Tag Archives: Danny Aiello

Paul McGuigan’s Lucky Number Slevin

Like Bruce Willis’s cranky hitman Goodkat assures us in the sleepy opening to Paul McGuigan’s Lucky Number Slevin, this is a story that pulls the rug out from under you big time, going left when you look right and anchoring the very glib, cavalier crime shenanigans in something solid and emotional in the eleventh hour. It’s a wild, wacky film that borrows from others and often gets sidetracked by itself, but it’s also one of the most stylish, ambitious and beautifully made crime dramas of the last few decades, and has become an all time favourite for me.

Josh Hartnett plays the mysterious Slevin, a hapless dude who is constantly mistaken for an even more hapless dude named Nick Fisher. Fisher is in a lot of trouble, owing large gambling debts to feuding NYC mobsters The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), debts which now forfeit to Slevin simply because he’s consistently in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then there’s the overzealous, shady NYPD cop (Stanley Tucci in mean mode) shadowing him, plus the bubbly girl next door (Lucy Liu) who tags along in his adventures in mistaken identity. It’s all very overelaborate, convoluted and long winded, but it’s part of what makes the thing so magical. Characters often use ten words where two will do, employ quirky anecdotes, monologue and show their pithy eccentricities, it’s an oddball script by Jason Smilovic that makes for one labyrinthine ride through New York City’s peculiar underworld dating back to the 70’s. The actors are having an absolute blast here and we get further work from Mykelti Williamson, Cory Stoll, Danny Aiello, Peter Outerbridge and more. A standout is the great Robert Forster in a cameo as a cop who delivers more exposition in one single scene than I’ve seen in some entire films, he’s a great enough actor that he fills a seemingly inconsequential role with wit and personality.

McGuigan is a stylist who throws colour and pattern into the mix even when the scene doesn’t call for it, to great effect. Why shoot in a drab warehouse or monochromatic apartment when you can douse your set in kaleidoscope design just for the sheer hell of it? It works, the offbeat production design serving to illustrate and accent a very strange, often hilarious yet ultimately human story. Much of the film is near cartoon level neo noir that doesn’t dig two deep, but there are three scenes, and I can’t be specific here without spoiling, that anchor it straight into the ground, provide an emotional core and make something heartfelt cut through the tomfoolery. Many people wrote this off as just silliness, but that’s lazy criticism 101. This is a fantastic film, full of many things to love. It’s probably Hartnett’s best work in a very eclectic career and his romantic chemistry with Liu (also superb) is patiently developed and adorable to see. Freeman and Kingsley eat up the dialogue like wisened old alligators and have a blast playing their arch villains. Willis is darkly charismatic and empathetic when he needs to be, stealing every scene. A classic for me.

-Nate Hill

The January Man

If you ever feel the need to define ‘tonally fucked” in the cinematic dictionary (if there was such a thing), you’d find a one sheet of The January Man, a warped, malignantly silly crime/comedy/thriller… something. It dabbles in wannabe screwball farce, serial killer mystery, breezy romance, high profile police procedural and as a result of it’s genre flim-flamming, has no clue what kind of movie it wants to be, and ends up a raging, tone deaf dumpster fire. It’s so all over the place that marketing churned out a bi-polar publicity package that at times seems like it’s advertising two completely different films. I used to see it on the shelf at blockbuster leering out at me like an eerie gothic murder mystery, Kevin Kline and Alan Rickman glowering evocatively off the dark hued cover. In reality it’s something just south of Clouseau, as Kline plays a bumbling, overzealous guru detective who scarcely has time amongst the silliness to hunt down a shave or change of clothes, let alone a murderer. Rickman? His odd, awkward artist friend who vaguely helps with the case but really isn’t necessary to any of the plot threads, and certainly appears nothing like his freaky persona does on the cover, suggestive of a villain. There’s another poster floating around on IMDb that is more honest about what’s in store, Kline perched like a loon in a brightly lit doorway while love interest Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio peers adorably around his shoulder in true benign comic fashion. The film wants to be both of those aesthetics and more though, wants to have it’s cake, eat it, regurgitate it against the wall and film that, which is at times what it seems like we’re looking at. The police force brings disgraced cop Kline back on the force to catch some killer, while everyone runs about tripping over their shoelaces. Harvey Keitel is Kline’s brother, now a police commissioner, Danny Aiello the precinct captain, Susan Sarandon Kline’s estranged wife, and so on. Rod Steiger causes a hubbub as the mayor, staging a terrifying meltdown in one scene that goes on for minutes, a curiously unedited, noisy tantrum that dismantles what little credibility and structure the film had to begin with and seems out of place, even by the barebones standards set here. This is a good one to watch if you yourself are making a film and want to see an example of what not to do in terms of deciding on and cementing a certain style, instead of carelessly chucking in every haphazard element on a whim like they did here. Equivalent to a grade school theatre play.

-Nate Hill

Man On Fire (1987)

You’d have to dig a bit to discover that Man On Fire with Denzel Washington is actually a remake, or rather another version of a book that’s out there somewhere, but there is indeed film from 87’ bearing the same title and basic plot outline, albeit with a heavy dose of melodrama. Swap out Denzel and Chris Walken for Scott Glenn and Joe Pesci, Mexico City for Italy and Tony Scott’s neo-punk visual aesthetic for a more stone-faced, straightforward approach and you’ll have some idea. It’s a passable film, but instantly pales with any comparison to Scott’s outing, which is a masterpiece and one of the best films of the century. Glenn is Creasy, a mopey ex CIA soldier who gets a job from buddy Pesci protecting a wealthy businessman (Jonathan Pryce) and his family, mostly driving their precocious young daughter (Jade Malle) around. The two are rocky at first, begin to bond, she’s kidnaped and Creasy wages war on the criminals who took her with an arsenal of firepower provided by Pesci. At ninety minutes it’s a little too short for any of this to be developed properly, or proportionately so to other elements, but it works well enough. The strongest bits are the early scenes where they make friends, brought to life by Glenn’s warm smile and Malle’s emotional curiosity. The final act of revenge feels oddly rushed, awkward and too overblown to justify the lack of action we get, it should have been more hot blooded and sustained. It’s still a decent piece though, with the distinct cast doing fine work, especially Pesci who is volatile and unpredictable, almost stealing the film from Glenn. Nothing compared to Scott’s version, but worth a look.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Mojave Moon


Before Angelina Jolie blew up front and centre, she got her start in some wild and wacky b movies and genre stuff, the weirdest of which has to be Mojave Moon. It’s one of those low rent flicks where not much of anything happens, the characters meander in and out of a non-story and almost everyone is completely nuts. ‘B movie dramedy’ I suppose would be the specific sub-genre. The ‘story’, as it were, follows drifter Al (Danny Aiello), who meets pretty young Ellie (Jolie) in a diner and hitches a ride out to the desert for seemingly no reason at all. As Ellie takes a shine to him, he begins to fall for her mother (Anne Archer). Only problem is, her mom has a boyfriend played by Michael Biehn who is quite possibly one of the weirdest characters I’ve ever seen in a film. Volatile, berserkly unstable and constantly in near hysteria mode, it’s an odd performance that off-sets the quirky tone straight into the twilight zone. That seems to be the idea here though, the dreamy desert climate having a strange effect on these folks, causing all kinds of outrageous behaviour and scenarios. The town offers a rogue’s gallery of characters including Michael Berryman, Alfred Molina, Jack Noseworthy, Peter Macnicol, John Getz, Michael Massee and others, all of whom don’t really do much other than show up, act weird for a bit and then wander off again. I like this type of film though, purposeless other than to languish about with characters who don’t want much, their arcs sputtering in a flatline of small town doldrums and behaviour that only makes sense to them. It’s not for everyone, which is why no one really gives credit to this stuff, but it’s enjoyable once in a while, when you’re in as strange a mood as the residents of this one horse sideshow of a town. 

-Nate Hill

Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder: A Review by Nate Hill 

  

Few supernatural horror films tap into the abstract realm of the unconscious quite as effectively as Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder. There’s a select group out there who have done it as well (Tarsem Singh with The Cell, Hellraiser and Silent Hill come to mind), but there’s just such an abundance of generic, or ‘vanilla’ horror out there. It’s not that that kind of stuff isn’t great, I just like to see something strive for a little more, stylistically speaking, go for something truly elemental and out of the box in its attempts to elicit fright. This one engraves nightmares of an inexplicable variety into your perception, images and sounds made all the more disturbing by the fact that we never really know what is going on with our protagonist, a Viet Nam vet named Jacob (Tim Robbins), a decent dude with a sketchy past who spends his days as a postal worker in NYC. Jacob is plagued by waking nightmares, visions of demons, confusing allusions to his past and a son (a pre Home Alone Macauley Culkin) who may have died, or never existed at all, all combined with a general sense of dread that almost seems to crawl out of the screen and choke the viewer. Jacob is dating a co worker (RIP Elizabeth Pena), who isn’t equipped to deal with whatever is going on with him, and his only friend seems to be his doting chiropractor Louis, played by an excellent Danny Aiello in a performance that is a ray of kindness and light in an otherwise ice cold atmospheric palette. Jacob begins to suspect that he and his platoon may have been victims of illegal weapons gas testing, and are now suffering the psychological fallout, or perhaps that his plight goes much deeper than that. It’s a disorienting state of mind for him, and in turn puts the viewer in a similar daze of eeriness and uncertainty, with not a concrete clue or answer in sight until the film reaches its devastating final moments. Ving Rhames, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Eriq La Salle and Matt Craven are just as haunted as his fellow Nam buddies, Jason Alexander has an energetic bit as a lawyer, and watch for Kyle Gass, Orson Bean and Lewis Black in early smaller roles. This film has put a hazy emotional and visual filter over my perception for years, and each time I give it another visit I get goosebumps from the horrors within, especially on a crisp recent blu Ray. There’s one sequence in particular which I won’t spoil with details, except to say it should be front and centre on the demo reel for the entire horror genre in cinema, a harrowing journey into a hellishly creative interzone of undefinable fear that still serves as the blueprint for some of my bad dreams to this day. A fright flick classic.

Leon The Professional: A Review by Nate Hill

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Leon The Professional is purely and simply one of the best films ever made. From Natalie Portman’s stunning debut performance, to Gary Oldman’s absolutely nightmarish baddie, to Jean Reno’s lovable and eccentric protagonist, it’s a classic, a piece of achingly beautiful cinema that I could watch on the daily and never get tired of. The three actors are the bricks which make the film so special, and Luc Besson’s fluid, sensitive direction is the mortar which holds them together. Portman is simply miraculous in her first film role as Matilda, a young girl whose entire family is murdered by psychotic DEA agent Norman Stansfield (Oldman). Highly introverted assassin Leon (Reno), takes pity and allows the orphaned girl into his home and his life. Matilda is a strange girl whose specific idiosyncrasies both clash and amusinly interact with Leon’s. He is an exile of sorts as well, with a tragic past and not a whole lot going on in his life besides the contracts he carries out for kindly, paternal mobster Tony (a phenomenal Danny Aiello). Leon and Matilda makes an interesting team; she is brash, unfiltered and lively, he is reserved, awkward and deafeningly quiet, resulting in unique character building and bonding that Besson handles wonderfully. Now, there’s two versions of this film, because apparantly American people can’t handle slightly taboo undertones, even when they’re handled in a caring and tasteful manner. You definitely want to see the longer, European cut which has some interesting scenes that crackle with sexual tension on Portman’s part. Yes, she’s twelve years old, at a very confusing crossroads of her life, the stark black and white mindset of a child dissolving into the very ambiguous and complex psyche of a woman. She believes she loves Leon, and he handles her advances in a way that requires maturity and intuition that he never had to begin with, but rises to the occasion. Call these scenes what you will, but there’s no denying their esential place in the film’s complete story, and to censor them for the sake of prudeness is a straight up crime. Matilda wants revenge against Stansfield and his team, which means going up against his wrath, and also means Portman sharing some incredible scenes with a voracious Oldman. Oh, Gary. This is his final form, the most terrifying villain in his stable, a flamboyant, deranged lunatic that one can scarce believe ever was allowed to be a cop. There’s a fairy tale esque feel to the film, where the bad guys do what they want in the urban forest, never in uniform and free to roam, kill and terrorize with the full might of the NYPD at their dastardly disposal. Oldman is the Joker on mescaline, and in fact Stansfield pops mysterious pills from a little casket, when he’s not murdering people while listening to Beethoven. He’s loud, scary, stylish and animalistic, so intense one feels like his very presence will melt the tv screen. Portman is so superb it’s hard to believe this was so early on in her career. In my mind she did her best work right out of the gate, in this film. Matilda is wise for her years, which she uses to mask the gulf of vulnerability residing in her, a hallmark trait found in children from abusive households. The family and friendship she finds with Leon strengthens her as as human being, and we start to see the emerging person she will continue to grow up to be. Natalie displays all of this uncannily well, and is the bruised, beating heart at the centre oft the film. Reno sells the eccentricities (Leon loves golden age Hollywood musicals) and sorrowful resolve of Leon so well, taking a character that is all action and very little talk, and speaking volumes with both body language and silence which, take it from me, is tough stuff. Besson, whether directing a quiet, introspective scene or a balletic action sequence, gives everything a stylized, earthy quality that makes the film stand out amongst other action ventures. You could spend a billion dollars on production design, but it all comes down to the human element behind the wheel, and if you don’t have a director, cast and team that has the current running through them to create something special, all those dollars go out the window. This one has all of that, and is a solid gold classic.