CLASSIC FILM REVIEW – SCARFACE (1983) – YOUTUBE VIDEO
The Cinema Fix is a website for all film and TV lovers everywhere. It’s a mix of reviews, articles, essays, news and thoughts on new and classic releases. It is intended to be honest, irreverent, funny and hopefully intelligent. I also have a YouTube channel with loads of short films and video articles. Check it out here.
I have just created a new video article. It’s a review of the classic gangster film, Scarface (1983). You can read it here or check out the video below.
This video article is a fun and educational piece reviewing one of our favourite gangster films ever.
Written by: Paul Laight Narrated by: Melissa Zajk Music Produced by : Aries Beats Promoted by : CRFC
The copyright of the images and trailers are those of the film studio. I do not own any of the images or films.
Film/Trailer clips credits:
Scarface (1983) Directed: by Brian DePalma Produced by: Martin Bregman Written by: Oliver Stone. Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Cast: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Loggia, F. Murry Abraham, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Paul Shenar etc.
Music: Giorgio Moroder
Cinematography: John A. Alonzo
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
“I always tell the truth, even when I lie! so, say good night to the bad guy!” Tony Montana
While Al Pacino is rightly lauded in the critically acclaimed Godfather Trilogy, as quietly menacing Michael Corleone, I think his spectacular performance as Tony Montana in Scarface (1983), is nothing short of cinematic gold. Tony Montana is a monstrous symbol of 1980’s excess and neo-capitalism. A product of social deprivation and cold war division. In this world, greed is not just good, but a driving force behind an evil empire which believes the extreme is only halfway. Tony Montana is small in size but big on gesture, colour and voice, both an anti-hero and villain for the eighties era. Moreover, for me, Tony Montana is the most iconic gangster ever committed to celluloid.
With a combustible screenplay written by Oliver Stone, Scarface (1983), is a cocaine driven and incendiary viewing experience. Stone himself is reported to have been battling cocaine addiction while writing it and this shows in the over-the-top world on screen. Everything is ramped up to eleven, including: the violence, shouting, swearing, shooting, politicking, drug-taking, sex, killing, avarice, money-making and corruption. There isn’t one redeemable character in the whole film. Everyone is corrupt. Actually, Tony’s mother tries her best to stay away from the darkness that follows Tony. His sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) seems pure, but is ultimately drawn into Tony’s incestuous glue, precipitated by her dangerous liaison with Manny (Steven Bauer).
“In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.” – Tony Montana
Directed with operatic and kinetic power by Brian DePalma, I have to say that Scarface (1983) is probably my favourite gangster film of all time. That isn’t to say it’s the best. That is Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas (1990). But I just love this film because DePalma and Stone and Pacino revel in excess, violence and tragedy. It also contains some very dark humour too. Tony Montana is horrific, but also very funny. Georgio Moroder’s brooding synthesised score pocks the Miami streets, clubs, beaches, Bolivian boltholes, and in the final hour, Tony’s fortified mansion. I love the artificial backdrops featuring palm trees and sun because their fakeness symbolises the delusory world of the characters. Indeed, even the back-projection shots used when driving add to the illusion. The characters business foundations are built on white sand, a powder which ultimately blows away in the wind.
DePalma is the best director of a cinematic set-piece since Hitchcock. That isn’t to say he’s the best director ever per se, but rather someone who just creates so many well-conceived and memorable scenes. The infamous chainsaw scene, the killing of Frank (Robert Loggia), Tony’s bitter monologue in the restaurant, and the explosive “say hello to my little friend” ending, are just a few of the jaw-dropping moments in this epic crime drama. DePalma also gets incredible performances from all the cast. Pacino obviously blows the doors off as the tough, paranoiac, angry, greedy and hyperbolic Montana. The then, mostly unknown, Michelle Pfeiffer is equally impressive as the coke-fuelled ice-queen, Elvira, who becomes Tony’s vampiric and soulless wife.
Stone’s scenery-crunching script obviously owes much to the original film version of Scarface (1932), co-written by, among others, W. R. Bennett and Ben Hecht and directed by Howard Hawks. The structure is remarkably similar charting the rise and fall of the “political refugee” from Cuba, Tony Montana. It’s a genius stroke by Stone to transplant the exodus of Cubans to America and at the same time, echo the rise of the gangster during the prohibition era of the original film. But, instead of booze, the drug of choice is cocaine. This war on drugs is bloody and unforgiving. As the money and narcotics mount up, so do the victims. Complicit with the criminals are law enforcement, South American dictators and U.S. Government officials. Stone makes many political barbs, but never preaches at the expense of the narrative. Capitalism, the law and American foreign policy has never been more ruthless than here in Scarface (1983). As the oft-seen slogan says, ‘The World is Yours’, but tragically these characters don’t live long enough to enjoy it.
“Every day above ground is a good day.” – Tony Montana
Written by: Stephen Zaillian – based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt
Produced by: Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, Gaston Pavlovich, Randall Emmett, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Gerald Chamales, Irwin Winkler
Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannevale, Stephen Graham, Kathrine Narducci, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Ray Romano, Stephanie Kurtzuba and many more.
Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto
******MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ******
“I heard you paint houses…”
As well as watching new films that have yet to be released, one of the pleasures of film festivals can be when the filmmakers, writers, crew and actors themselves attend and introduce their work. Having said that, I’m not usually one for big and lengthy introductions and back-slapping celebration. I’m also not one for star-gazing and celebrity-spotting hysteria. They are just human beings; let them get about their business in peace.
But, when the cinematic geniuses that are: Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel took to the stage for the premiere ofTHE IRISHMAN (2019), even I was star struck! Add the brilliant actors Stephen Graham, Anna Paquin and Jack Huston to the mix and I can confirm I was in the presence of all-round film greatness.
Scorsese is the best genre filmmaker still living today. But what of THE IRISHMAN (2019)? Is it yet another cinematic masterpiece to add to an incredible list of classics that Scorsese has directed? On first watch I would say both yes and no. I sit on a fence because the film is SO long, detailed and intense, I need another sitting to really nail an absolute opinion. It’s very, very good – BUT is it a great? I remember first watchingGoodfellas (1990) and feeling dazed by the end of it. It is now one of my favourite films of all time.
First impressions are that, once again, Scorsese has delivered yet another impeccable film in the gangster movie genre. Film is a collaborative endeavour though and he has surrounded himself with an army of major talents in the production and acting departments.Robert De Niro, who himself, optioned the book on which the film is based, takes the lead as Frank Sheeran. In support are the aforementioned Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, Stephen Graham, Anna Paquin, Jack Huston and the out-of-retirement Joe Pesci. All work from a superlative screenplay adaptation from uber-writer Steven Zaillian
The story is structured, in many ways, like another gangster classic, Once Upon a Time in America (1984). An elderly character looks back on key aspects on their life; the highs, the lows, the deals, the crimes, the relationships and the bloody carnage. Frank Sheeran, as delivered by De Niro and Scorsese, is another complex presentation of masculinity. He was a trained soldier who did his duty in World War II against the Nazis. Then, on return to America, he found himself driving trucks. With a family to support he finds he cannot turn down the chance to “paint houses” and carry out important work for the mob family run by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). I must say that Pesci is a revelation as the quiet shot caller, in the shadows, giving orders out of the spotlight. His mob boss is the total opposite from the psychopaths he’s played before.
Talking of great performances, Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa steals the whole film. It is incredible to think this is the first Scorsese film he has been in. It was definitely worth the wait. De Niro himself is also impressive. His role as narrator and story conduit guides us through many exhilarating scenes involving gangland deals, explosive action and violent hits. Moreover, we are also compellingly embroiled in Hoffa’s Teamster Union business conflicts, as well as, some of the most iconic historical moments from U.S. politics and history.
Scorsese’s approach to style is less frenetic when compared to his other gangster films or the rapid velocity of say, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). There are fireworks and gunfights of course, plus explosive arguments between the angry and powerful men which inhabited this era. The heated debates between Hoffa (Pacino) and Tony Provenzano (Stephen Graham) are especially memorable. Plus, I liked that Hoffa’s character had very specific demands in regard to time-keeping and punctuality. It’s beautifully filmed but the pace is not as say, rock and roll, as his other films. In one long tense sequence toward the end of the film, Scorsese uses silence rather than trademark rock music to enhance the visuals.
Overall, themes of death, murder, loyalty, friendship, politics and regret dominate the story narrative. From the nursing home where Frank Sheeran begins his epic tale, to the multitude of hits and shootouts we experience, the Grim Reaper follows these characters like a constant shadow. I wasn’t sure how I was meant to feel about Frank Sheeran by the end. He is a complex character who, as a trained killer, is difficult to empathise with. But his, the bosses and Hoffa’s stories are compelling nonetheless. However, the last part of the film raises a lot of emotionally painful questions with equally difficult answers.
Lastly, certain things about the film, such as the “de-aging” CGI and lengthy running time, detracted from my initial enjoyment. However, Netflix have an absolute monster of a gangster film here, with Scorsese once again delivering a very special cinematic offering. The irony is that it will only have a limited theatre release. THE IRISHMAN (2019), therefore, deserves to be painted and seen on the biggest screen you can find.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) – FILM REVIEW
Directed and Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Produced by: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley, Austin Butler, Al Pacino, Mike Moh, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Damien Lewis, Kurt Russell and many, many more.
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
From watching the trailers for Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), I remember thinking: this looks so cool and I’m glad they haven’t given away much of the story here. Because, I hate those darned trailers which give away the story!
So, you watch Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film and then you realise, after the excessive running time, THERE ISN’T REALLY ANY STORY as such! Okay, DiCaprio’s character suffers an existential career crisis but that’s kind of it. Instead, you get mostly a nigh-on three-hour historical and cultural nostalgia trip down memory lane filtered through the artistic and fetishistic vision of one of cinemas great filmmaking iconoclasts.
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), is essentially an arthouse character study where you get to hang out with two-and-a-half lead protagonists, plus a whole army of fictional and ‘real’ life supporting characters from the 1969 Hollywood era. Our two main “heroes” are neurotic, alcoholic B-movie actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and tough, handsome and laconic, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The two characters contrast and complement each other perfectly. Moreover, the star quality, chemistry and fine performances of the lead actors bind the movie together amazingly.
Brad Pitt is especially brilliant. His character is not, until the violent ending, given much to do story wise; however, he does it with such charm. He imbues a character who has accepted his place in the world with such easy-going humour and control, it is an absolute joy to watch. It’s an iceberg performance which seems shallow on the surface, but has hidden and unsaid depth. I really wanted to know more about his character, especially what appeared to be a very colourful backstory.
DiCaprio, on the other hand, has the showier performance. Edgy, hungover and insecure due to his characters’ fading Hollywood career, DiCaprio gives another fantastic movie performance. He commits to the Dalton character and features in some wonderful sketches which pay homage and parody B-movies, TV variety shows and old TV Westerns. What I loved was his ability to demonstrate different levels of acting skills. DiCaprio can fuck up Dalton’s acting on set one moment, but then deliver acting on a Shakespearean level the next.
Margot Robbie, who we know is a brilliant actor in her own right, alas, is not afforded the same level of care in regard to the characterisation of Sharon Tate. More of an ornamental character in the film, she looks great going to the cinema, packing a suitcase, driving and generally just being effervescent. Yet, it’s truly is one of the film’s major flaws that it doesn’t make more of Robbie’s acting talent. Even the fantastic ending, which Tarantino, takes incredible liberties with in regard to actual events, finds Tate’s character development unfortunately left bereft of emotion.
Similarly, the Hollywood cameos echoing throughout the films are pure style over substance. For example Steve McQueen, Roman Polanski and Bruce Lee feature but these are mostly inconsequential encounters. The Bruce Lee representation and scene is actually really funny as Cliff Booth and the martial arts star face off in a hilarious flashback. Typically, Tarantino has caused controversy with his Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) rendition. Personally, I respect that people may be offended, however, it’s more comedic and iconoclastic rather than overt racism. After all, this is a fairy-tale vision of Hollywood and not a documentary. Plus, Tarantino knows he’s going to piss people off so it’s obvious he’s playing with people here.
While Bruce Lee’s persona is playfully satirized or racist depending on your point-of-view, Tarantino’s representation of the Manson family is more damning. It’s clear he absolutely hates hippies, especially acid-looped killer hippies. Dalton and Booth represent the old-school, honest Hollywood working class, so are the antithesis of the drop-out youths. The culture clashes between this era and the new flower-power cults is something Tarantino explores. Charles Manson, who barely features, is a ghost-like figure though. Instead, it is the character of Tex (Austin Butler) and the females of the commune who are most prominent.
Margaret Qualley as Pussycat is especially hypnotic in her role. Exuding both sexuality and acid-drenched nihilism, Pussycat is a siren hitcher, luring drivers to symbolically crash against the cliffs. For me, Tarantino should have made way more of the old and new California culture clash themes, as they resonated powerfully when on screen. Plus, the scenes on the commune were actually quite creepy, so more should have been made of this threat from a dramatic perspective. Lastly, the irreverent and violent final act carnage exploits the clashing of these two different cultures, but more could have done throughout to enhance this dynamic.
Overall, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019) is a near three-hour arthouse classic. If you like films about film and TV making, driving, feet, ensemble casts, films within films, cinema-going, Los Angeles, more feet; and hanging with the marvellous DiCaprio and Pitt in a 1969 setting, then you will love this beautifully rendered and lovingly crafted film about Hollywood. Otherwise, you will probably find it a boring, indulgent and style-over-substance folly. Either way you have to admire Tarantino’s exquisitely controlled writing and direction. He certainly does!!
Safe to say though Tarantino will not care either way, because most of his filmic output has made a lot of money at the box office. This has now allowed him the luxury, like that of true cinema artists such as Kubrick, Altman and Antonioni, to make whatever films a studio is prepared to give him the money for. He’s basically making films for himself and doesn’t care if the audience likes it or not.
I personally found myself magnetically drawn to Tarantino’s vision and from a purely filmmaking and artistic perspective I was totally immersed throughout. Having said that, if the incessant driving and shots of dirty feet were cut and Dalton and Booth had been given a proper plot, rather than the thin stranded narrative within the impressive gallery of cameos and set-pieces, I would definitely expect to be writing about one of the best films ever made.
ALCOHOLICS ASSEMBLE! SOME “GREAT” ON-SCREEN DRUNKS!
“I was in love with a beautiful blonde once. She drove me to drink. It’s the one thing I’m indebted to her for.”
— W.C. Fields, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break
Cinema and booze have always been two of my favourite things to distract me before I stagger off to the great pub in the sky! So, why not have a look at some of the great drunks, characters and performances I have enjoyed over the years on the box or at the cinema.
AL PACINO – SCARFACE (1983)
While the rise of Pacino’s monstrous Cocaine-Capitalist owes much to narcotics and murder, he also plays a mean and nasty drunk. This is seen most notably in the restaurant scene where he spits and spews insults at his wife and the upper-middle classes surrounding him. Never has intoxication been so nasty and yet as sociologically adroit.
ARTHUR HOUSMAN – LAUREL AND HARDY (VARIOUS)
Laurel and Hardy are still the funniest people ever committed to celluloid but they had also had a fine “mess” of supporting actors. One of them was Arthur Housman, who was the go-to-guy when you wanted a funny lush. I reckon acting drunk is far more difficult than it looks but this guy nails it perfectly.
BARNEY GUMBLE – THE SIMPSONS (1989 – )
Barney Gumble’s status as a boozer is so legendary he actually makes Homer’s drinking look normal. Rarely is Barney sober and even his catchphrase is a supersonic belch from the pits of hell. Occasionally he will clean up or venture into normality but Barney will always be a hilarious alcoholic we’ve come to love.
BILLY BOB THORNTON – BAD SANTA (2003)
We all love a Christmas piss-up but Billy Bob Thornton’s drunken Santa does it all year round. He basically drinks in order to escape the shittiness of his life and a job he hates. This film is one of the greatest comedies of all time as Willie Stokes hits rock bottom and the self-destruct button too!
DEAN MARTIN – RIO BRAVO (1959)
Part of the original Rat Pack, Dean Martin, was known for his wild drinking ways off-stage. So, when he played drunkard, the Dude, in classic Western Rio Bravo (1959) there’s a thick varnishing of truth brought to the role. Martin’s Dude is a ridiculed because of his over-reliance on booze, thus the character attempts to get back some self-respect in a narrative heavy on machismo and redemption.
DENZIL WASHINGTON – FLIGHT (2012)
A jaw-dropping plane crash and landing introduces us to super-pilot Whip Whitaker. He should be celebrated as a hero but the character’s downfall is he performed this death-defying feat while high on drugs and alcohol. Washington is incredible in this brilliant evocation of a man battling addiction and his struggle is brilliantly orchestrated by Robert “Back to the Future” Zemeckis.
LEE REMICK & JACK LEMMON – DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (1962)
This heart-breaking film — with brilliant performances from Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon — shows the power alcohol has as it systematically shakes you like a rabid dog until one’s soul is hollowed out. The story shows a couple succumbing to the demon drink after which their relationship is torn apart. It’s also demonstrates the power of AA in aiding treatment for recovery.
MICKEY ROURKE – BARFLY (1987)
Charles Bukowski was one of the great boozers of all time as he actually drank incessantly AND became a celebrated author. He didn’t just write about drinking and women but also his failure to reconcile with the futility of existence. Thankfully such dark materials made some great books as well as Barfly starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. It’s painful to watch but a faithful rendition of Bukowski’s jet-black wit and mordant writing.
MICHAEL ELPHICK – AUF WEIDERSEHEN PET (1983 – 1984)
Elphick was a stalwart of British TV and cinema for years and brought a grizzled but often empathetic quality to his roles. He was comfortable as the lovable rogue and vicious hard man; none more so when he played psychotic drunken Irishmen McGowan in classic 80s comedy-drama Auf Weidersehen Pet. His character was so scary even Jimmy Nail’s Oz was fearful of him. Sadly, Elphick himself would pass away due to alcohol-related illness.
NICOLAS CAGE – LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995)
The “Town Drunk” and “Tart with A Heart” are staple characters throughout our culture and these archetypes are breathed new life through incredible performances by Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue. Cage’s writer is determined to drink himself to death while Shue’s hooker is just trying to survive. They are an unlikely romantic couple as this hard-hitting drama plays like a touching prayer to the bottle, the gutter and the emptiness of existence without love.
PETER COOK AND DUDLEY MOORE – DEREK AND CLIVE GET THE HORN (1979)
Derek and Clive were the filthy alter-egos of comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. They released a series of sexually explicit, racist, sexist, homophobic, scatological and scurrilously hilarious albums in the 1970s. Moore and Cook basically got smashed and committed to tape a string of obnoxious sketches unsuitable to man nor beast. Both were alcoholics and the film version of Derek and Clive illustrates that. Dudley Moore would even have a box office hit as millionaire pisshead Arthur (1981) but this film, shot as they were kind of splitting up, is raw, funny and at times painful to watch.
RAY MILLAND – LOST WEEKEND (1949)
This dark noir is another filmic masterpiece from Billy Wilder. Ray Milland’s writer battles the bottle and those closest to him in an attempt to feed his addiction. Milland won an Oscar and not only lost weight but stayed in a mental institution in preparation. It’s an important film as it was one of the first to show alcoholic’s destructive nature rather than present the comedic drunk that had appeared mostly on screen up until that then.
RICHARD E. GRANT – WITHNAIL AND I (1987)
“We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!”
This often quoted but rarely bettered screenplay is one of the greatest I have ever witnessed and read; brimming with towering poetry, bilious insults and drunken repartee. Richard E. Grant is incredible as the paralytic, pathetic and cowardly actor who with Paul McGann’s eponymous ‘I’ for company laments a lack of career opportunities at the fag-end of the 1960s. It’s a hedonistic and bitter sweet joy with Withnail drinking every liquid known to humanity attempting to obliterate the now to avoid the tomorrow. Unbelievably, Richard E. Grant was teetotal so director Bruce Robinson had to get him “pissed” in preparation for a role he never bettered in his whole career.
W.C. FIELDS – VARIOUS
W. C. Fields was a comedy genius who began on the stages of Vaudeville as a juggler and became one of the most famous drunks on the silver screen. One may argue he simply transferred his alcoholic persona onto film but there’s some skill in being able to turn a weakness into a towering comedic strength. His one-liners and insults have gone down in history as some of the smartest and sarcastic ever written and when compiling this list his was one of the first name’s on it.
WILLIE ROSS – RITA SUE AND BOB TOO (1987)
Last but not least is the imperious drunk Willie Ross. His is the best lagging-pisshead acting I have ever seen on screen! His character in Rita, Sue and Bob Too was a racist, sexist, unemployable, drunken bully who when stood up to would simply cower amidst his own weak character and lack of bravado. Club comedian Ross also appeared in classic British TV drama Our Friends in The North as Daniel Craig vicious alcoholic father and also on stage in plays by Chekhov and Coward.
Cinema, historically, is seen as a visual medium telling its’ stories via wonderful imagery and sequences spliced together to traverse the collective vision of an omnipotent director. And there have been some incredible filmmakers who have created fantastic visual landscapes to be marvelled at such as: Stanley Kubrik, David Lean, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Andrei Tarkovsky and er. . . Michael Bay. Yet, as much as I love the films of such ‘epic’ filmmakers you just can’t beat a brilliantly written piece of dialogue created by a screenwriter and delivered by an actor committed to the character and performance.
Bad dialogue will be on-the-nose, telling us the story specifically and reveal half-baked emotions from paper-thin characters; while great dialogue will tell us about character, theme, and subtext as well as make the audience laugh, cry and most importantly feel emotion. I love dialogue which is both funny and dramatic and reveals the nature and dynamics of characters’ relationships; especially scenes where characters verbally abuse each other or have gone into meltdown mode.
So, here’s a random list of some of my favourite dialogue scenes and why I like them so much. But, of course, the dialogue would probably be nothing without some fine performances too. I’m certain there’s many, many more scenes or monologues I’ve left out but as Osgood says to Jerry in SOME LIKE IT HOT – in one of the greatest final lines of any movie – “Nobody’s Perfect!”
(SPOILER ALERT and assumptions you have seen these films. If not, why not!?)
SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)
Voted one of, if not the best comedy ever by the American Film Institute this scene is a gimme. It is genuinely the funniest ending to a great comedy. The dialogue is both hilarious and nails the characters’ personas right to the end. Cool heartthrob Joe (Tony Curtis) gets the ultimate blonde bombshell, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) while hapless loser Jerry’s (Jack Lemmon) plan to marry for a big settlement backfires splendidly. Lemmon was one of the greatest screen actors ever as he was able to do comedy, pathos and drama with wonderful timing and he shows that in this highly witty scene.
RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
“Why Am I Mr Pink?”
I love Tarantino’s dialogue. For me he’s the closest you’ll get to a 20th Century Shakespeare. All his films – apart from Death Proof (2007) which I hate – have wonderful characters, casting and set-pieces. Most of his scripts tend to be a tad overlong e.g. Kill Bill (2004) could and should have been one film. Therefore, because of its’ economy, muscular writing and fast pacing, Reservoir Dogs (1992), remains a major favourite of his ouevre. I love the temporally jigsawed order, testosteronic cast and above all else, the hard-boiled dialogue. It’s lean, bruised and biting; spat out by unreconstructed men who are destined to die a violent, painful death.
The Mr Pink (Steve Buscemi) ‘I don’t tip’ scene deserves to be on this list but the one where they all get their names from big Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) is a diamond in a cluster of sparkling rough. Industrial language crackles from the screen and the hilarious argument that ensues further sums up Mr Pink’s petty-minded character. Interestingly, this scene was not in the original screenplay and was added to the film during shooting.
MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)
“If you can’t trust a fix. What can you trust?”
The opening scene of Miller’s Crossing – like the whole movie – perfectly encapsulates the 1920s/1930s language of America as represented by, not actuality, but the works of noir novelists Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The Coens’ postmodern vision creates a world of violence, dames, sluggers, double-crosses and prohibition-led organized crime. The scene begins with a speech by Italian gang-leader Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) who espouses his “ethical” modus operandi on fight-fixing to soon-to-be-rival Leo (Albert Finney). While the dialogue crackles and pops; the scene also foregrounds all the key characters on screen at the time and those to appear later in the movie – notably John Turturro’s slimy bookie Bernie Birnbaum. You could probably do a Top 100 of great dialogue scenes from Coen Brothers’ movies and this is certainly up there with the best of them.
Johnny Caspar: I’m talkin’ about friendship. I’m talkin’ about character. I’m talkin’ about – hell. Leo, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word – I’m talkin’ about ethics. It’s gettin’ so a businessman can’t expect no return from a fixed fight. Now, if you can’t trust a fix, what can you trust? For a good return, you gotta go bettin’ on chance – and then you’re back with anarchy, right back in the jungle.
“He didn’t get out of the cockadoodie car!!”
Kathy Bates deservedly won an Oscar for her barnstorming performance as Annie Wilkes. Stephen King’s Wilkes’ is a charismatic lunatic who takes the ‘I’m your number one fan’ maxim to the extreme. This scene reveals more, in some ways, than the memorably gruesome ‘hobbling’ scene. It shows Wilkes’ skewed understanding of narrative by revealing her disgust at ‘cheating’ cliffhangers of Saturday morning serials. While her language is funny, the delivery and anger in Bates’ performance is very unnerving as demonstrated by Caan’s stunned reaction when he realises he is in the company of a very disturbed individual. Lastly, I actually agree with her! They always cheated in those TV shows!
WITHNAIL & I (1986)
“What’s your name – Mcfuck?!”
Definitely in my top-ten-line-for-line-best-dialogue-ever-movies, WITHNAIL & I simply bursts with memorable spats, insults, one-liners and speeches. I recall being incredibly drunk following a birthday party and watching this scene over and over again and almost choking on my own laughter. It’s still quite early in the film but the relationship between permanently inebriated cowardly ‘thespian’ Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and the eponymous ‘I’ (Paul McGann) is perfectly crystallized in their exchanges with the dangerously lubricated Irish barfly.
Withnail not only reveals his ineptitude in facing physical confrontation but is more than happy to stitch his companion up in a scene which is later mirrored during their run-in with a randy bull. Moreover, the scene slyly sets up the character of Monty (Richard Griffiths) and the disastrous trip to the country, demonstrating great writing in burying such exposition within the comical encounter. Bruce Robinson, arguably, never reached the heights of Withnail and I again unfortunately. But his screenplay is one of the greatest ever written; conversely making it one of the funniest and tragic films of all time.
ANNIE HALL (1977)
“I have to go Duane – I’m due back on Planet Earth.”
Arguably the most brilliant and prolific screenwriter/directors ever, Woody Allen’s movies – especially his ‘early, funny films’ – are jammed with gags, slapstick and cracking one-liners. Allen’s cinematic art would mature and his hilarious romantic comedy Annie Hall forms a creative bridge between the joke-driven all-out comedies and the more dramatic works featured in Allen’s oeuvre. Annie Hall is obviously still of full of punchline-led scenes as it tells a classic boy-meets-girl-boy-breaks-up-with-girl-boy-analyses-where-it-all-went-wrong tale, only Allen could pull off.
I could’ve picked any number of great scenes from Annie Hall but one I always remember features the majestically intense – even as a youngster – Christopher Walken. It’s his only scene but he still stands out as Annie’s brother, Duane: a psychotic loner with suicidal tendencies. His short but very dramatic monologue is perfectly delivered as Duane confesses a desire to kill himself in an automobile accident. Comedy arrives by virtue of Allen’s squirming reactions in the car with Duane and the final pay-off is an absolute treat.
“I feel bad for your face!”
I love this scene because it really sums up Kristen Wiig’s unhappy-go-lucky-loser-status in the film. Wiig’s Annie suffers a severe case of arrested development throughout and in the squabble with the young girl she should really be mature and know better. Annie’s in negative equity romantically and forever in the shadow of other more successful women and just as things cannot get any worse she enters into a ping-pong argument with this brattish teenager that escalates WAY out of control. It culminates in a wonderfully rude topper of a punchline that left me laughing my head off. There’s also an element of wish fulfilment in there too as I would love to have let rip in a similar fashion during my time in customer service.
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS – (1992)
“Fuck you! That’s my name!”
In Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin plays the character Blake, almost earning the silver-tongued raconteur an Oscar for the role. He’s in ONE scene. ONE scene, yet because of David Mamet’s mercurial speech he steals the whole film. This is no mean feat given the cast contains an annual Oscar Best Actor nominee list: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and Jonathan Pryce. Blake’s speech is a rallying call for the sales team to raise their game, full of acronymic inspiration and cursing and flat-track bullying. It quickly turns to a litany of threats, abuse and monetary grandstanding as the sales guys just don’t respond to Blake’s aggressive personality. I fucking hate sales jobs and they suck because of guys like Blake who do not care about the customer – just the dough! Although having said that if I’d heard Mamet’s speech delivered by Baldwin I’d be ready to sell snow to the Eskimos. He’s that good!
As a balding man I felt it my duty to raise my concerns about the desperately poor wig-work that has occurred down the years in the movies. The wigs, actors chosen suck because they are so appalling and the filmmakers should have let the actor go natural to avoid discriminatory practices against baldies.
Obviously, for sci-fi, historical, and comedy films wigs are used in context and for humorous purposes so I have generally avoided picking on those but for the examples used there is NO EXCUSE! They are a travesty and deeply hurtful to the bald community. As Larry David says: Baldism is a proper thing.
10. IT LOOKS STUPID!
Okay, I understand certain characters require wigs especially if they wore them in real life like Phil Spector as played recently by Al Pacino but generally Movie Wigs look dumb. It’s fine if it’s in the context of the character such as American Hustle (2013) where Bale’s character was shown to be vain but when an actor has what looks like a ferret stapled to his or her head then I’m thinking less of the movie as I’m too busy laughing at it.
9. IT’S DISCRIMINATION!
I started watching the decent-enough movie TransSiberian (2008) on Netflix and Woody Harrelson’s character is wearing an obvious wig. Harrelson has played some fine bald heroes in his time most notably in the brilliant Zombieland (2009) but he’s let us right down in this movie. His character was a nice guy in it so by giving him a syrup and spectacles are they saying that bald people cannot be pleasant and easy-going. Either cast an actor with hair or don’t. It’s baldist! Come on Woody – you SHOULD know better.
8. WHAT HAPPENED TO TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT?
So I was watching a very disappointing blockbuster film about a massive lizard and I was so disconnected with the lack of characterisation or suspense I got distracted by the usually brilliant Bryan Cranston and his appalling wig! Why not allow let the character have a natural hairstyle of the actor? Are they saying a character with a receding hairline or a bald character is less sympathetic? All that money spent on special effects and incredible looking giant monsters in Godzilla (2014) and his hair-piece was so unconvincing I was embarrassed. Mind you not as unconvincing as the script.
7. KING OF THE WIGS – NICOLAS CAGE
I can’t stand wigs and plastic surgery and Cage seems to have had his fair share of both. It’s vanity gone mad. Unless of course you have a tragic disfigurement or burns I see no reason to alter your body or face in ANY way via artificial means! If you need to lose weight go on a diet don’t use liposuction. If you are bald don’t get a rat transplant on your bonce just deal with it. The worst hair-cut he ever had was arguably in the terrific prison-escape blockbuster Con Air (1997). While the mullet had a certain magnetic quality it, in my opinion, it was laughable and took the piss really.
Anyway, Cage — on his day — is an outstanding actor but he has been in some really sorry old tosh like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011). Here’s a guy who could be a hero to all baldies everywhere with his receding locks so why not allow his characters have Cage’s natural barnet. His lack of locks worked well in Adaptation (2002) as it added to low-status nature of one of the brothers but this was an exception to the rule. 6. BALD PEOPLE DEHUMANIZED AS THE BAD GUY!
Look all the villains over the years who have been bald: Lex Luthor, Voldemort, Ming The Merciless, John Doe (from Se7en), Bane, Gru, Don Logan, Darth Maul, The Baldies from The Wanderers (1979) and many more. Choosing someone who is follicly-challenged is an easy shorthand and detrimental to the humanization of bald people all over the world. We are not villains. We are humans – just because we don’t have hair it doesn’t make us bad people. We have feelings you know.
5. THE BALD UNTRUTH! – JOHN TRAVOLTA
Why use wigs? Why can’t the character be bald – does it make them any less of a human being?! At the very least why collude in the fact the character has real hair. Try and be inventive with the syrups. John Travolta has worn some horrific fringes in his time but at no stage does he send this part of his being up or make it part of the characterisation. In Wild Hogs (2007) — a film about mid-life crises he spends most of it in a bandana rather than embracing his lack of hair. Fair play in the dreadful From Paris With Love (2010) he is bald but he still has a compensatory goatee to take the bald sheen away from the role.
4. UNINTENTIONAL HUMOUR
I’m just going to say one word: Surrogates (2009). This Bruce Willis sci-fi thriller is a dog of a film and the syrups are hilarious. Humans are essentially lock-ins and rarely go out. Instead they live their lives through virtual reality surrogates. It’s not a bad idea and contains a reasonable social comment on technology displacing actual physical and emotional contact. The problem I have with the film is the human version of Willis is bald whereas the computer version has hair. So basically, Willis’ preferred setting is having hair. Why couldn’t it be the other way round!! Plus the haircut is an absolute joke; much like the film as a whole. Bruce Willis is a flag-bearing hero to all bald men and he has worn some dodgy wigs in his time but this is the most monstrous blot on his career.
3. BAD HAIRPIECES DEVALUE THE PRODUCTION
Films are SO expensive to make you would think they could spend a bit more of an effort to make the hairpieces more realistic. Some films — even historical dramas like Lincoln (2013) — have incredible sets, amazing actors and a cast of thousands but when it comes to the syrups the whole thing falls down. I found Lincoln a tough watch anyway as it was SO boring. Has anyone actually watched this film and enjoyed it? Anyway, despite a ponderous story the incredible production is let down by wigs so ridiculous they act as a Brechtian distanciation device and consistently remind us we are watching a movie. I realise that movie God Spielberg may have been going for authenticity but it backfires in Lincoln and the wigs are an embarrassment.
2. IF THEY HAVE HAIR – WHY ARE THEY WEARING A SYRUP?
The worst thing is when the actor actually has hair and they STILL put a hair-piece on them. It’s a travesty really because they could have cast a bald person in the role and given them a leg up in the vanity-led industry that is Hollywood. Or at the very least use the actors real hair and style it accordingly. If the film covers a number of years then for additional realism they should shoot the film in order as the hair grows. The biggest culprit for this is Oliver Stone. He has made some magnificent films but his career is littered with crimes against bald people. Just have a gander at these monstrosities:
1. HAIL THE BALD HEROES!
We shall fight them in the barbers, the make-up chairs and film & sets. Hail the heroes carrying the fight against the vain, unreal and plastic harbingers of doom! Stand proud the hairless and bald! Fight the good fight to the last strand!