All posts by Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

For Your Ears Only: John Glen’s LICENCE TO KILL

LTK update

Frank Mengarelli and Podcasting Them Softly’s James Bond resident, Tom Zielinski are joined with returning guests film journalist Paul Sparrow-Clarke and novelist and film historian Raymond Benson to discuss John Glen and Timothy Dalton’s final outing in the franchise, Licence to Kill. Tom and Frank will return with their discussion of GOLDENEYE.

Artwork provided by the very talented Jeffrey Marshall.

 

 

Film Review: Abel Ferrara’s TOMMASO

unnamed

There is a beautiful sadness within Abel Ferrara’s latest feature, TOMMASO, starring Willem Dafoe in their fifth collaboration. It’s about the isolation of sobriety, as well as maturity; growing old alone while facing a never-ending and losing battle with fighting your own past.

The picture is a softer version of DANGEROUS GAME, wherein Harvey Keitel played the fictionalized version of Ferrara, the film also borrows the light and vulnerable aesthetic of 4:44, along with Ferrara’s newfound fascination with multimedia that is a conduit to offbeat pop culture. This may be Ferrara’s most direct play at his version of Fellini’s 8 1/2 but isn’t as nearly coarse or dark as his first attempt with DANGEROUS GAME. And while the film does feel very personal, and very true – it also feels like a spiritual successor of Ferrara’s apocalypse film 4:44, which also featured Dafoe.

Tommaso' Review: A Sober, but Not Serene, Life - The New York Times

In TOMMASO, Dafoe plays a gentler version of Ferrara, a filmmaker living in Rome (much like Ferrara) who is trying to formulate his next film, while trying to conquer the demons of his past, while navigating the uncharted parental waters with his very young partner and their daughter (both played by Ferrara’s real-life wife and daughter). Dafoe is just terrific, delivering his finest performance that most will not see, he is spellbinding. Dafoe is perhaps the only actor who can sink into a role like that of Tommaso, and then be seen in AQUAMAN, and then a Disney film, and then working with Lars von Trier – he’s an actor that doesn’t have or would make use of any typecast; he’s boundless and a welcome presence whenever he is seen.

It’s striking to see Ferrara bring such a gentle tone to a film that still works within his authorship: redemption with a dash of Catholic guilt. The film continues Ferrara’s new trajectory of his filmography, not just a transition to digital filmmaking, but also the less transgressive and angsty nature of his most seminal films. It’s a hard film to watch at times, but that’s part of what makes it so effortlessly beautiful. The film is quietly angry, where Dafoe’s character is six years sober, and has nowhere to channel all that rage – the angst of sobriety.

Willem Dafoe Talks Tommaso, Kissing His Friend's Wife & Yoga ...

The fabulous boutique label, Kino Lorber, has released this film on their relatively new streaming service, KinoNow, which offers up a lot of their titles to own and/or rent and of course a standard subscription service to their streaming catalog.

TOMMASO is a great film by a great filmmaker. It isn’t just a vanity piece. Ferrara is showcasing that he still is a flagship mainstay of not just independent cinema, but cinema in general. He’s a brilliant filmmaker that operates on the edges of the film; he may forgo power drills, dirty cops, and crack pipes as he enters a new decade, but he hasn’t lost his punch. The film is funny, sad, romantic, and sexy. It’s tender and angry, all the things that are life.

Film Review: Derek Wayne Johnson’s 40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic

40 YEARS OF ROCKY: THE BIRTH OF A CLASSIC — Epic Documentary ...

Filmmaker Derek Wayne Johnson delivers a beautiful tribute to cinema’s most beloved underdog movie.

What more can be said about Sylvester Stallone’s most seminal film and character, Rocky? Well – a lot. Filmmaker Derek Wayne Johnson, the man behind John G. Avildsen King of the Underdogs and Stallone: Frank, That Is has crafted a beautiful showboat of a film that solidifies Rocky’s place alongside Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and James Bond as being not just an important part of modern cinema, but more-so showcasing how Rocky has become a significant part of American culture, conveying how an underdog was able to make the greatest underdog story of all time.

The film, with its very lean runtime of just 30 minutes, is patched together with home movies, behind the scenes footage and rehearsal footage shot by John G. Avildsen, as well as on-set footage that was found in the basement of Troma Entertainment by Rocky’s production manager Lloyd Kaufman almost 40 years after it was shot. Most of this footage has been seen on DVD and Blu-Ray special features, but Johnson’s new documentary includes some snippets of never before seen home movies from Avildsen’s personal collection. Along with Stallone’s steadfast narration, the viewer is able to take a closer look behind the making of one of the greatest films of all time. It is a thrilling experience, watching unseen footage, along with hearing a very intimate recount from Stallone, who is unseen, just heard as the 8mm film flickers across the screen.

Johnson, who didn’t just direct but also produced, assembles a very poignant and remarkably touching tribute to the film, allowing the audience a glimmer inside the intimate home movies of Avildsen, who was able to capture the vulnerabilities of Stallone and company through fantastic behind the scenes footage. Greg Sims, Johnson’s musical partner, was able to produce a remarkable score that finds its own voice to guide the audience through the picture, without retreading Bill Conti or any of the popular music featured in the franchise.

Rocky is just one of those films that has grown a legacy onto itself – everyone knows who Rocky is, yet not many know the pain and triumph it took to get the film made, or how the film had revolutionized filmmaking by the invention of the Steadicam by Garrett Brown that has since become a mainstay in filmmaking.  Derek Wayne Johnson outdoes himself with this film and has become an artist who, with each new film, grows as a filmmaker, creating an objective view of whatever subject undercard matter he chooses to tackle, yet allows the audience a very intimate look into the world of film, and in particular those who sacrificed everything to tell their stories the way they needed to tell them. If 40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic tells us anything, it is that Rocky isn’t just a film or a character Sylvester Stallone wrote and played, Rocky has become a part of American culture – world culture; and that we all have a Rocky inside of us, and between Stallone’s words and Avildsen’s footage, what Derek Wayne Johnson is telling us is to embrace that part of ourselves, and champion our own underdog.

40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic is available for preorder on Amazon and iTunes.

Robert Altman’s BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, OR SITTING BULL’S HISTORY LESSON

 

Robert Altman was such a champion of unorthodox filmmaking, in particular when it came to telling a narrative. His films are smart, almost too smart; BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, OR SITTING BULL’S HISTORY LESSON is not different – it highlights Altman as an unconventional alternative filmmaker from the 70s. It has been said a million times, but cannot be understated, most of the counterculture and “fuck the man” films of that decade (as well as the late 60s), are just as prevalent with their themes now as when they were made during the cultural civil war of the 60s and in particular the 70s.

Buffalo Bill and the Indians Paul Newman and Harvey Keitel

Paul Newman, in all his glory, plays Buffalo Bill Cody, the legendary gunslinger whose mythos is built upon tall tales and folklore. He was a superior gunslinger due to his marksmanship or was he that champion buffalo hunter, perhaps he was that fierce Indian hunter who kept the townspeople safe. In actuality he’s an over the hill drunk who runs a circus with Harvey Keitel as his buffoonish nephew, Kevin McCarthy as a Buffalo Bill wannabe, Geraldine Chaplin as Annie Oakley, Robert DoQui as the makeshift Indian and stage hand, Will Sampson as Sitting Bull’s counsel, Altman mainstay Shelley Duvall, Burt Lancaster as the maker of Buffalo Bill’s legend, and Joel Grey in a magnificent reiteration of his Master of Ceremony’s character from Bob Fosse’s CABARET.

This film exposes something that has become so very American; sensationalism of celebrity, false idols, and how history is more or less a tall tale of bullshit told by those who either win or know how to manipulate and control a narrative. What is a truly remarkable aspect of the film, is that Newman might not even be the actual Buffalo Bill, or better yet, Buffalo Bill never existed; Newman just dons the legendary mantle.

Buffalo Bill and the Indians Paul Newman

It follows in suit with Altman, being a fast-moving a very talkie film, yet the film feels like it could slide into a triple bill with John Ford’s THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE and Alex Cox’s WALKER – though the latter film is much more on the nose with its self-awareness. The film feels very contemporary, there is a sense of urgency about the picture, yet it takes place in the old west, where fables became gospel and legends never die.

Arthur Penn’s NIGHT MOVES

 

70s cinema was at its absolute best when it birthed softly nihilistic, introspective films where the protagonist lived within moral ambiguity and hard shades of grey – wherein this picture, Gene Hackman gives his finest, most low-key performance as a former football player turned private investigator who takes on a case of a missing girl that lands him in Florida from LA, and uncovers a well-layered and richly defined plot of smuggling, lies, and deception all the while discovering who he really is, as well as the world around him.

With a taut script from Alan Sharp, a groovy score by Michael Small, director Arthur Penn crafts a remarkably quiet film; which plays more like a documentary where the camera just follows Hackman through his journey, all scenes from the film are of Hackman’s point of view, and there are not any overt, showy set-pieces or flash edits, popular music; the film just lives.

Night Moves 1975

Sharp’s screenplay, coupled with Penn’s vision and the actors performing his written words, is perfect. There are so many memorable lines of dialogue that have staying power, so much of the characters are revealed through the brief, yet potent, exchanges. This truly is a masterclass in writing.

A lot can be said for Hackman, being one of the longstanding true craftsmen of his profession; being one of the finest actors to ever grace the screen. In this picture, he is noticeably muted and brings a striking weariness to the role, he is not the self-righteous and volatile Hackman, he is just here to observe, and internalize his emotions. He gives a remarkably raw performance that is more about self-discovery than anything.

large_night_moves_X08_blu-ray_

Harris Yulin, Jennifer Warren, Edwards Binns, Kenneth Mars, Janet Ward, John Crawford, Susan Clark, James Woods, and Melanie Griffith round up the supporting cast, and Hackman plays off of each one magnificently. The characters in the film are very real, as are their homes, places of work and so on. There is a deep-seated reality to the film, where it doesn’t take place in the movie world, it takes place in reality.

The film’s narrative is remarkable, not only with the overall detective storyline, but also with how defined Hackman’s character and life is; and how his two worlds begin to blend together; where he is just not solving the case, but also solving who he is as well.

Night Moves Gene Hackman

NIGHT MOVES is a film that came out at the right time, the mid-70s, while everything was in flux, and people were just trying to understand how to be in the world. In actuality, the film is timeless with its themes, making an excellent time capsule of a picture that came from an era of film, that is so universally well regarded. 70s cinema might just be the best decade of American cinema, and NIGHT MOVES is one of the best films to come from that time and place.

spotify-podcast-badge-blk-grn-165x40

Peter Medak’s ROMEO IS BLEEDING

Romeo is Bleeding

 

There was a time in the early 90s when a series of nihilistic neo-noirs were made, in which they examined the pitfalls of masculinity, the male ego, and what it is to be an alpha male. RED ROCK WEST, AFTER DARK, MY SWEET, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, and Peter Medak’s ROMEO IS BLEEDING belong in the upper echelon of that sub-genre from that time and place.

Romeo is Bleeding Gary Oldman

The film is a conventional rogue cop film, made in a rather unconventional way. The film sticks to the guide, with the dirty cop endangering the lives of beautiful women through his series of bad mistakes, the ultimate femme fatale, and the powerful evil man. Yet, within the framework of what a noir is, lies bizarre and aloof humor that allows all the darkness to be stomached, creating captivating moments that are as surreal as they are deadly.

Romeo is Bleeding Lena Olin

The film’s cast is paramount. Gary Oldman leads the ensemble in what is one of his finest performances. Oldman is an actor who never, ever disappoints, and regardless of how worn out, or tired a genre character he plays – he always brings something new and something fresh to the role that makes it uniquely his. His character of Jack Grimaldi is in fact, grim – hit the nail on the head with the not-so-subtle character name. A man consumed by the lifestyle he swore to bring to justice, he starts informing for the mob, and that’s when everything goes to shit.

Oldman is anchored by a remarkable gallery of talent; Lena Olin as quite possibly the best femme fatale depicted on screen, a vulnerable and damned Juliette Lewis, a sweet and very perceptive wife in Annabella Sciorra, Will Patton, David Proval and Gene Canfield as Oldman’s cop buddies, CRIME STORY’S Paul Butler and James Cromwell as FBI agents, Tony Sirico, Michael Wincott, and Dennis Farina as mobsters, with all roads leading to the big bad, Roy Scheider in the role of the perfectly heavy-handed named Don Falcone – the ruthless mobster who wants Olin dead.

Romeo is Bleeding Roy Scheider

While Oldman does his worst by trying his absolute best to play all sides against the middle and somehow end up with all the money, the women, and getting away with it; director Peter Medak and screenwriter Hilary Henkin build a world filled with fast and dangerous people, showstopping set pieces, memorable dialogue, and eccentric without being too much costume design. Not to mention an elegant and dangerous score by Mark Isham. The world-building within the film is terrific, and truly accentuates the dusty and grim neo-noirs of the early 90s.

 

3 for 3: Tim Burton

Tim Burton Press Conference

Frank and Tom are joined with former guest, and now recurring co-host, Mac McSharry to discuss three Tim Burton films. Burton is very well known, directing over nineteen films and his steadfast collaboration with Johnny Depp. Tune in to find out which three Tim Burton films are discussed, and what the next topic will be for 3 for 3 with Frank, Tom, and Mac.

spotify-podcast-badge-blk-grn-165x40

For Your Ears Only: John Glen’s A VIEW TO A KILL

AVTAK

Frank and Tom are back to discuss Roger Moore’s final outing as James Bond in John Glen’s A VIEW TO A KILL which features one of the best Bond themes by Duran Duran, and an excellent supporting cast of Christopher Walken, Grace Jones, Tanya Robers, Allison Doody, and Patrick Macnee.

Artwork provided by the very talented Jeffrey Marshall.

Cathy Yan’s BIRDS OF PREY

Margot Robbie is a star. A bona fide star. She’s worked with Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and is now an Academy Award-nominated actress. Coming off her best year yet; her first entrance into the new decade is reprising her role of Harley Quinn in BIRDS OF PREY with the wickedly fun subtitle: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN. It is a sort of her standalone follow-up to SUICIDE SQUAD and in actuality, the movie the precursor wanted to be.

Image result for birds of prey

Robbie, who is obviously a lot of fun and owns and commands the film, is supported by a rich cast of Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, and a remarkable turn from Ewan McGregor as perhaps one of the most perverse villains ever. With a runtime of 109 minutes, the film is incredibly paced that is very, very self-aware of what it is, and the genre that it is working within. The film doesn’t even come close to wearing out its welcome; with a narrative that is just bonkers.

Harley Quinn breaks up with the Joker (with a subtle and respective nod to Jared Leto), and then half of Gotham is after her. Along with her struggle to stay alive and work through heartbreak, she inadvertently assembles a team of hard women to take down a mean man, the gloriously flamboyantly gay, Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis the Black Mask.

Image result for birds of prey ewan mcgregor

McGregor is marvelous in this film. He’s very hammy, with costumes that are gleefully gaudy; yet have an air of class and old money to them, yet completely psychotic with fierce paranoia that spins him into this perverse and sadistic delight. This picture is a perfect showcase of casting, and casting directors, enhancing the film to the heights of being so unique, that it would be hard to imagine other actors in the principal roles. McGregor as the big bad in a DC film, at the pinnacle of Robbie’s star power seems like a cinephile’s dream.

Chris Messina finally gets his moment in the sun as Victor Zsasz who gets turned into McGregor’s foppish boy toy and makes every scene he is in creepier and better. Messina has always put in solid dramatic and comedic work, but in this film, he really gets to cut loose, and have a lot of fun in the role. Rosie Perez is great, doing what she does best in an intentionally stereotypical role, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one mean motor scooter; she’s terrific. And of course, Robbie is the star that perfectly slides back into the Harley Quinn role, and adds more depth and debauchery to her seminal character.

Image result for birds of prey

The film cascades into a girl power film, it’s empowering while bending pretty transgressive with its hard R rating, keeping the film from becoming overly preachy or woke. It pulls off what it is trying to say rather well, with an end result of a film that is very self-aware, dirty, violent, and a lot of fun. Warner Brothers most certainly have turned the beat around regarding their most coveted franchise property with DC films.

JJ Abrams’ STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Bringing the decade to a close were three important films. Two being those made by cinema’s most influential and important auteurs, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, who with their respective films said farewell to their audience, their brand, and to cinema. The third film is by JJ Abrams who effortlessly accomplished the impossible; putting a capstone on a nine picture, decade spanning series that has brought unifying joy to billions around the globe as well as much unnecessary rancor and hostility that nearly imploded the franchise. Star Wars, without a doubt, is the most important film series cinema ever has or will offer.

With the final film in the Skywalker saga, Abrams delivered both nuance and fan service. Catering to the loyal and supportive fanbase for their years of dedication. With THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, he came in hot and heavy with the new components of the franchise that built upon the fertile foundation that the maker George Lucas had birthed. The story of Rey and Ben Solo are just a small cog in the juggernaut machine that is Star Wars.

Abrams took on an impossible task. How could he finish a trilogy that he started? Carrie Fisher had passed, and for the first time, a Star Wars film was made that took gigantic risks that caused much ado about nothing, especially with all the smug snarkiness that transpired after THE LAST JEDI, a film that was a catalyst with those pretending it was either the best or worst Star Wars film. A tribalist mentality formed around it, either you’re for it or against it.

So Abrams brought back Palpatine who is diabolical as ever and that old smoothy Lando, added Richard E. Grant as the Grand Moff Tarkin stand-in we deserve (all three are marvelously perfect) and regrounded the picture and series as a film for the fans made by the fans. THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is a thrilling spectacle that builds upon the absolute best parts of Rian Johnson’s previous installment, and walks back some of the weaker parts, creating an exhilarating experience that will be wholly embraced by those who love everything Star Wars, and irritate those who prefer the franchise in an ala carte manner.

Fact of the matter is, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is the best of the sequels, merging together both Abrams and Johnson’s vision into a film that brings equal parts laughter and tears, as well as surprises that are so nostalgic, the surrealism will not wear off quickly.

Film Twitter and Rotten Tomatoes be damned; THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is a prime example of the stark contrast between film goers and pompous critics who are more concerned with how witty they come off than actually enjoying a movie. What JJ Abrams has accomplished is not just his finest output to date, but his most important.

Long live the Force.