Ellen’s father, things have been a bit quiet on the relationship front and she’s built her life around her work and Ellen. One evening, she goes to a party with her very caring but weird friends Sarah (by Toni Collette) and Will (by Ben Falcone), where she meets a fascinating woman, Marianne (by Catherine Keener), who’s also a potential client. She’s very pleased about that, but the rest of the party is pretty dire. She does strike up a conversation with fellow party-goer Albert (by James Gandolfini) who seems a bit different from the rest – he makes a refreshing change. They form a connection of sorts and see each other again. They’ve both been hurt in the past, but slowly a relationship develops between them and Eva starts to enjoy her life again. Her new client, Marianne, is great too – so things are looking up. Just like Ellen, Albert’s daughter Hilary (by Michaela Watkins) is about to go off to college too – he and Eva face their impending loneliness in their own ways. Things go from strength to strength and Eva starts to settle into her new relationship – until the day she realises that there’s far more commonality here than she’s comfortable with ….

Whilst it is not the movie of the century, it is a very nice piece. The characters are presented beautifully – they’re all sensitive, multi-layered and introduced at a good pace. As Eva, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is (thankfully) not just playing another “Elaine from Seinfeld” – here she’s sweet, liberal, caring and quite lovely. As Albert, James Gandolfini shows his tender side – this is one of his final roles and it’s nice to see that part of him rather than his more “Tony Soprano” based performances. I’m not sure what value the “friend” characters by Toni Collette and Ben Falcone add to the story, perhaps just as another layer of weirdness in Eva’s life. The complication in the story is done well and conclusion isn’t really obvious either, so the ending is nice.  Overall it’s a good movie.

Made in 2013. Directed by Nicole Holofcener

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Posted by on December 2, 2014 in Movies


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Zero Dark Thirty

Soon after the Al Qaeda attacks of 11th September 2001, Maya (played by Jessica Chastain) is fresh out of agency training – she’s a brand new CIA operative but she’s smart and she’s keen. For her first assignment, she is posted to Islamabad, Pakistan, right into the midst of investigations to find terror suspects. She observes the prisoner interrogations with alarm but she slowly develops a steely resolve that the way to infiltrate the enemy and find the truth is to be better, faster, stronger and tougher. She conducts a focused and meticulous investigation over several years, leaving no stone unturned and no detail unclear. Her work overtakes her life and she is obsessed with finding the one man she holds responsible for so much … Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama Bin Laden. Finally, when it seems as though she is the only one who is still on his trail, in 2011 there are signs that her single-handed work might lead to something. Maya must do everything she can to convince the CIA executives that she’s a credible agent, that it’s really him and that he’s “gettable” … a U.S. Navy SEAL team is sent in to find out if Bin Laden’s really there  ….

This is a gripping movie – shot to demonstrate the utter violence, drama, tension and chaos that can feature in any conflict situation. Perhaps a little bit long, but still the story is important and the length of the movie demonstrates the painstaking, risky and high stakes investigation that took ten years and involved many lives before it came to fruition. The story tells itself – but you should stick with it for the first half hour or so, after that you will be enthralled and want to keep watching. I was delighted to see Joel Edgerton with a small but significant role in this, he’s well known in Australian movies but is still making his name elsewhere. James Gandolfini makes another important contribution in his role as the CIA Director (he looks a lot like Dick Cheney to me – but I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not) and generally the cast is strong and performs well. Jennifer Ehle isn’t seen nearly enough in movies – she is good here. In the 2012 Academy (Oscar) Awards, Jessica Chastain was nominated as Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance and the movie won the award for Sound Editing. I think it may only appeal to a segment of the audience though. Kathryn Bigelow has excelled here, her directorship is masterful. Overall, yes it’s very good.

Made in 2012. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

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Posted by on November 5, 2013 in Movies


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Killing Them Softly

In New Orleans in 2008, amidst the economic hard times Markie Trattam (performed by Ray Liotta) runs a card game. He’s done it for years, but has lost a bit of street cred lately since he arranged a hold-up of his own game to pocket all the cash. Johnny Amato (by Vincent Curatola) decides he wants to turn over Markie’s game again and leave Markie squarely in the frame for it – a fool-proof plan! He hires two-bit crook Frankie (by Scoot McNairy) and his dodgy Aussie mate Russell (by Ben Mendelsohn) to do it. The job comes off okay and the boys are home free … but big boss, Dillon (by Sam Shepherd) smells a rat so he hires hit-man Jackie (by Brad Pitt) to sort it out and restore Dillon as top dog. Jackie, in turn, calls on out-of-towner Mikey (by James Gandolfini) to do the job anonymously, but Mikey isn’t the man he once was, so he’s unreliable. Jackie will need to do this himself, so he wants his full whack for the jobs and drives a hard bargain with Dillon’s man (by Richard Jenkins) to get a fair fee. Can Jackie sort this out without the cops crawling all over him?

This is an entertaining crime action thriller. The mood is sepia and dark as a result of the excellent cinematography – there’s no chaos but the violence is deliberate, just the way the characters play it. Brad Pitt owns his role as cool hit-man Jackie, who likes to carry out his hits by killing them “softly”. He wants all the loose ends tied up so his quietly spoken manner is deliberate and clear in its delivery. Mikey is a role that’s classic for James Gandolfini and he fits it like a glove … a cruel, cold-hearted crook with serious weaknesses and little self-awareness. Ray Liotta is strong as Markie and Richard Jenkins is as good as ever here too (in his usual understated way) as Dillon’s man. It’s peppered with great performances and a standout is Australian Ben Mendelson’s fabulous and authentic portrayal of drug-addled Russell – supported by marvellous camerawork, his scenes are great. The movie is based on the book “Cogan’s Trade” by George V. Higgins and was nominated for the coveted Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival – no surprise there. If you enjoyed “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, “Get Shorty” or “Jackie Brown” you’ll like this one. Well done everyone.

Made in 2011. Directed by Andrew Dominik

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Posted by on June 23, 2013 in Movies


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Lonely Hearts

In the late 1940’s, Ray Fernandez (played by Jared Leto) is a handsome guy in a well-cut suit with a penchant for lonely, rich women. He’s happily moving from one woman to the next, earning his living by preying on their vulnerabilities and charming them out of their money. One day he meets Martha Beck (by Salma Hayek), a beautiful young woman who is smart, sexy, fascinating and equally as conniving as him. Together they work up a scheme where they con their way across the country, posing as brother and sister, using all their charms to cheat the women they meet out of all they can get. One day their scam unexpectedly turns ugly and this leads the pair into a violent and unpredictable lifestyle – they soon become notorious as America’s “Lonely Hearts Killers”. Detective Elmer “Buster” Robinson (by John Travolta) leads the police investigation into these crimes and works with his partner Detective Charles Hildebrandt (by James Gandolfini) to track the pair through their trail of cons. As Ray and Martha’s greed builds and their fascination with violence grows, their captors close in on them …

This is a true story and it is depicted well here. Travolta and Gandolfini make good cops (both playing real-life characters) – their on screen chemistry works and their well balanced partnership is strong. As Ray, Jared Leto puts in a great performance, he has all the looks, charm, weaknesses and ego that you would expect this type of man to have. By far the best performance is from Salma Hayek. Her portrayal of the passionate, jealous, unfeeling and obsessive Martha is marvellous. She is stunningly beautiful and her costume styling is divine. The timing of the drama throughout and the build-up of tension is well done. A warning … there are several graphically violent acts in this movie – some without warning. Overall, its a well made, good story – I enjoyed it.

Made in 2006. Directed by Todd Robinson.

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Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Movies


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She’s So Lovely

Eddie Quinn (played by Sean Penn) is a loyal and caring but unpredictable, violent and disturbed young man. He is married to the love of his life, Maureen (by Robin Wright Penn) and they live together in a rough part of the city. As he does from time to time, Eddie has disappeared and Maureen is alone. In her boredom and loneliness, she shares a couple of drinks with her neighbour, Kiefer (by James Gandolfini), but they drink too much and he rapes her. Maureen is spaced out and doesn’t care about anything except that Eddie will freak out if he sees her all beaten up. This is the state of their turbulent and volatile relationship. When he turns up, they easily get back together and return to their violent and emotion-charged lives. Eddie wants to get to the bottom of the bruises but as he can’t accept Maureen’s explanation he becomes violent and manic. In fear for her life, Maureen calls the authorities and Eddie is taken away to a mental institution. Ten years later, Eddie is due to be released – in the meantime, Maureen has divorced him, married Joey (by John Travolta) and had children. Eddie doesn’t realise how long he’s been away and all he wants is Maureen and his old life back.

This movie presents an interesting dilemma. The premise is fascinating, but the way the movie is presented makes it all seem like a fluff piece and a bit of a waste of time. However, it isn’t – don’t dismiss this movie on the basis of the seemingly pointless plot … there is excellent emotion, complex dialogue, simmering violence and unpredictable actions throughout the drama, with outstanding performances by all three key characters. In particular, Sean Penn is outstanding as the disturbed Eddie Quinn – he is truly awesome. Robin Wright Penn is stunning as the drug addled, confused and earnest Maureen, she brings such passion to the role, it’s amazing – and John Travolta’s Joey is exactly how Travolta is when he is at his total best … he’s a New Jersey would-be thug, who’s slick and well groomed, short on brains, but long on bravado. Eddie’s two best friends – Tony “Shorty” Russo (by Harry Dean Stanton) and Lucinda (by Susan Taylor) – are marvellous and totally entertaining. They both behave exactly as you would expect New Jersey sidekicks to behave. There is comedy in all these performances which is great – but the relationships, emotions and passions are authentic and they are what make the movie quite a stunner. However, I would note that some of the verbal interactions between the adults and Maureen’s eldest daughter are a surprise and some viewers may question their appropriateness.

Sean Penn was awarded “Best Actor” at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival for his performance in this movie which comes as no surprise.

Made in 1997. Directed by Nick Cassavetes

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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Movies


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Night Falls on Manhattan

Sean Casey (played by Andy Garcia) is a New Yorker who started his working life as a cop. He worked on his law degree at the same time as working as a street cop and has now graduated as a first-year Attorney. He’s the most recent recruit at the NY City District Attorney’s office. Sean’s father, Liam (by Ian Holm) is a long-time NY street cop and his partner is Joey Allegretto (by James Gandolfini). Liam and Joey have been partners for several years. Overnight, a police drugs surveillance job has turned nasty – two cops staking out suspect Jordan Washington (by Shiek Mahmud-Bey) have entered his premises and been shot. The stake-out has then gone crazy, Washington has escaped but he has left three cops shot – two are dead and one, Sean’s father Liam, is badly wounded. The District Attorney is keen for a quick, clean and easy conviction of cop-killer Washington and new boy Sean is chosen to prosecute the case. Sean wants to run a rigorous investigation and ensure justice is done. Washington’s defence lawyer is Sam Vigoda (by Richard Dreyfuss) and Vigoda plants the first seeds of suspicion and doubt in Sean’s mind. As the investigation progresses, Sean starts to uncover clues of suspicious (potentially corrupt) activity with the police ranks … will his loyalties towards his job and his family remain strong and intact as conflicts arise in this investigation?

This is a stock standard police and courtroom drama – the twists in the uncovering story make it watchable, but there is really nothing hugely outstanding about the movie.  Andy Garcia is very good in this role, as is Ian Holm and James Gandolfini.

Made in 1996. Directed by Sidney Lumet

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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Movies


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