Glengarry Glen Ross (9/9/12)

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In Glengarry Glen Ross, a team of four struggling real estate salesmen are battling for their jobs.

A small firm brings in a young, talented salesman named Blake (Alec Baldwin) to motivate a small group of four real estate salesmen, informing them that only the top two would remain. In addition to keeping their jobs, the winner will receive a new Cadillac and access to better sales leads. The salesmen are Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon), Dave Moss (Ed Harris), George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), and Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), led by office manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey). As the deadline draws nearer, the men all have their own increasingly desperate tactics to getting sales from their current leads and eventually someone steals the famed Glengarry leads.

Originally written as a play by famed playwright David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross is committed to film and executed similar to a stage set. Most of the film takes place in the small office and each actor has a very unique personality that would lend itself well to the stage. However, even though the origin of the film is the stage, it doesn’t hold the film back in any way. The characters and dialogue are what matter here and each actor simply does a fantastic job in their respective roles.

Speaking of the actors in Glengarry Glen Ross, I think this is some of the finest work Lemmon and Baldwin have ever done, Lemmon especially. That isn’t to say that Arkin, Harris, Pacino, and Spacey slouch, quite the opposite. It wasn’t until 30 Rock that Alec Baldwin found a role that defined his career more, in my opinion. As for Lemmon, it is a bit harder to pinpoint a favorite role in his storied career, but when The Simpsons create a recurring character around Lemmon as Levene, I would say that is an indicator of success.

While Glengarry Glen Ross lacks action, it does provide a fair bit of tension between the characters. You root for them but also kind of loathe them for their slimy tactics to get the sale. The art of salesmanship is still quite strong and the material here holds up surprisingly well. As a character study, few films do so much with so little on screen which really makes the dialogue shine. Glengarry Glen Ross is far from flashy but character dramas may not come much better.

Oh, and in case you were wondering what the title means, both Glengarry and Glen Ross are real estate developments being sold in the film.

I give it 4 “always be closing”s out of 5.

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You Don’t Know Jack (6/28/12)

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You Don’t Know Jack is a biopic about Jack Kevorkian’s fight for doctor assisted suicide and the struggles for its acceptance.

Jack Kevorkian (Al Pacino) is a pathologist in Michigan who, along with the help of his sister, Margo Janus (Brenda Vaccaro), and colleague, Neal Nicol (John Goodman), decide to offer terminal patients the right to suicide. Kevorkian encounters numerous detractors along the way and finds himself in legal hot water consistently. Kevorkian does have other people in his corner, notably the Hemlock Society president, Janet Good (Susan Sarandon), and lawyer, Geoffry Feiger (Danny Huston). As Kevorkian struggles with what he sees as basic human rights, he struggles his unique personal and professional issues.

Right off the bat I have to commend Al Pacino on what I can only describe as possibly my favorite performance after Dog Day Afternoon and The Godfather series. He is nigh unrecognizable in this role and nails all of Kevorkian’s mannerisms and personality traits amazingly well. It’s almost a shame Pacino’s performance is so incredible because it outshines the rest of the cast, who is also spectacular.

You Don’t Know Jack is partially shot to look like home video since Kevorkian would always record the conversations he had with his patients about their illnesses as well as their reasons for not wanting to go on. These scenes are remarkably powerful in their realism that at times it is eerie. The film itself sticks to telling the story of Kevorkian during the years when he was in the media spotlight, mostly due to his numerous court battles. There are some hints to his past profession and personal life, but they are not the focus here.

The film sets up the debate of “is this right?” perfectly and doesn’t always take sides. There are times that it seems Kevorkian is leading this crusade for all the wrong reasons and other times when he is completely humanized. He really was an interesting man, regardless of if you believe he was doing the right thing or not. You Don’t Know Jack is also an interesting case when it comes to awards because it was made for HBO, it was not eligible for the Academy Awards, which is an absolute shame.

In spite of its sometimes morbid subject matter, I would highly recommend You Don’t Know Jack for Pacino alone. The debate of physician assisted euthanasia can come later, but for a film to tackle the subject with this much care, it’s something special.

I give it 4 Jack Kevorkian paintings out of 5.

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The Godfather Part II (5/18/12)

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The Godfather Part II has been heralded as one of the best sequels ever to one of the best movies ever, continuing the story of Corleone mob family.

The Godfather Part II is an incredibly ambitious film, if nothing else since it is essentially two films in one, both prequel and sequel to the original Godfather. The film starts in the early 1900s with a young Vito Andolini (we find out his famous surname, Corleone, was given falsely at Ellis Island), whose father is killed by a mob boss, and the young boy is shipped to America. We are then brought into the mid 1950s with Michael (Al Pacino) in Nevada, attempting to spread the Corleone empire into Las Vegas casinos. The film then goes back and forth between Michael’s “present day” struggles as he also travels to Cuba and tries to find out who is trying to assassinate him, and a young Vito (Robert De Niro) as he rises to power some 40 years earlier, paving the way for Michael.

Clocking in at 200 minutes, I obviously gave an extremely abbreviated version of the film’s events. There are really two full movies here, both would be incredibly interesting on their own but the way they are intertwined makes The Godfather Part II an incredibly powerful film. The struggles that Michael faces both internally and externally are riveting, especially since family plays such a large role. While I love both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, they are not my favorite mafia movies, nor do I think they are Francis Ford Coppola’s strongest films either. For their part, however, they are incredibly well-made, superbly acted films that securely own their place in the top of innumerable “favorites” lists.

The Godfather films have a legacy about them, even if you don’t think they are the greatest films ever made, it should be easy to see their significance. The Godfather Part II is a film that builds upon the original film in every sense possible. While the pacing and length can be a bit of a bear at times, I would call none of the film superfluous. The Godfather Part II is a film I’ve only seen once before, it is an amazing film, but not one that I feel the urge to watch often. I can wholly appreciate everything about it, but I’m in the camp that prefers the original, perhaps due to the pacing. Still, The Godfather Part II is an amazing film that requires viewing at some point in one’s life.

I give it 5 Vito’s flaming towel silencers out of 5.

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Dog Day Afternoon (4/23/12)

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In simple terms, Dog Day Afternoon is a film about a bank robbery. When the layers start peeling back, however, we see a much bigger picture. Truly one of the great films by the master, Sidney Lumet.

Dog Day Afternoon is a film without a backstory. It opens with the bank robbery and unfolds from there. Things do not go as planned from the start, which is actually riveting. As we learn more about Sonny (Pacino) and his accomplice, Sal (John Cazale), the more we root for them. I don’t wish to spoil a major portion of the plot, but the reason for Sonny’s robbery was enormously progressive for 1975 and would still make headlines today. In fact, the story is based on real events taken from a Life magazine article from a 1972 bank robbery

What is undoubtedly his best performance in my eyes, Al Pacino carries Dog Day Afternoon to great heights with the assistance of Lumet and the rest of the cast. He is charismatic, smart, charming, and keeps a mostly cool head while things crumble beneath him. Considering how much goes awry from their plan, I was rooting for his escape even though I feared it was unlikely. The ending keeps you guessing until the very end, though.

In Lumet’s book, Making Movies, he states that much of the dialogue is improvised and in certain scenes I think that shows more than others. Particularly the scenes between the negotiator and Sonny, we rarely see movie stars fumble words but in this context it’s an added sense of realism and humanity to the characters.

Dog Day Afternoon should be the movie people look to Al Pacino’s career for, not Godfather or Scarface, though he is excellent in both. Pacino IS Sonny in this film. When a performance that great comes along, it ends up being the rest of the movie that has to play catch-up, and Dog Day Afternoon keeps the pace.

I give it 5 “Attica!”s out of 5.

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