Paul Shenar

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Scarface Review


Weak
To say that Al Pacino chews the scenery as Tony Montana, Cuban drug lord par excellence, doesn't really do justice to the performance. Pacino tears into his lines with a lust approaching frenzy, ripping through scenes with an animalistic fervor, creating a role that has already gone down in the books as one of the great, if not the greatest, portrayals of a gangster ever to hit the screen. It's also, watching some 20 years down the line, laughably campy in a manner that the rest of this bloated, self-important film doesn't seem to appreciate.

Pacino and producer Martin Bregman had a good idea in wanting to make an updated version of the original 1932 Scarface, which chronicled the rise and fall of a Prohibition-era Capone-like criminal overlord (screenwriter Ben Hecht was a Chicago journalist with a lot of intimate knowledge of Capone). Handing it over to director Brian De Palma (who had specialized mostly in psychosexual thrillers like Dressed to Kill and The Fury), and screenwriter Oliver Stone (whose credits included an Oscar for 1978's Midnight Express but also Conan the Barbarian), was a daring move. Stone did a lot of research for the screenplay, hanging out and doing coke with drug lords all over Latin America, and De Palma promised to bring a certain visual flair to the proceedings.

Continue reading: Scarface Review

Man on Fire (1987) Review


Grim
Fairly awful, this star-studded revenge flick gives us a freaked-out Scott Glenn getting vengeance on the kidnappers who got his charge, a young Italian girl. The film begins with Glenn getting zipped up into a body bag, so we know things aren't going to go all that well. But don't mess with him: He's a man on fire! He'll get his due before he meets his end (or did he -- gasp! -- fake his death?)... and you'll get little more than a dull headache.

Roots Review


Excellent
When you think of epic mini-series, what comes to mind? Rich Man, Poor Man? Shogun? More likely than not, it's Roots, the based-on-a-true story tale that spooled over 12 hours and six nights, the story of "an American family," albeit one that began captured in Africa in 1750, then sold into slavery in the U.S. colonies.

Roots begins with Kunta Kinte, emerging from childhood and undergoing warrior training in his tribal homeland. The slavers arrive soon enough, and after a harrowing three-month ride back across the Atlantic, Kunta is sold, becomes Toby under his new master, attempts repeated escapes, and eventually accepts his fate as he settles down with a wife and child. The Revolutionary War comes and goes, and Toby's daughter Kizzy is sold, becoming the mother of her new master's son, known as Chicken George. Chicken George in turn is sent to England to pay off a gambling debt. When he returns home after 14 years, he is a free man. The Civil War arrives, and the rest of the slaves are freed. Soon enough the family faces the perils of vehement racism and the KKK, and Chicken George finally leads his family to safety in a new settlement.

Continue reading: Roots Review

The Big Blue Review


OK
No wonder audiences didn't connect with this film, an early Luc Besson-Jean Reno collaboration that explores the mysterious world of deep deep diving. Oddly, The Big Blue is somehow a love story as well, with Rosanna Arquette and Jean-Marc Barr making goo-goo eyes between his deep dives and swims with the dolphins. The Reno-Barr rivalry (who can dive deeper) consitutes the bulk of the film, as well as its most dramatic moments, but the strange dolphin symbolism, blue-tinted photography, and self-important chest-beating will likely leave most viewers out to sea.

Continue reading: The Big Blue Review

Scarface Review


Weak
To say that Al Pacino chews the scenery as Tony Montana, Cuban drug lord par excellence, doesn't really do justice to the performance. Pacino tears into his lines with a lust approaching frenzy, ripping through scenes with an animalistic fervor, creating a role that has already gone down in the books as one of the great, if not the greatest, portrayals of a gangster ever to hit the screen. It's also, watching some 20 years down the line, laughably campy in a manner that the rest of this bloated, self-important film doesn't seem to appreciate.

Pacino and producer Martin Bregman had a good idea in wanting to make an updated version of the original 1932 Scarface, which chronicled the rise and fall of a Prohibition-era Capone-like criminal overlord (screenwriter Ben Hecht was a Chicago journalist with a lot of intimate knowledge of Capone). Handing it over to director Brian De Palma (who had specialized mostly in psychosexual thrillers like Dressed to Kill and The Fury), and screenwriter Oliver Stone (whose credits included an Oscar for 1978's Midnight Express but also Conan the Barbarian), was a daring move. Stone did a lot of research for the screenplay, hanging out and doing coke with drug lords all over Latin America, and De Palma promised to bring a certain visual flair to the proceedings.

Continue reading: Scarface Review

The Big Blue Review


OK

A giant metaphor for freedom and self-discovery, directed by a young Luc Besson who had yet to discover his self-indulgent streak, "The Big Blue" is a visceral and turbulent, yet strangely tranquil and beautiful cinematic experience that plumbs the souls of a pair of competitive deep-sea divers who are at once best friends and bitter rivals.

Made in 1988 and reissued this summer in a 40-minutes-longer director's cut, it's one of those rare films you can't help but be affected by on some level. Its vivid photography and even more vivid performances strike a nerve as the film follows the warm but antagonistic friendship between bombastic Enzo (a pre-"Professional" Jean Reno) and quiet, private and deeply reflective Jacques (a pre-"Zentropa" Jean-Marc Barr) beginning with their shared childhood in a craggy, cliff-side, coastal Greek hamlet.

Years later they meet again and form a powerful bond and a dangerous rivalry after discovering they're both record-setting divers who can hold their breaths for super-human lengths of time and plunge to unimaginable depths in professional diving competitions around the Mediterranean.

Continue reading: The Big Blue Review

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