Tag Archives: italian

In Memory of Danny Aiello: Nate’s Top Ten Performances

Danny Aiello has left us today and with him goes a level of class, talent and charisma that was unparalleled in Hollywood and independent cinema. He had the kind of frame and presence that saw him embody many Italian mafia and tough guy roles but he also had an angelic, gentle essence which came in handy in gentler turns, as well as some of the tougher ones where he brought a softer edge out. Rest In Peace Danny, you were a wonderful, scene stealing, truly great actor and here are my top ten personal favourite performances:

10. Vincent Dianni in Danny Aiello III’s 18 Shades Of Dust aka Hitman’s Journal

I chose this because it’s one of his only lead roles and it was directed by his late son who passed away before him, sadly. It’s a classic low budget NYC crime flick starring Danny and William Forsythe embroiled in a feud between a crime family and the owner of a restaurant. Danny embues his character with a moral complexity and has terrific chemistry with Forsythe.

9. Captain Vincent Alcoa in Pat O Connor’s The January Man

I’m not a fan of this film and in my opinion it downright sucks, but there are some amped up, ham fisted portrayals to marvel at, Aiello’s turn as a hilariously aggressive police captain included. He’s clearly having fun and blowing off steam and gets one of the best, most maniacal “fuck you!!!” moments in cinema, directed at Kevin Kline’s weirdo detective.

8. Tony Rosato in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II

It’s just one quick scene he as a mob hitman here but he famously improvised the line “Michael Corleone says hello” that Coppola loved and kept in the film. Not to mention he gets one gnarly attempted murder and drag the body off frame moment, he might as well have been saying that Michael Myers says hello.

7. Roth in Paul McGuigan’s Lucky Number Slevin

Another tiny cameo but here he serves as warning to one of the characters that events about to be set in motion can’t be undone once the decision is made. Roth is a racetrack bookie who knows a shady bet when he sees one and provides ample foreshadowing before the narrative reaches an event horizon of misfortune.

6. Sal in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing

An Italian pizzeria owner who has had enough, his hotheaded actions basically spur on a riot and push a racially charged portion of the city into riot. Everyone in this film is in performance overdrive, sweaty, fired up and ready for conflict, Danny included as the kind of dude who is always a few inches short of blowing his fuse.

5. Al in Kevin Dowlands’ Mojave Moon

Everyone’s a little loopy in this offbeat indie dramedy. Danny’s Al gives young Angelina Jolie a lift from the big city out to a strange Mojave Desert enclave where he cultivates odd relationships with her, her mom (Anne Archer) and her mom’s unhinged whacko boyfriend (Michael Biehn). This is one of those meandering little experiments about nothing in particular save a gaggle of wayward individuals interacting, often in bizarre fashion. Danny headlines charmingly, has wonderful chemistry with Jolie and blesses this offbeat script with his undeniable talent.

4. Mr. Johnny Cammereri in Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck

Johnny is sweet, good natured and just a bit dumb. He has the misfortune of seeing his fiancé fall for his younger brother but it’s all handled in a lighthearted way in this charming romantic comedy. He gives the role a childlike charm whether he’s aloofly proposing to Cher in a crowded Italian restaurant or using the Adam & Eve parable to explain skirt chasers.

3. Tommy Five-Tone in Michael Lehmann’s Hudson Hawk

What a misunderstood, undervalued gem of a film. Bruce Willis and Danny are Hudson and Tommy, two NYC cat burglars dragged into a loopy global caper all the way to Italy and beyond. The film’s tone is akin to something like The Looney Toons, with both actors displaying a rambunctious, fun loving personality and together embodying one of the funniest and one of my favourite bro-mances in cinema.

2. Louis in Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder

I used the word angelic in the above summary of Danny specifically for this role. Louis is massage therapist, confidante, guardian angel and only friend in the world to Tim Robbins deeply haunted protagonist and the kindness, compassion and protective energy he emanates is a lighthouse of positivity in a sea of disturbing horror imagery that is this film.

1. Tony in Luc Besson’s Leon The Professional

This is the role that’s most special to me, the one I always think of when someone brings Danny up and exists in a special, classic film that I grew up with and watch at least a few times a year. Tony is the ultimate gangster with a heart of gold, father figure and mentor to hitman Leon (Jean Reno), dose of tough love to orphan Mathilda (Natalie Portman), both of whom he has beautiful chemistry with. He’s the neighborhood sage, consummate wise guy and gentleman mobster with a self titled kind streak. The core Aiello performance for me.

-Nate Hill

ZEDER (1983) – A REVIEW BY RYAN MARSHALL

Circa 1956, young Gabriella is brought to the estate of Dr. Meyer, who believes that the girl harnesses supernatural powers and intends to put them to good use during one fateful night. After accompanying her to the basement, where she begins writhing about on the dirt-covered ground and is then attacked by something unseen when left alone, Meyer deduces that the area they’ve stumbled upon is what is known as a “K Zone” upon realizing that the man who infamously studied them, Paolo Zeder, was buried underneath the house some years ago.

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Favoring petrifying ambiance over surface-level schlock, though impartial to entertaining the latter when apt, Pupi Avati’s horror films are characteristically infused with a kind of sinister, otherworldly energy; as if the man responsible for them always has one foot in reality and the other in the spirit world. In this sense, ZEDER (aka REVENGE OF THE DEAD) is straight from the heart of its maker, being (among other things) a film that deals directly with those disconcerting voices from beyond and why they are necessary to a superior understanding of our surroundings.

Following such a uniquely enigmatic opening, we are introduced to Stefano (Gabriele Lavia), a young novelist living in present day (1983) Bologna. He comes home one day to a surprise anniversary gift from his wife Alessandra (Anne Canovas) in the form of an old typewriter which he can’t help but test drive that same evening. Upon closer inspection of the ribbon housed inside the apparatus, he discovers an essay written by the aforementioned Zeder and becomes increasingly obsessed with the man’s studies.

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Similarly to Avati’s masterful giallo THE HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS, the unlikely hero often feels alone in the world. Whenever Stefano attempts to inquire about Zeder and his finds, even the most reputable members of society turn him away; and when he decides to take matters into his own hands, they tend to get a bit dirty. He must be careful who he talks to, for their lives may be endangered if he does so.

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Without showing too much, Avati manages to get deep under your skin; take the K-Zones, for instance, which have something to do with reanimation, and yet that specific “something” is never explored in explicit detail. However, it’s undoubtedly better off this way. The horrors of ZEDER, beautifully rendered as they are, seem rooted in paranoia and guilt on a profoundly national scale; the film is like an exorcism for all of Italy, albeit one where the cleansing of body and soul is secondary to the painful possession of Avati’s fellow countrymen and how they attempt to evade it. While Stefano pursues the mystery at hand, Gabriella (now an adult) and Meyer scheme – it would be unwise to trust that anyone, even those closest to you, are not in on it in some way. It’s an angry, poignant, and indeed genuinely frightening state of affairs – assuming one is enticed by implication.

European horror films tend to wear their imperfections on their sleeve, and ZEDER is no exception. Franco Delli Colli’s (RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR, MACABRE, STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER) cinematography is luscious, Riz Ortolani’s score is typically fierce, the make-up effects – particularly for the undead – are refreshingly subtle, and yet there are flaws to be found in Amedeo Salfa’s editing. On a whole, the film flows exquisitely – but once in a while there’s an abrupt transition which threatens to soil an otherwise divine experience; and although this is easily redeemed, it can’t help but pale, if only slightly, in comparison to its aforementioned cinematic brethren as a result.

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But oh, what sights Avati has to show you. From the abandoned soon-to-be-hotel which marks the high point of Stefano’s journey and the dusty tunnels running underneath to the young couple’s sleek, secure apartment, it’s remarkable how distinctive each location feels and how well the director utilizes them throughout. One feels alienated regardless of where they find themselves; the world is wired by phantoms. As is the case with some of the best, this is a film about man’s relationship with time and place in unison with his personal affairs; while the romance at the center of the story gives it a much-needed emotional backbone, it’s ultimately a vision of our ever-changing landscape and how we choose to confront those sudden transitions.

Admittedly, this could potentially disappoint viewers expecting a gorier, more straight-forward zombie yarn, but what a thing to behold. Avati has contributed something that goes far deeper than exceptional genre cinema, knowing all too well that mystery and tragedy alike account for many of the things in life which are most difficult to swallow. Some questions cannot be answered, or so the director seems to conclude at the end of this macabre tale. We can only seek so much truth before we bump up against our own limits.

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