“Still think you stand a chance against us cowboy?” “Yipeekaiyay!”

Die Hard

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$5.55 at Amazon 

(5/5)

Pros: Action, humor and performances.

Cons: It’s Die Hard. No cons.

(Note: This review appeared in different form on Epinions.com.)

As far as action movies go, Die Hard may be the ultimate one of all time. Not necessarily the best (T2 and a couple of John Woo’s Hong Kong films are ahead of it). But I can’t think of any other film that mixes action, comedy and serious drama into a full package the way this one does and has the results come out this well.

What makes Die Hard stand out is that its main character is a human hero, not a superman. John McClane is simply an ordinary working New York cop who finds himself in the midst of a nightmarish situation that he has to deal with. For that character to work, the producers needed an actor who could make the McClane character believable. They made the right choice in picking Bruce Willis.

Willis, despite what some of his more recent efforts may lead us to believe, can actually act quite well when he’s in the right movie. His McClane is a character that is not invincible and that adds legitimate suspense that would not be there if the character were a larger than life superhero. Indeed we see him bleed when he falls down and despite the fact that he does die hard, it is not inconceivable that he may fail in his mission. That adds more weight to the story and elevates it above the normal shoot-em-up flick. There’s no way a Stallone or Schwarzenegger could have pulled this role off.

I won’t spend too much time on plot details, as most viewers have already seen Die Hard or doubtlessly heard about it. New York Cop John McClane (Willis) travels to Los Angeles to visit his wife (whom he’s separated but not divorced from) at Christmas time. She works for an international conglomerate that has its headquarters in a very tall office building. McClane meets up with her at her office and waits for the office party to break up. When, just as luck would have it, a band of international terrorists show up. Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) leads the terrorists, who seize control of the buildings maintenance, shutting down telephone lines and putting the building on lockdown, and then pull off an armed capture of all the office partygoers. Their intent is to use the hostages as a means of distracting from their real intent, which is an electronic funds transfer of millions of dollars (at one point the head of the company asks Gruber “What kind of terrorist are you?” and Gruber chuckles and replies “Who said anything about terrorists?”).

McClane isn’t in the vicinity of the terrorist when they strike and so he retreats to an unoccupied sector of the building and from there laucnhes a private one man war against the villains.

Rickman makes an excellent villain. It’s a common view among many film critics that the quality of the James Bond movies is often determined by how good the villain is. That’s often the case there and it’s also the case in many action movies outside of the 997 series as well. Rickman has an appropriate level of charm and menace. He manages to dial down and not go screamingly over the top, except in situations where that’s warranted. Plus, he doesn’t go totally moronic when things start to go wrong, the way many villains do in Hollywood movies, making their defeat an obvious conclusion.

There is also the interplay between McClane and a local area cop named Al Powell (Reginald Veljohnson of TV fame as Carl Winslow on Family Matters). There is a scene where McClane has utilized a makeshift bomb to take out terrorists who were shooting at a group of trapped LAPD officers and in the aftermath he asks if the building is on fire. Powell replies “No. But it’s going to need a paint job and a shitload of screen doors”. There are also some moments of genuine drama when Powell tells McClane why he left the street beat.

I do not want to dig too much into the action sequences, since there is a certain element of fun in seeing them for the first time without being aware of what is going to happen. Just let me say that you will see much had to hand combat and a few scenes that literally leave people hanging.

So yes, Die Hard is definitely a great action film. Yet, in some ways, it also transcends its genre and becomes a great movie regardless. That’s why it stands as a classic.

Derivative: imitative of the work of another person, and usually disapproved of for that reason. See: Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad

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$3.99 at Amazon 

(2/5)

Pros: Good cast.

Cons: So derivative, it makes you just wish you were watching the originals.

(This review originally appeared on Epinions.com)

Reuben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad is one of the most obviously derivative movies in recent memory. It rips off Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables with a few elements of LA Confidential and Chinatown thrown in for good measure. Fleischer was obviously thinking of the axiom: If you’re going to steal, steal from quality sources. This movie however is proof that this doesn’t always work.

In the classic De Palma film, Eliot Ness set out to take down Al Capone as mandated by his bosses at the Treasury Department. To do so, he was instructed by a veteran Chicago cop that he would have to throw the rule book out the window. He followed this advice and began being a serious pain in the you know what to Capone. At one point, we see Capone take a Louisville slugger to the head of an associate who messed up.

In Gangster Squad, idealistic LA cop John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is assigned by Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) to go outside the law to take down gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). To do so, O’Mara recruits a squad of fellow cops to assist in his war against Cohen. He soon starts being a pain in the you know what to the gangster. At one point, Cohen brutally slaughters an associate with a power drill.

So basically, Gangster Squad rips off the earlier film in most regards, It adds in a little unsanctioned romance, switches the time from the 30s to the 40s, the locale from Chicago to LA and the lead villain from Capone to Cohen. Other than that it’s an inferior rehash.

The Untouchabes had some fantastic direction, a great script by David Mamet and a truly excellent cast (Costner, Connery and De Niro). Gangster Squad has a very good cast (Brolin, Penn, Nolte, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone). But lacks in the area of direction and script.

Say what you will about De Palma as a director. But you can’t deny the man brings style to what he does. Flesicher doesn’t seem to be able to do that. His approach is suited for comedy as Zombieland proves. But crime noir may not be his forte.

The script meanwhile, in addition to being derivative, gives us characters. But doesn’t take much time to develop them. Cohen is depcited as an over the top psycho to rival Tony Montana. O’Mara is a family man who must go above and beyond to accomplish his mission. Ryan Gosling’s Jerry Wooters is the maverick of sorts. Emma Stone as Grace Faraday is the typical woman in pictures of this type. Yeah, the bulk of the people here are pretty two-dimensional.

I’ve seen some reviews that complain about the historical inaccuracies in Gangster Squad. Yeah it does play fast and loose with history. The Untouchables did too (Both Capone and Cohen went down thanks to the IRS). One particular review in Salon complained that it glamorizes the LAPD at a time when it should not have been glamorized. I won’t get into that. But I will say that LA Confidential is more accurate in that regard even if it is totally fiction.

Gangster Squad does offer some mild entertainment. However, it’s not really worth going out of your way for. If you’re looking for a cops and gangsters thriller of this type, just stick with The Untouchables.

The Untouchables Of The 90s.

New Jack City

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$14.98 at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Wesley Snipes is superb, the direction is done well and Van Peebles stages the action sequences well.

Cons: Some pretty weak dialogue, dated elements.

New Jack City is one film that is regarded as a classic by many people. But truthfully, in some regards it has not aged well. It’s not a case of wine turning totally into vinegar. But people who are new to it might wonder what all the fuss was back in the early 90s.

Many a review has compared NJC to Scarface. But I think a more accurate comparison can be made with another one of Brian De Palma’s more popular films: 1987’s The Untouchables. That film, which focused on Al Capone and the cops who took him down, was a great example of 1920s set gangster pulp. NJC, directed by Mario Van Peebles in his directorial debut, sets out to do the same for the 1980s crack era in New York City. Hence, it feels in some ways like a classic gangster picture mixed with elements of blackspoloitation films and social commentary.

Wesley Snipes takes the lead role in a starmaking performance as drug lord Nino Brown. Brown has become quite rich by selling crack to poor people. But he realizes that he can get richer by setting up a distribution center. So, along with his men, he seizes control of an apartment complex, forces the tenants out and uses it to to distribute his crack.

Out to take Nino down are some streetwise cops. There’s Ice-T in his acting debut as Scott Appleton, a streetwise cop with a personal vendetta against Nino. Then there’s Judd Nelson as Nick Paretti, a cop who’s been through addiction himself. Appleton and Paretti are teamed up by their boss Detective Stone (Van Peebles). As is par for the course in movies of this type, they don’t get along at first. But eventually develop a grudging respect for one another amidst a termination to get the job done.

Discussing the cast, I would be remiss without mentioning Chris Rock in his first major role as Pookie, a young addict. We first meet him when he’s involved in a deal with an undercover Appleton. He tries to rip Appleton off and this leads to one of the better foot chases I’ve seen in a movie. After Scotty bust him, he later encounters him again after he’s become addicted to crack. He gets him into rehab. Afterwards, Pookie wants ot help brign Nino down. Despite his doubts, Appleton agrees.

Ice-T, Nelson, Rock and Van Peebles are all decent in their roles. But by far, the best performance in New Jack City is by Wesley Snipes. He plays Nino Brown as a charismatic yet truly evil sociopath. He sees his crack business as just that: a business. He doesn’t care how many people are hurt or killed because of it. Yet he’s not over the top as many villains of his ilk often are. He knows when to go over and when to dial down. This performance alone makes this worth watching.

Van Peebles direction is also done well. Prior to this, his main experience had been directing television. Here he transitions to movies quite well. He shows off a command of filmmaking that isn’t over the top. But doesn’t fall into just point the camera and shoot territory either. This film started his career off promisingly. But sadly, with a few exceptions, he never quite lived up to the potential he displayed here.

On the debit side, there is the matter of some weak dialogue. Lines like “He’s gonna hanging with Elvis” and ” I wanna shoot you so bad my dick’s hard” sound as laughable when spoken as they do being typed. Plus, there are certain elements of the film that immediately scream late 80s early 90s. While this was one of the first films to legitimately deal with the hip-hop culture, it’s more dated than other films of that era that also took it on.

On the whole however, New Jack City still does hold up. It may not be fresh. But it can still be enjoyed as a decently made period piece and a chance to see Wesley Snipes give a great performance. It doesn’t transcend the genre. But as far as genre films go, it’s a damn good one.

Not “Almost” classic. But entertaining nonetheless.

Almost Interesting-David Spade

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$11.99 at Amazon 

(3/5)

Pros: Self-deprecating, some interesting tidbits, an enjoyable read overall.

Cons: Choppy writing style, over-emphasis on cheap humor in spots, certain aspects overdone.

I’ve been a Saturday Night Live fan most of my life. Along with George Carlin, Monty Python and The Simpsons, it was one of the crucial shapers of my sense of humor. While it’s been a long time since I watched the show on a regular basis, there’s no denying it was one of the leading institutions of American comedy.

Yet unlike other institutions like the aforementioned Simpsons or Seinfeld, it’s surprising that there have been very few books written about it. The best of those still remains 2002’s “Live From New York” by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales (which was recently expanded and updated). At some point I will have to check out Tine Fey and Amy Poehler’s books. But in terms of insider takes from cast members, those have been limited.

Which makes David Spade’s 2015 memoir “Almost Interesting” all the more welcome. It doesn’t reach the level a book of this type should. But if nothing else, it’s way better than Jay Mohr’s self-pitying whinefest from about a decade ago.

While Mohr’s book was devoted strictly to his two years at SNL, Spade’s is closer to an actual memoir. He devoted the first four chapters of the 227 page book to talking about his childhood and school and college years as well as losing his virginity. From there he talks about discovering his passion and talent for comedy and how stand-up led to SNL.

The SNL chapters are what will likely draw many people to this book. Spade talks about getting hired along with Rob Schneider. Like the aforementioned Mohr, he struggled for a few years finding his groove at the venerated comic institution. But unlike Mohr, he was more successful. Also, unlike Mohr, he’s pretty self-deprecating and doesn’t fall into the indulgent whining that sank that book.

The self-deprecating aspect of the book makes it an entertaining read, even though it does get a tad obnoxious in spots. Also, there are times where Spade tend to overuse all capital letters for certain people (LORNE Michaels in one particular instance).

The tidbits that Spade reveals about SNL are entertaining as are his reflections on his late friend Chris Farley.

So, this is a fun and entertaining read. But it isn’t a classic either. In addition to the choppy writing style, He abruptly ends his discussion of the SNL years without talking about them ending. He also doesn’t talk much about his stand-up or TV/movie career post SNL. Considering that he was on a sitcom (Just Shoot Me) that lasted for several seasons, one would think that should have been included.

Overall, this book is both more and less than it could have been. It’s worth a read. But the great SNL memoir still has yet to be written.

Distelfinks Paint By Number Kit from ArtYouCraft

Distelfinks Paint By Number Kit from ArtYouCraft

 

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(5/5)

Pros: Gorgeous, and unique kit

Cons: Not a single one!

Isn’t this picture adorable?  It’s a paint-by-number craft kit from http://www.artyoucraft.com.    This adorable pair of love birds is called “Distelfinks” and is available in 8 different color combinations.  It’s just one of many designs available on their website.  Take a look, there’s something there for everyone!

What makes these kits different from the normal paint-by-number kits?  Well, the main difference is that you’re painting on wood, not a canvas.  So when you’re done, you have a sturdy piece of art that can hang on a wall, or lie flat on a table.  Use the varnish included in the kit to make it shine!

The other difference is that some of the designs have spots where you don’t paint anything.  You allow the wood to show through in its natural beauty.  This particular picture doesn’t have any un-painted spots, but others do.  For instance the Wheel Of Hearts has unpainted wheels and spokes on the sides.

The kit includes everything you need.  In this case, there are 10 canisters of paint.  9 bright colors and black, for touch-up work.  The paints are high-quality acrylics.  Easy to use, and easy to wash.  You also get two paintbrushes, a paper template that tells you where each color goes, sandpaper, a hanger, and clear instructions.  In fact, the instructions are some of the best I’ve seen in kits of this type.  They fully explain how to paint the picture, care for the brushes and paints, varnish the completed project, and hang it.

Teens through adults will enjoy this project.  Even some kids might enjoy it, but you’ll have to help them touch up any spots where they go outside the lines, and maybe help them with some of the smaller areas where it takes a bit of steady hand.

I like how mine came out, and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it.  The price for the kit is fair, given everything that comes with it, and the website’s customer service has been outstanding.  I highly recommend you take a look at http://www.artyoucraft.com if you enjoy paint-by-number kits.

Other paint by number kits:

Afternoon Nap by Dimensions
Bengal Tiger by Schipper
Japanese Garden by Bucilla
Siberian Tiger by Plaid
Taj Mahal by Schipper
Wheel Of Hearts

“Wouldn’t stop it if we could it’s a hood thing”

2Pac-Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.

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$8.39 at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: A handful of classics and some other good songs, improved production from his first album

Cons: Repetitive in spots, not as good as Me Against The World.

(This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on Epinions.com)

Tupac Shakur is easily one of the most widely debated characters ever in the history of popular music. Brilliant MC or overrated average one who simply got elevated to the level he did because there were bullets in Vegas with his name on them? A good argument can be made for both sides. Was he the greatest MC ever? The G O A T? No way. His flow wasn’t always the best and his rhyming could be off at times. Plus there were times where his lyrics could be a tad too generic. Even his rival Notorious BIG was a better MC. But was Tupac talented. He certainly was.

But I came here to praise the fallen brother and my personal favorite album by him: 1993’s Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. Notice I said personal favorite. This does not mean that it is his best (that honor goes to 1995’s Me against the World, which has better production and songs). But it does mean that it is the one Tupac disc I would take to a desert island.

Strictly was Tupac’s second album after 1991’s 2pacalypse Now. That album spun off a couple minor hits with “Trapped” and the poignant teenage pregnancy number “Brenda’s got a Baby”. That album was inconsistent, yet the good moments (including the aforementioned singles) showed that there was talent at work.

Strictly represents a major improvement. There’s more stand-out songs here and the production, while still inconsistent and not that distinguished, has gotten better, pointing in the direction he would take on his next two albums.

At the time it was released, Strictly was one of the angriest rap albums on the market. The fact that it managed to come out on the heels of Ice Cube’s The Predator and Paris’s Sleeping With The Enemy and beat both in terms of pure fury should offer some indication as to how pissed off Tupac was.

And he had good reason to be angry. At the time of the album’s release, he had come off of some run-ins with the police; specifically the Oakland PD. Plus there was also the matter of being attacked by then VP-notorious misspeller Dan “Potatoe” Quayle. Apparently VP Potato Head felt that the lyrical content of 2Pacalypse had inspired a Texas 19-year old to shoot and kill a state trooper. That was later proven false. But Quayle went on TV and pronounced the album as having “no place in our society” and demanded that it be pulled off of record store shelves. This was of course around the same time that Mr. Potato Head went after Murphy Brown for having a baby out of wedlock. But I digress.

Strictly opens with the hard-hitting “Holler If Ya Hear Me” Complete with a sample from George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog”, this song announces that Tupac’s back and it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. This song has a high level of energy that will get you moving and the lyrics show off his toughness quite well. No, the punk police will not fade him. This is one of his more forgotten ones (why it got left off his “Greatest Hits” I’ll never know) that should be better known.

After the skippable interlude “Pac’s Theme”, we continue on with Tupac taking the finger pointed at him and flipping it right back at his detractors in “Point The Finger”. In fact, that’s the prominent theme of this album, Tupac taking on everyone who tried to keep him down and showing them that he’s never going down.

Highlights in that regard include “Souljah’s Revenge”, the excellent Ice Cube-Ice-T collaboration “Last Wordz” and parts of the all-star jam closing track “5 Deadly Venomz”.

Lest you think this album is all unbridled rage at cops and the government, guess again. There are moments of genuine vulnerability scattered throughout the album. On “The Streetz R Deathrow” (not a reference to the label) he reflects on the hellish aspects of growing up in the inner city over a Barry White Sample. “Papa’z Song” is an angry rant at the absentee father he barely knew that lets you feel the pain of parental abandonment.

Then there’s “Keep Ya Head Up”. One of Tupac’s most emotionally affecting songs, this ode to black women shows off the caring side of Shakur the best. Over a slow funk sample, he warns his fellow men against mistreating women and offers encouragement to the single mothers and women on welfare. If you ever have someone claim that rap is all nihilistic violence and misogyny, have them listen to this song. Along with “Dear Mama” it is probably Tupac at his most vulnerable.

On the other side of the equation, there’s “I Get Around”, which shows off the other side of Tupac: the player side. Easily the most purely fun song on this grim album, this one will always sound great at a party. Yet it also works as a study in contradictions: in the last song discussed he was urging that women be treated with respect, here he’s treating them as sex objects.

Not to say that Strictly is strictly perfect. There are a couple of forgettable tracks (“Peep Game” and “Guess Who’s Back”). Some of the themes (bad cops, censorship, and bad government) do get repetitive at times. Also, the two unnecessary interludes should’ve been ditched.

Those complaints aside, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z works well as Tupac’s toughest, angriest album. It’s better than the under produced 2Pacalypse and the filler cluttered All Eyez On Me (although that one is better produced). It may be harder to find these days. But it’s definitely worth the search.

Visions In Death by J.D. Robb – not the best

Visions In Death by J.D. Robb

 

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See it at Amazon 

(2/5)

Pros: the series, in general, is pretty good

Cons: not much that’s new here

In general, I enjoy J.D. Robb’s In Death series.  But Visions In Death is not one of the better ones.

Like all of the books in the series, it’s the mid 2000’s and we follow NY Police Lieutenant Eve Dallas as she gets dragged into one case after another.  In this case, women are turning up dead, with their eyes removed.  The women all fall into a similar physical pattern, but are otherwise unrelated.  The killer is careful, never leaving a clue behind.

Eve and her partner Peabody do an admiral job trying to chase the bad guy down.  But they get help from an unlikely source – a seer.  A woman with a “gift” of visions.

Now I don’t want to get into a whole thing about whether people really have such power.  Perhaps they do.  I’m not here to argue.  But I don’t appreciate when detective novels rely on this type of assistance to solve their cases.  I prefer to watch the authorities use good old fashioned smarts and skills to solve the cases.

On top of everything else, we have a case of “been there, done that” with this book.  If you’ve read several others in the series you’ll recognize a lot of what happens in here.  Eve’s past causing her nightmares, Eve giving an exclusive interview to Nadine putting them in danger, someone close to Eve being attacked and Eve feeling responsible (even though she isn’t).  The list goes on and on.

It’s not all bad, though.  There is a nice twist at the end, something that is definitely “different” from the other books.  But it comes at lightning speed and is over in a blink.

Basically, the In Death series is terrific, but Visions In Death can be skipped.

Other books in the In Death series

Born In Death
Betrayal In Death
Celebrity In Death
Ceremony In Death
Concealed In Death
Devoted In Death
Divided In Death
Festive In Death
Glory In Death
Haunted In Death
Immortal In Death
Indulgence In Death
Innocent In Death
Interlude In Death
Judgment In Death
Midnight In Death
Missing In Death
Naked In Death
Obsession In Death
Origin In Death
Rapture In Death
Reunion In Death
Salvation In Death
Strangers In Death
Survivor In Death
Treachery In Death
Vengeance In Death

Wheel Of Hearts Paint By Number Kit from ArtYouCraft – fun and gorgeous!

Wheel Of Hearts Paint By Number Kit from ArtYouCraft

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(5/5)

Pros: Beautiful pattern, fun to do, detailed instructions

Cons: None!

Take a look at this very pretty, very “different” paint-by-number kit.  Isn’t it adorable?  It’s called “Wheel Of Hearts” and it’s available in six different color combinations.  All of them are gorgeous.  Or, maybe this design isn’t your thing.  That’s Ok – they have seven other styles, in a total of 40 color combinations.

What makes this kit so different from other paint-by-number kits?  Well, the biggest difference is that you’re painting on wood, not on a canvas.  So when you’re finished you have a beautiful, sturdy piece of artwork.  You can hang it on a wall, or display it flat on a table.  Varnished to a high shine, it’s quite stunning, no matter where you place it.

The other thing that makes it different is that there are some spots purposely left unpainted.  In this case, it’s the four wheels and their spokes, on the sides.  Those are left unpainted, allowing the wood to show through.  It makes for a very attractive, and unique look.

Where does one find this kit?  On http://www.artyoucraft.com .  Take a look, you’re sure to find something that strikes your fancy.

What comes in the kit?  In this case, seven numbered paint canisters, plus an extra canister of black paint, used for touch-up work.  The 8.5″ by 11″ wood canvas with its black lines and circles, defining the pattern.  Two paint brushes, a paper template with the numbers filled in to show you which color goes where, a small piece of sandpaper to smooth the edges, a small color graphic showing the completed project, a small canister of varnish and a brush to apply it, a hanger, and an instruction sheet.

As far as the instructions go, these are the most complete and detailed instructions I’ve ever seen in a paint-by-number kit.  They explain everything you need to know.  How to maintain the consistency of the paint, how to care for the brushes, and how to apply the varnish.  I’ve done a lot of paint-by-number kits and have learned a bunch of tricks along the way.  But these instructions even taught me a thing or two.

In the end, if you use a steady hand and take your time, you can end up with a gorgeous finished product.  Teens through adults will enjoy doing these projects.  The spaces where the paint goes are pretty big, it’s not like there are thousands of tiny little spots to fill in.  Even some kids might enjoy doing a project like this.  You might just want to help them with the “touchup” portion of the project, where you correct any spots where they painted outside the lines.

I am thrilled with how this project came out, and I really enjoyed doing it.  I think the price for the kit is fair, given everything that comes with it.  And the website’s customer service has been impeccable.  I had some questions, and they were answered very quickly.

 

How did mine come out?

wheel-of-hearts

Other paint by number kits:

Afternoon Nap by Dimensions
Distelfinks
Bengal Tiger by Schipper
Japanese Garden by Bucilla
Siberian Tiger by Plaid
Taj Mahal by Schipper

“You wanna play rough? SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!!!!!!”

Scarface

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Multi-Format $19.99 at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Pacino, De Palma’s direction, classic line

Cons: Giorgio Moroder’s synth score.

(This review originally appeared in different form on Epinions.com)

In 1983, Brian De Palma was offered the opportunity to direct Flashdance. He declined. Instead, he chose to direct a 1980s re-make of a 1932 Howard Hawks film starring Paul Muni. De Palma made the right decision. While Flashdance has moments (most of them involving Jennifer Beals) that make it worth watching, it hasn’t gone down as a full fledged classic the way the movie De Palma decided to do instead has.

That movie of course turned out to be Scarface. Starring Al Pacino, with De Palma in the directors chair and a script penned by Oliver Stone, the result is a gangster movie that none too subtly comments on the decade of excess.

Scarface begins with some documentary footage of the Mariel boatlift. It is revealed that when Castro allowed Cubans to migrate to the United States in 1980 he didn’t just allow the innocent people who wanted a chance at freedom and opportunity. No, he emptied his jails and mental hospitals. Among those criminals who migrated to the US is a fictional one named Tony Montana (Al Pacino).

We first see Montana scheming his way past some immigration officials. He ends up in a refugee camp with his best bud Manny (Steven Bauer). Opportunity comes his way when he is offered a chance to get a green card for himself and Manny by killing a Cuban who worked for Castro. He agrees and soon has the card. However, his first job is working as a dishwasher at a Cuban sandwich stand. Tony wants the American dream. But he has no desire to do any real work for it. So when offered a crack at the South Florida drug trade he takes it. Before long, he’s risen through the ranks and rules the roost (apologies for mixing metaphors).

Scarface is (like Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas) a portrayal of a man who so desperately loves material wealth that he’s willing to go to any length to get it. But it is way less subtle about this than Scorsese’s film was. It is probably the most over the top studio gangster movie ever made. That alone makes it a classic. The movie is three hours long. But I’ve never been bored while watching it.

If the over the top aspect of the movie is what has made it a classic, it also keeps it from reaching masterpiece status the way the aforementioned Goodfellas has. In that film, Scorsese knew when to go over the top and when to reign it in. De Palma does not know when to reign it in. Subtlety was not in his vocabulary (nor in Stone’s for that matter) in 1983.

Pacino gives what may be the most iconic performance he’s ever given. What makes it work is that he knows when to dial down. He goes over the top 90% of the time and the film calls for that. The other 10% in scenes where he refuses to kill an innocent woman and child and scenes involving his younger sister (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) helps make Montana a real character, not a comic book caricature.

Like I said earlier, De Palma’s direction here is not subtle at all. But that’s not a criticism per se. Unsubtlety is what Scarface needs to really work and he gives it his all. It’s a film about the excesses of the 80s sure. But it still holds up today for a couple reasons. One is the influence the movie has on the hip-hop culture of today, particularly the gangsta rap element. The other is that Tony Montana is not much different from the white collar thieves of today. Take the guns away from Tony and you’d have Bernie Madoff.

The one part of Scarface that has become dated is Giorgio Moroder’s score. The synth beats immediately scream 80s.

The direction, characters, acting by Pacino, Bauer, Robert Loggia and Mastrantonio and Stone’s script combine to make Scarface the classic that it is. Even though it may be a great movie instead of a full fledged masterpiece, it’s still worthy of its status.

Gone, But Not Forgotten by Phillip Margolin – very good thriller

Gone, But Not Forgotten by Phillip Margolin

 

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(4.5/5)

Pros: a good, complex story with multiple layers

Cons: truly horrid depictions of violence

A pretty decent thriller… Definitely a bit different from the usual.

I’m talking about Phillip Margolin’s Gone But Not Forgotten.

Ten years ago, a serial killer haunted a New York town.  A task force was created.  The killer was caught, and subsequently killed.  The case was closed.

Now, a series of eerily similar killings is taking place in Oregon.  The killings are practically identical to the original killings, even though there were details that had been kept from the public.

Copy cat?  Or did the police get the wrong guy, the first time around?  And why did the killings start up again after 10 years absent?

Margolin gives us a mystery.  A story with multiple layers that goes all the way up to the President of the United States.  Along the way, we’re given several clues as to what’s really going on, but the “big reveal” still managed to provide some surprises.

Characters are well-developed and many are likeable.  The protagonists are smart.  No one makes stupid decisions (a problem that has plagued some other Margolin books).

The only negative about Gone, But Not Forgotten would be the level of violence depicted.  It is severe and makes for some difficult reading at times.  Of course, in thrillers like this, you expect there to be some violence but this book goes beyond the norm.

But if you can stomach the violence, Gone, But Not Forgotten is a tight thriller with a very good background story.  Recommended.

Also by Phillip Margolin

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