Favorite Films Set in the 1950s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies set in the decade of the 1950s:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1950s

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1. L.A. Confidential (1997) – Curtis Hanson directed this outstanding adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1990 novel about three Los Angeles police detectives drawn into a case involving a diner massacre. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce and Oscar winner Kim Basinger starred.

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2. “Grease” (1978) – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John starred in this entertaining adaptation of the 1971 Broadway musical about a pair of teenage star-crossed lovers in the 1950s. Randal Kleiser directed.

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3. “The Godfather, Part II” (1974) – Francis Ford Coppola directed his Oscar winning sequel to the 1972 Oscar winning adaptation of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel. Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Oscar winner Robert De Niro starred.

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4. “Quiz Show” (1994) – Robert Redford directed this intriguing adaptation of Richard Goodwin’s 1968 memoir, “Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties”, about the game show scandals of the late 1950s. Ralph Fiennes, Rob Morrow and John Tuturro starred.

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5. “The Mirror Crack’d (1980) – Angela Landsbury starred as Miss Jane Marple in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1962 novel. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie also starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Edward Fox.

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6. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” (2008) – Harrison Ford returned for the fourth time as Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones in this adventurous tale in which he is drawn into the search for artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie was produced by him and George Lucas.

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7. “Champagne For One: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001)” – Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin starred as Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe in this television adaptation of Rex Stout’s 1958 novel. The two-part movie was part of A&E Channel’s “A NERO WOLFE MYSTERY” series.

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8. “Hollywoodland” (2006) – Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck starred in this intriguing tale about a private detective’s investigation into the life and death of actor George Reeves. Allen Coulter.

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9. “My Week With Marilyn” (2011) – Oscar nominee Michelle Williams starred as Marilyn Monroe in this adaptation of Colin Clark’s two books about his brief relationship with the actress. Directed by Simon Curtis, the movie co-starred Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Redmayne as Clark.

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10. “Boycott” (2001) – Jeffrey Wright starred as Dr. Martin Luther King in this television adaptation of Stewart Burns’ book,“Daybreak of Freedom”, about the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. Directed by Clark Johnson, the movie co-starred Terrence Howard and C.C.H. Pounder.

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Honorable Mention: “Mulholland Falls” (1996) – Nick Nolte starred in this entertaining noir drama about a married Los Angeles Police detective investigating the murder of a high-priced prostitute, with whom he had an affair. The movie was directed by Lee Tamahori.

“AMERICAN HUSTLE” (2013) Review

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“AMERICAN HUSTLE” (2013) Review

For the past three years, the career of David O. Russell seemed to be on a roll. During said period, he has directed, produced or both three movies that have garnered a great deal of acclaim and awards. The latest of this “Golden Trio” happened to be a period comedy drama called “AMERICAN HUSTLE”.

Set mainly in 1978, “AMERICAN HUSTLE” is loosely based on the ABSCAM operation, set up by the F.B.I. as a sting operation against various government officials in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The movie begins with two con artists and lovers, Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, who are caught in a loan scam by F.B.I. Special Agent Richie Di Maso. The latter proposes to release them if Irving assists him in a sting operation against Mayor Carmine Polito of Camden, New Jersey and other officials. Sydney tries to convince Irving not to agree with Richie’s proposal. But desperate to avoid prison and reluctant to leave his adopted son with his verbose and slightly unstable wife Rosalyn, Irving agrees to assist Richie and the F.B.I. The sting operation nearly starts off on the wrong foot, thanks to a clumsy tactic on Richie’s part, but Irving manages to woo back the charismatic and popular Carmine, who is seeking funds to revitalize gambling in Atlantic City. The scam seems to be going fine, despite Sydney’s growing relationship with Richie. But when Carmine introduces Irving, Sydney and Richie to the notoriously violent Mafia overlord Victor Tellegio into the plan to raise money; and Rosalyn’s jealous nature and notoriously big mouth threatens to expose the sting operation; Irving realizes he has to come up with an alternate plan to save him and Sydney from the Mob and the F.B.I.

While watching “AMERICAN HUSTLE”, it occurred to me that it is filled with some very interesting and eccentric characters. First, there are the two lovebirds – Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser – with his odd toupee and her fake British accent. Then we have Richie Di Maso is an ambitious “Mama’s Boy” with hair permed into tight curls, who is a bit too eager to prove himself with the F.B.I. Irving’s wife Rosalyn is an unhappily married woman with a big mouth and a careless and self-involved personality. And Mayor Polito is a happy-go-lucky politician with a rather large pompadour hair-style and questionable connections to the Mob. The movie is also populated with a Latino F.B.I. agent recruited by Richie to potray a wealthy Arab sheik, a charming Mob soldier who ends up falling for Rosalyn, Richie’s frustrated and wary F.B.I. supervisor, and a very sinister Mob boss that can speak Arabic. If I have to be perfectly honest, I would have to say that the movie’s array of characters struck me as being the movie’s strong point.

This should not have been a surprise. “AMERICAN HUSTLE” is also filled with some great performances. Christian Bale gave a wonderfully subtle and complex performance as the aging and stressed out con man who reluctantly finds himself involved with a scam operation set up by the F.B.I. He certainly clicked with Amy Adams, who gave one of the most subtle performances of her career as the charming, yet desperate former stripper-turned-con artist, who found herself in a state of flux over her freedom and her relationship with her partner/lover. Bradley Cooper was practically a basket of fire as the aggressive F.B.I. Agent Richie Di Maso, who become over-eager to make a name for himself within the Bureau. Mind you, there were moments when Cooper’s performance seemed to border on hamminess. I could also say the same for Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Irving’s not-so-stable wife, Rosalyn. However, I must admit that Lawrence also provided the movie with some of its best comic moments. Jeremy Renner was a joy to watch as the charismatic mayor of Camden, Carmine Polito. The latter must have been the most happy-go-lucky role he has ever done.

“AMERICAN HUSTLE” also featured some first-rate performances from the supporting cast. Louis C.K. was very effective Richie’s long suffering boss, Special Agent Stoddard Thorsen. Michael Peña provided some memorable comic moments as Special Agent Paco Hernandez, who surprised everyone with his ability to speak Arabic. Robert De Niro, who also made a surprising appearance as mobster Victor Tellegio, gave a subtle and intimidating appearance . . . especially in a scene in which he tested Agent Thorsen’s ability to speak Arabic. The movie also featured solid performances from Jack Huston as a young mobster, Alessandro Nivola as Richie and Thoren’s boss, Anthony Zerbe as a corrupt congressman, and Elisabeth Röhm as Mayor Polito’s equally happy-go-lucky wife Dolly.

I was also impressed by the production designs for “AMERICAN HUSTLE”. Judy Becker and her team did an exceptional job of bringing the late 1970s back to life. She was also assisted by Heather Loeffler’s set decorations and Jesse Rosenthal’s art direction. Michael Wilkinson’s costume designs did an excellent job of not only capturing that particular era, but also representing the major character. This was especially apparent in his costumes for the Sydney Prosser, who used low-cut dresses and gowns to distract her marks. And I mean very low cut.

If there is one problem I have with “AMERICAN HUSTLE”, it is probably Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell’s screenplay. At first, it seemed perfectly fine to me. But eventually, there were aspects of the screenplay I found either troubling or confusing. One, I noticed that Russell tried utilize the use of multiple narrations that Martin Scorsese used in his 1995 movie, “CASINO”. At first, he used Irving and Sydney’s narration. Then he added Richie’s voice to the mix. The problem is that I can only recall Richie’s narration in one scene. Nor do I recall Sydney’s narration in the movie’s second half. Also, the first half of the movie seemed to hint that Richie’s mark in his operation was Camden’s Mayor Polito, who wanted to raise funds to revitalize Atlantic City. Why? Why would the mayor of Camden be interested in revitalizing the fortunes of another city, located in another county? And why was the F.B.I. so interested in Camden’s mayor? At first, I thought the agency was aware of his mob ties. But when Carmine introduced Irving and Richie to mobster Victor Tellegio, both the con man and the Federal agent seemed by the mobster’s appearance. So, why did Richie target Carmine in the first place? To make matters even more confusing, Richie extended his sting operation to several members of Congress. There seemed to be no focus in the operation and especially in the story.

Despite the confusing screenplay, I must admit that “AMERICAN HUSTLE” was an entertaining movie. Not only did it recaptured the era of the 1970s, but also featured some superb performances from a cast led by Christian Bale and Amy Adams. I thought it was entertaining enough to overlook its flaws.

“LAST VEGAS” (2013) Review

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“LAST VEGAS” (2013) Review

When I first saw the trailer for “LAST VEGAS”, my first impression was that it was some kind of senior version of “THE HANGOVER” or one of those comedy road trip movies featuring four friends. It did not strike me as an original movie, but it looked entertaining and I decided to go see it anyway. 

Directed by Jon Turteltaub and written by Dan Fogelman, “LAST VEGAS” is a story about a quartet of long time friends in their late sixties who gather in Las Vegas to attend a wedding. While giving an eulogy at the funeral of a friend, Billy spontaneously proposes marriage to his 32 year-old girlfriend. Several weeks later, he announces his engagement to at least two of his friends – Archie and Sam. Archie, who feels like a prisoner of his son’s following a mild stroke, sneaks away. Sam, who has become slightly embittered over his Florida retirement, is encouraged by his wife to go on the trip and even consider one night of adultery to get his mojo back. Both Archie and Sam meet in their old Brooklyn neighborhood to convince the last member of the old quartet – Paddy – to join them on the trip to Vegas. There is a difficult. Paddy is angry over Billy’s failure to attend his wife’s funeral, but Archie manages to convince him to accompany them.

When the four friends meet in Vegas, they try to check into an old hotel on Fremont Street. Unfortunately, the hotel has been transformed into an unsuccessful nightclub, where they meet a sexy, aging singer named Diana. Both Paddy and Billy, who is awaiting his young fiancée, become attracted to her. Thanks to Archie’s successful spell at a hotel casino on the Strip, the four friends are comped by the hotel to stay in one of their suites. While Archie and Sam set out to enjoy themselves, Billy and Paddy deal with their conflict over the latter’s late wife and Diana.

I might as well be frank. “LAST VEGAS” is not exactly a comedy classic. Nor does it have an original script. A lot of the movie is spent with the four seniors musing over aging and trying to pretend that they can still party hard. Not only would I never consider “LAST VEGAS” as one of the best films for any of the four leads, I would never consider it one of their best works during the later stages of their career. But I knew that coming in. One look at the movie’s trailer pretty much told me what kind of movie this would be.

But you know what? Despite the lack of originality and hardcore partying (PG-rated), “LAST VEGAS” turned out to be a very entertaining film. Hell, it was a lot of fun to watch. Thanks to Fogelman’s script, the movie was filled with some sharp wit and funny moments. Among the latter was Archie’s “difficult” escape from his New Jersey home, the four friends acting as judges at a swimsuit contest around the hotel’s swimming pool, Billy and Diana’s ride on what I believe was the Stratosphere. I could be wrong about the latter. Fogelman’s script was slightly elevated by a few scenes of pathos involving Billy and Paddy’s conflict over the latter’s wife, thanks to the actors involved.

Speaking of the actors, it is quite apparent that this movie owed a lot to the five leads. Mind you, Fogelman wrote an entertaining, yet unoriginal script. And Jon Turteltaub infused a great deal of energy into his direction. A great deal. The movie also benefited from solid performances from supporting players like Romany Malco, Jerry Ferrara, Weronika Rosati, Joanna Gleason and Michael Ealy. But one might as well face it. Without the four male leads and the sole female lead, I doubt that I would have ever found this movie amusing, let alone funny. Both Turteltaub and Fogelman owed a great deal to Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Mary Steenburgen. Not only did the four men proved to have strong chemistry with each other, Steenburgen added a good deal of her own chemistry with the team. She especially managed to click with Douglas and De Niro.

As I had earlier stated, “LAST VEGAS” is not a comedy classic. Nor did I find it particularly original. I would never list it as one of the best movies of 2013. But I cannot deny that I found it both witty and funny, thanks to Dan Fogelman’s script. Jon Turteltaub’s direction injected a great deal of energy into the story. And the movie overall really benefited from a strong cast lead by Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Mary Steenburgen. “LAST VEGAS” may not have been great, but I found it very entertaining.

“SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” (2012) Review

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“SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” (2012) Review

When I learned that “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” had earned a good number of nominations and acclaim during the Fall/Winter of 2012-2013, I found myself scratching my head in confusion. I had never heard of the film. I spent a good deal of that movie season paying more attention to the likes of “ARGO” and “LINCOLN”. So when the movie earned a good number of Academy Award nominations, my first reaction turned out to be . . . “What was the big deal?” 

Written and directed by David O. Russell, “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” was based upon Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel, “The Silver Linings Playbook”. Since I never read the novel, let alone heard of it, I would not be able to compare the movie to the novel. The movie is about a bipolar man named Patrick “Pat” Solitano Jr., who moves in with his parents in Philadelphia after being released from a psychiatric hospital. Pat is determined to get his life back on track, stop his dependence on medication and reconcile with his estranged wife Nikki, who had obtained a restraining order against him after he had violently attacked the man with whom she was having an affair. While attending a dinner party held by his friends, Ronnie and Veronica, Pat meets Veronica’s sister – a young widow suffering from sex addiction and depression over the death of her police officer husband. Pat and Tiffany begin an odd friendship over their shared neuroses. Learning that both Tiffany and Veronica know Nikki, Pat asks the former to deliver a letter he had written to Nikki. In return, Tiffany asks him to be her partner in a dance contest. 

Matters seem to go well for Pat until his father Pat Sr. asks him to attend a Philadelphia Eagles football game as a “good luck charm”. The latter had bet all of his money on the game. His father’s request leads Pat to skip practice with Tiffany. However, he is dragged into a fight with racist thugs who were attacking his Indian-born psychiatrist and brother. When the Eagles lose the game, Pat Sr. becomes furious. Tiffany who is also angry, arrives at the Solitano home and berates Pat for missing the dance practice. She also points out that the Eagles win a game whenever she and Pat spend time together. Convinced that Pat being with Tiffany is actually good luck, Pat Sr. makes a parlay with his gambling friend that if the Eagles win their game against the Dallas Cowboys, and if Pat and Tiffany score at least a 5 out of 10 in their dance competition; he will win back double the money he lost on the first bet.

Although “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” received a good deal of acclaim, there have been some critics who have dismissed the film as a mediocre, yet slightly entertaining romantic comedy. And some have pointed out the unlikeliness of a comedic romance between two characters with serious neuroses. Before I actually viewed the film, I believed I would end up in the latter camp. But when I finally saw the film . . . my skepticism disappeared. What can I say? I found myself drawn to both the characters and the story. A good number of years have passed since I last enjoyed a romantic comedy. It seemed to be a genre that Hollywood rarely seems willing to explore, unless situated in the middle of an action-adventure story, or in a television sitcom. I noticed that “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” has been described as a comedy-drama. When one considers a movie featuring main characters with mental disorders, I could see why any moviegoer would expect a good deal of drama injected into this story. I am not saying that the movie’s narrative skirted over its dramatic issues. It made Pat’s emotional problems clear, especially his unwillingness to get over his wife Nikki, his parents’ wary regard for him, his tendency to run away from his feelings for Tiffany, and the latter’s own romantic frustrations with him. And yet, the style of David O. Russell’s directions, along with the cast’s performances made the film seem more like a straight comedy, instead of a comedy-drama. Did this bother me? Not at all.

“SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” featured some genuinely great moments. I do not think I will ever forget that amateurish, yet odd dance number performed by leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Nor do I think I can forget those scenes featuring their characters’ odd encounters, while jogging. But my favorite scenes include the first attempt by Pat’s friend Danny McDaniels to leave the Baltimore psychiatric hospital, Pat’s wild and loud quarrel with his equally loud father during the early hours of the morning, Pat’s funny sessions with his analyst Dr. Cliff Patel, and Pat Sr. making that final bet with his friend Randy. But if I had to pick my favorite scene, it would be Pat and Tiffany’s first meeting at the dinner party hosted by Pat’s friend Ronnie and Tiffany’s sister Veronica. From the moment the two leads lock eyes upon each other, until he escorted her home, it was a blast to watch. The scene features one of my favorite “boy-meets-girl” moments in any Hollywood film.

At least four members of the cast for “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” earned Academy Award nominations. But the rest of the cast also gave excellent or really exceptional performances. The movie featured some really solid performances from Shea Whigham (Jake Solitano), Julia Stiles (Veronica Maxwell), Anupam Kher (Dr. Cliff Patel) and Dash Mihok (Officer Keogh). Chris Tucker went against his usual splashy style for a very funny, yet subtle performance as Pat’s fellow hospital inmate, Danny McDaniels, who keeps making attempts to escape and who immediately noticed the chemistry between Pat and Tiffany. I do not recall ever seeing John Ortiz in a comedic role before, but I must admit that he was rather funny as Ronnie, Pat’s high strung friend, who is beginning to question his relationship with Veronica Maxwell. 

And the four cast members who ended up receiving Academy Award nominations, truly deserved them, as far as I am concerned. Jackie Weaver earned a much deserved Best Supporting Actress nomination as Pat’s sane mother Dolores, who seemed to be caught between a rock and a hard place between a bipolar son and a temperamental and slightly obsessive husband. Robert De Niro gave one of his best performances in his later career as Pat Solitano Sr., a temperamental and slightly obsessive man, who is wary of his younger son; yet even more obsessed over the Philadelphia Eagles. He deservedly earned his first Academy Award nomination in 21 years. Bradley Cooper, who worked with De Niro for the second time, earned an equally deserved Academy Award nomination as the movie’s main character, Pat Solitano Jr. – a man struggling with both a bipolar condition and a failed marriage. What I liked about Cooper’s performance is that he effectively portrayed a very volatile personality without crossing the line into hamminess. Jennifer Lawerence earned her second Academy Award nomination as Tiffany Maxwell, the troubled young widow, who seemed hellbent upon being the new woman in Pat’s life. Lawrence eventually won her Oscar – for Best Actress. Before I saw this film, I found myself wondering if she deserved it. After seeing her performance in this movie, I think I would have made it a tie between her and Jessica Chastain. Lawrence was a revelation as the strong-willed, yet emotional Tiffany.

It is a pity that I never saw this movie when it was in the theaters during the fall of 2012. I really wish I had. I think it is one of the best comedies I have seen in years. David O. Russell did justice to the story as the film’s screenwriter and director. And it boasted some superb performances from the likes of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. If I had seen “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” when it first arrived in the theaters, it would have my list of favorite movies of 2012.

 

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Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1970s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1920s: 


FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1970s

1 - American Gangster

1. American Gangster (2007) – Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe starred in this biopic about former Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, the Newark police detective who finally caught him. Ridley Scott directed this energetic tale.



2 - Munich

2. Munich (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this tense drama about Israel’s retaliation against the men who committed the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Eric Bana, Daniel Craig and Ciarán Hinds starred.



3 - Rush

3. Rush (2013) – Ron Howard directed this account of the sports rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One auto racing season. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl starred.



4 - Casino

4. Casino (1995) – Martin Scorsese directed this crime drama about rise and downfall of a gambler and enforcer sent West to run a Mob-owned Las Vegas casino. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone starred.



5 - Super 8

5. Super 8 (2011) – J.J. Abrams directed this science-fiction thriller about a group of young teens who stumble across a dangerous presence in their town, after witnessing a train accident, while shooting their own 8mm film. Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler starred.



6 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) – Gary Oldman starred as George Smiley in this recent adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel about the hunt for a Soviet mole in MI-6. Tomas Alfredson directed.



7 - Apollo 13

7. Apollo 13(1995) – Ron Howard directed this dramatic account about the failed Apollo 13 mission in April 1970. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon starred.



8 - Nixon

8. Nixon (1995) – Oliver Stone directed this biopic about President Richard M. Nixon. The movie starred Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen.



9 - Starsky and Hutch

9. Starsky and Hutch (2004) – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson starred in this comedic movie adaptation of the 70s television series about two street cops hunting down a drug kingpin. Directed by Todd Phillips, the movie also starred Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Snoop Dogg.



10 - Frost-Nixon

10. Frost/Nixon (2008) – Ron Howard directed this adaptation of the stage play about David Frost’s interviews with former President Richard Nixon in 1977. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen starred.

“THE FAMILY” (2013) Review

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“THE FAMILY” (2013) Review

Has Luc Besson ever directed a comedy before? The reason I raised this question is that I have always associated him with action drama and was surprised to learn that he had recently directed one. Mind you, I am not a major fan of Besson’s work. But I have enjoyed a few of his movies and decided to see what this latest one was about. 

Based upon Tonino Benacquista’s novel, “Malavita”“THE FAMILY” told the story of a Mafia underboss and his family living in France under the Witness Protection Program. Six years earlier, Giovanni Maznoni had displeased his boss, Mafia kingpin Don Luchese, in Brooklyn. After a failed attempt on his life at a family barbecue, Giovanni snitched on his boss, which led to him and his family entering a witness protection program under the supervision of FBI Special Agent Stansfield. The Maznoni family lived in the South of France for a while, until Giovanni’s disgruntled action against a local tradesman attracted the attention of Don Luchese to their location. The movie began with the family forced to move to a small town near Normandy.

“THE FAMILY” follows the Maznonis’ activities as they attempt to adjust to French small town life. Giovanni informs neighbors that he is a historian, writing a book about the Normandy invasion during World War II. Actually, he is writing his personal memoirs against Special Agent Stansfield’s advice. He also becomes obsessed with the local authorities’ lack of concern over the brown water coming from the plumbing. Wife Maggie’s unpleasant encounter with an anti-American grocer leads to the destruction of his store. Guilt leads her to the local church for confession and friendship with the priest. His daughter Belle falls in love with a substitute Math teacher, who also happens to be a college student. And his son Warren organizes his own intelligence clique at school, after being beaten up by a group of bullies. The Maznonis family’s storylines conclude when Don Luchese finally stumbles across their whereabouts and send a team of hit men to kill them.

And how did Luc Besson fare with comedy? Honestly, his handling of the story and the cast struck me as pretty effective. His direction of the cast and his handling of the screenplay he wrote with Michael Caleo certainly did not strike me as awkward or unfunny. Since the story began with Maznonis being veterans of the Witness Protection Program, I was relieved that Besson and Caleo’s screenplay allowed for a flashback to explain how they ended in that situation in the first place. I found the separate story lines regarding the Maznonis family’s experiences in Normandy rather amusing. I did not exactly find myself on the floor, rolling with laughter . . . well, except for one scene. But I cannot deny that I found the movie somewhat funny. My favorite moments included Maggie’s destruction of the bigoted grocer’s store, the Maznonis family’s barbecue for their French neighbors, Belle’s brutal handling of three fellow schoolmates who tried to seduce her into a ride into the countryside and a sex-filled picnic, Warren’s revenge against some school thugs and especially Giovanni’s violent handling of the brown water problem. As for that one scene that actually had me rolling in the aisle with laughter? Giovanni’s lies about being a historian led the head of a local film festival to invite him to comment on a historical film being shown. When the film turned out to be Scorsese’s 1991 film, “GOODFELLAS” . . . well, you can imagine my reaction.

As much as I enjoyed the film, I cannot honestly say that it was one of the best comedies I had ever seen. I found it more amusing than funny. I was also a little disappointed at how Don Luchese finally stumbled across the Maznonis’ location. I found it . . . well, irrelevant. This little plot point had nothing to do with the main story lines featuring the Maznonis family. It seemed to come out of no where. Despite the flashback featuring Don Luchese’s first attempt to kill Giovanni, Besson and Caleo’s screenplay never revealed the reason behind the Don’s first attempt. The screenplay never revealed what Giovanni had done to originally earn the Don’s ire.

“THE FAMILY” featured some first-rate performances from the cast. Robert De Niro gave a very funny performance as the stir-crazy former gangster who seemed to have difficulty adjusting to a less violent life after six years away from the Mob. Michelle Pfieffer was equally hilarious as his sardonic wife, who seemed to be exasperated by her husband’s antics. Besson made some excellent casting choices for the roles of Belle and Warren Maznonis. Not only do Dianna Agron (from FOX’s “GLEE”) and John D’Leo look as if they could be the children of De Niro and Pfieffer, the pair did a great job in holding their own with the two veterans. Tommy Lee Jones gave a nice, subtle performance as the family’s contact man – FBI Special Agent Stansfield. But aside from one major scene – the film festival – I did not find him particularly funny.

As much as I enjoyed “THE FAMILY”, I could honestly say that I would highly recommend anyone to see it at the theaters as soon as possible. Yes, it was funny. And yes, it featured some first-rate performances from the likes of Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfieffer. I found Luc Besson’s direction solid and well-paced. Also, the script he wrote with Michael Caleo struck me diverting. But as I had hinted earlier, “THE FAMILY” never struck me as a comedic classic.

Favorite Movies Set in LAS VEGAS

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Below is a list of my favorite movies set in Las Vegas, Nevada: 

 

FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN LAS VEGAS

1 - Ocean Thirteen

1. “Ocean’s Thirteen” (2007) – In this third entry of Steven Soderbergh’s OCEAN’S TRILOGY, Danny Ocean and his co-horts plot a heist against casino owner Willy Bank, after he double-crosses one of the original eleven, Reuben Tishkoff. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Al Pacino starred.

2 - Casino

2. “Casino” (1995) – Martin Scorsese directed this adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi’s non-fiction book about the clash between a professional gambler and a mobster sent to operate a mob-controlled Las Vegas casino. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone starred.

3 - The Hangover

3. “The Hangover” (2009) – Todd Phillips produced and directed this hilarious comedy about four friends who to Las Vegas for a bachelor party. The groom-to-be ends up missing the following morning, and the three remaining friends search all over town to find him, despite having no memories of the previous night. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha and Heather Graham starred.

4 - Bugsy

4. “Bugsy” (1991) – Warren Beatty and Annette Bening starred in this biography of mobster Ben Siegal during his time in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Directed by Barry Levinson, the movie co-starred Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley.

5 - Ocean Eleven

5. “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001) – This remake of the 1960 movie also served as the first entry of Steven Soderbergh’sOCEAN TRILOGY. In it, Danny Ocean and a group of thieves plot the heist of three Las Vegas casinos owned the current boyfriend of Ocean’s ex-wife. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and Andy Garcia starred.

6 - Rush Hour 2

6. “Rush Hour 2” (2001) – Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker re-teamed in this sequel to their 1998 hit, in which they go up against a counterfeit ring that takes them from Hong Kong to Los Angeles and finally Las Vegas. Brett Ratner directed.

7 - Diamonds Are Forever

7. “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) – Sean Connery starred as James Bond in this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1956 novel. The British agent investigates a diamond smuggling operation that leads him to the crime organization SPECTRE and arch nemesis Ernst Stravos Blofeld. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie co-starred Jill St. John and Charles Gray.

8 - Viva Las Vegas

8. “Viva Las Vegas” (1964) – Elvis Presley and Ann-Margaret lit up the screen in this musical about a race car driver forced to find a way to raise money to enter a race in Las Vegas, while romancing a hotel swim instructor. George Sidney directed.

9 - Miss Congeniality Armed and Fabulous

9. “Miss Congeniality: Armed and Fabulous” (2005) – Sandra Bullock stars in this sequel to 2001’s “MISS CONGENIALITY”, as the now famous F.B.I. agent Gracie Hart. When two of her friends – Miss United States and pageant commentator Stan Fields – are kidnapped, she recruits the help of fellow agent Sam Fuller to help her. Directed by John Pasquin, Regina King and William Shatner co-starred.

10 - Honeymoon in Vegas

10. “Honeymoon in Vegas” (1992) – Nicholas Cage starred in this comedy about a man who loses a great deal of money to a professional gambler, while in Vegas to marry his girlfriend. The gambler agrees to clear the debt in exchange for a weekend with the girlfriend, who reminds him of his late wife. Directed by Andrew Bergman, the movie co-starred Sarah Jessica Parker and James Caan.

“THE GOOD SHEPHERD” (2006) Review

 

“THE GOOD SHEPHERD” (2006) Review

As far as I know, Academy Award winning actor Robert De Niro has directed at least two movies during his long career. One of them was the 1992 movie, “A BRONX’S TALE”, which I have yet to see. The other was the 2006 espionage epic called “THE GOOD SHEPHERD”

Starring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” told the fictionalized story about the birth of the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) and counter-intelligence through the eyes of one man named Edward Wilson. Edward, the product of an East Coast aristocratic family and a C.I.A. official, has received an anonymous package during the spring of 1961. The famous C.I.A operation, the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba had just failed. Inside the package is a reel-to-reel tape that reveals two unidentifiable people engaged in sex. Suspecting that the tape might reveal leads to the failure behind the Cuban operation, Edward has the tape investigated. The results lead to a possibility that the operation’s failure may have originated very close to home. During Edward’s investigation of the reel tape and the failure behind the Bay of Pigs, the movie reveals the history of his personal life and his career in both the C.I.A. and the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) during World War II.

Many film critics and historians believe that the Edward Wilson character in “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” is loosely based upon the lives and careers of American intelligence officers, James Jesus Angelton and Richard M. Bissell, Jr.. And there might be some truth in this observation. But if I must be frank, I was never really concerned if the movie was a loose biography of anyone associated with the C.I.A. My concerns mainly focused on whether “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” is a good movie. Mind you, I had a few quibbles with it, but in the end I thought it was an above-average movie that gave moviegoers a peek into the operations of the C.I.A. and this country’s history between 1939 and 1961.

It is a pity that “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” was marred by a handful of prominent flaws. It really had the potential to be a well-made and memorable film. One of the problems I had were most of the characters’ emotional repression. Are we really supposed to believe that nearly every member of the upper-class in the country’s Northeast region are incapable of expressing overt emotion? I am not claiming that the performances were bad. Frankly, I was very impress by the performances featured in the movie. But the idea of nearly every major character – especially those born with a silver spoon – barely speaking above an audible whisper, due to his or her priviledged background, strikes me as more of a cliché than interesting and/or original characterization. I never understood what led Edward to finally realize that the man he believed was the genuine KGB defector Valentin Mironov, was actually a double agent. He should have realized this when the real Mironov had arrived several years earlier. The circumstances that led Edward to seek evidence inside one of the fake defector’s struck me as rather vague and far-reaching on screenwriter Eric Roth’s part. My main problem with “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” was its pacing. It was simply TOO DAMN SLOW. The movie has an interesting story, but De Niro’s snail-like pacing made it difficult for me to maintain my interest in one sitting. Thank goodness for DVDs. I feel that the only way to truly appreciate “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” without falling asleep is to watch a DVD copy in installments.

However, thanks to Eric Roth’s screenplay and Robert De Niro’s direction, “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” offered plenty of scenes and moments to enjoy. The moment of seduction at a Skull and Bones gathering that led Edward into a loveless marriage with Margaret ‘Clover’ Russell struck me as fascinating. It was a moment filled with passion and sex. Yet, the circumstances – namely Margaret’s pregnancy – forced Edward to give up a college love and marry a woman he did not truly love. I also enjoyed how De Niro and Roth used flashbacks to reveal the incidents in Edward’s post-college life and C.I.A. career, while he persisted into his investigation of the mysterious tape in the movie’s present day (1961). I was especially impressed by De Niro’s smooth ability to handle the transition from the present, to the past and back without missing a beat.

There were two scenes really stood out for me. One involved the Agency’s interrogation of the real Soviet defector, Valentin Mironov. I found it brutal, somewhat bloody and rather tragic in a perverse way. The other scene featured a loud and emotional quarrel between Edward and Margaret over the latter’s demand that Edward should convince his son not to join the C.I.A. What made this quarrel interesting is that after twenty years of a quiet and repressive marriage, the two finally revealed their true feelings for each other. But the best aspect of “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” was its depiction of how a decent, yet flawed allowed his work in intelligence and his position of power within the intelligence community warp his character. The higher Edward rose within the ranks of the C.I.A., the more he distanced himself from his family with his lies and secrets, and the more he was willing to corrupt himself in the name of national security . . . even to the extent of disrupting his son’s chance for happiness.

“THE GOOD SHEPHERD” must be one of the few large-scale movie productions, whose photography and production designs failed to give the impression of an epic. I found Robert Richardson’s photography rather limited, despite the numerous settings featured in the plot. So much of the movie’s scenes featured an interior setting. Yet, even most of the exterior scenes seemed to reflect a limited view. In the end, it was up to the movie’s 167 minute running time and 22 years time span that gave “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” an epic feel to it.

Robert De Niro and the casting team did a pretty good job in their selection of the cast. The only one I had a problem with was actor Lee Pace, who portrayed a fictionalized version of C.I.A. director Richard Helms named . . . Richard Hayes. I have always viewed Pace as an outstanding actor, but he spent most of his scenes smirking on the sidelines or making slightly insidious comments to the Edward Wilson character. I believe Roth’s screenplay had failed to give substance to his role. But there were plenty of other good supporting performances. I was especially impressed by Oleg Shtefanko’s subtle, yet insidious portryal of Edward’s KGB counterpart, Stas Siyanko aka Ulysses. Director Robert De Niro, John Sessions, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Billy Crudup, Joe Pesci and Tammy Blanchard all gave solid performances. Eddie Redmayne held his own with both Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie as the Wilsons’ intimidated and resentful son, Edward Wilson, Jr. Michael Gambon was his usual competent self as an MI-6 spymaster named Dr. Fredricks. Gambon was also lucky to give one of the best lines in the movie.

At least three performances impressed me. John Tuturro was very memorable as Edward’s tough and ruthless deputy, Ray Brocco. For once, De Niro’s insistence upon minimilist acting worked very well in Tuturro’s favor. The actor did an excellent job in portraying Brocco’s aggression with a very subtle performance, producing an interesting contrast in the character’s personality. I realize that Angelina Jolie had won her Oscar for “GIRL, INTERRUPTED”, a movie that had been released at least seven years before “THE GOOD SHEPHERD”. But I sincerely believe that her portryal of Edward’s long suffering wife, Margaret, was the first role in which she truly impressed me. She tossed away her usual habits and little tricks in order to give a very mature and subtle performance as a woman slowly sinking under the weight of a loveless and repressive marriage. And I believe that Jolie has not looked back, since. The task of carrying the 167-minute film fell upon the shoulders of Matt Damon and as usual, he was more than up to the job. And while there were times when his performance seemed a bit too subtle, I cannot deny that he did a superb job of developing the Edward Wilson character from a priviledge, yet inexperienced college student to a mature and emotionally repressed man who was willing to live with the negative aspects of his profession.

I do not believe that “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” will ever be considered as a great film. It has a small number of flaws, but those flaws were not as minor as they should have been – especially the slow pacing that threatened to put me to sleep. But I cannot deny it is damn good movie, thanks to Robert De Niro’s direction, Eric Roth’s screenplay and a talented cast led by Matt Damon. Five years have passed since its release. It seems a pity that De Niro has not directed a movie since.

Top Ten Favorite ROAD TRIP Movies

Below is a list of my ten favorite ROAD TRIP movies: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE ROAD TRIP MOVIES

1. “Midnight Run” (1988) – Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin starred in this hilarious movie about a bounty hunter who escorts his prisoner from New York City to Los Angeles. Martin Brest directed.

2. “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977) – Burt Reynolds, Sally Fields, Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason starred in this fun and witty tale about two Georgia truckers hired to illegally transport beer from Texarkana to Atlanta within 28 hours. Hal Needham directed.

3. “King Solomon’s Mines” (1950) – This Oscar nominated film was the second adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel about an expedition into uncharted African territory to locate a missing explorer looking for the fabled King Solomon’s Mines. Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr and Richard Carlson starred.

4. “LORD OF THE RINGS: Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – This first of three installments from Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy saga about an epic quest to destroy an ancient and powerful ring is my favorite.Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellan starred.

5. “It Happened One Night” (1934) – Frank Capra directed Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in this Oscar winning classic comedy about a runaway heiress and a roguish reporter on a cross country trip.

6. “Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad” – A small group of North Carolina slaves risk their lives for a cross country bid for freedom in Canada. Produced by actor Tim Reid, this excellent television movie starred Courtney B. Vance, Janet Bailey and Glynn Thurman.

7. HARRY POTTER and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” – David Yates directed the first half of the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s 2007 novel about Harry Potter’s attempts to find the means to destroy Lord Voldemort, while evading the evil wizard throughout Britain. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson starred.

8. “Cold Mountain” (2003) – Anthony Minghella directed this emotional and satisfying adaptation of Charles Frazer’s novel about a Confederate Army deserter’s journey back to his North Carolina home during the Civil War. Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Oscar winner Rene Zellweger starred.

9. “The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004) – Walter Salles directed this excellent adaptation of Che Guevara’s memoirs about his 1952 motocycle journey across South America. Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna starred.

10. “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris directed this entertaining comedy-drama about a family’s cross country trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to a children’s beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, California. Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin and Oscar winner Alan Arkin starred.

“LIMITLESS” (2011) Review

“LIMITLESS” (2011) Review

When I first saw the movie trailer for the new “techno-thriller” called “LIMITLESS”, I must admit that I found myself intrigued by the plot’s premise. But I never felt any real anticipation to see the movie. Its premise struck me as the type that could easily make or break a film. 

Based upon Alan Glynn’s 2001 novel, “The Dark Fields”“LIMITLESS” told the story of a New York City writer named Eddie Morra, who is approached by his former brother-in-law (also drug dealer) to try out a new experimental drug. According to brother-in-law Vernon Grant, this NZT-48 has the ability for humans to access 100% of the brain’s power, as opposed to the normal 20% (which is in reality, a myth). Eddie accepts, and, much to his surprise, the drug works, allowing him to finish his book. Determined to continue using NZT-48, Eddie returns to Vernon for more of the drug. He runs a few errands for Vernon, returns to the latter’s apartment and finds him dead. Eddie also finds a large supply of NZT-48 hidden in Vernon’s oven. Thrilled by the impact of NZT-48, Eddie turns to the world of finance and attracts the attention of a high powered businessman named Carl Van Loon. He also attracts the attention of a Russian gangster named Gennady, from whom he borrowed money in order to enter the stock market on a large scale. And Eddie eventually discovers that the mysterious person who had killed Vernon, has been stalking him. Even worse, he learns from his ex-wife Melissa that anyone who ceases to use NZT-48 for a period of time, risks his or her health

I must admit that I was very impressed by “LIMITLESS”. First of all, I feel that Leslie Dixon wrote an excellent screenplay that had at least one or two minor flaws. I could not compare his screenplay to Glynn’s novel, because I have never read the latter. A family member who had read the novel informed me that Dixon did maintain the first person narrative, allowing leading actor Bradley Cooper to provide a first-rate narrative. Dixon also maintained the novel’s peek into the human psyche and our desire for power, prestige and money through any means possible. A good example of this desire came from the main character’s willingness to use the NZT-48 to make more money and at the same, not bother to hide his accomplishments. This unwillingness on Eddie’s part to bypass open acknowledgement led to a great deal of unwanted attention from people like Carl Van Loon, Gennady and his murderous stalker. One would think that“LIMITLESS” could easily be an ode to human brain power. And yet . . . I found it ironic that despite using 100 percent of their brains after using NZT-48, characters like Eddie and a few others failed to consider all aspects of their situations. And this failure either endangered their lives . . . or ended it. So, exactly how limitless was this drug?

As I had stated in the above paragraph, there were a few aspects of the movie’s plot that I would consider as flaws. After an encounter with the Russian thug Gennady, Eddie found himself without a NZT-48 pill and his life endangered. He had to go to his girlfriend Lindy’s office and recruit her to fetch his supply, which he had hidden inside her apartment. On her way back to her office and Eddie, Lindy found herself being followed by Eddie’s mysterious stalker. Why was he following her? How did he know that she had Eddie’s supply of NZT-48 on her in the first place? How did he know that she had gone to her own apartment for Eddie’s pills? I am certain that someone can explain this . . . mysteryto me. Because I still cannot explain it. In the movie’s final sequence, which featured a last meeting between political candidate Eddie and Van Loon, the latter revealed his knowledge of the NZT-48 pills that Eddie had been taking, his purchase of the company that had been manufacturing the drug and his shutdown of Eddie’s private supply lab. Exactly how did Van Loon find out about the NZT-48 drug? Who told him? Because the businessman never did reveal how he had found out. The only thing he was ascertained of was Eddie’s occasional bizarre behavior.

I was very impressed by Neil Burger’s direction of the film. One important factor to the success of the film was that Burger managed to maintain a brisk pace throughout the entire film. And this is an important factor for me, because if there is anything that will divert my attention from any movie, it is slow pacing. Two, with cinematographer Jo Willems, and editors Tracy Adams and Naomi Geraghty; Burger presented this tale with original photography and editing that at times I found rather mind blowing. One of my favorite sequences featured Eddie’s discovery that the NZT-48 drug allowed him transport from one location to another without his knowledge. I felt as if I was on a PCP trip, while watching the sequence, without feeling any confusion whatsoever. Another favorite sequence of mine featured the last meeting between Eddie and Van Loon, at the former’s campaign headquarters. It was a sequence filled with snappy dialogue, great pacing and superb performances by both Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro. Overall, I think that Burger’s original direction did justice to Dixon’s script and especially to Glynn’s novel.

The cast for “LIMITLESS” was outstanding. Tomas Arana gave a quiet and intense performance as the mysterious man in the tan coat, who was stalking Eddie. And Abbie Cornish was intelligent as Eddie’s book editor girlfriend, Lindy. Aside from one sequence, I thought her role could have had a stronger presence. On the other hand, Anna Friel made the most of her one scene in the movie, as Eddie’s former wife Melissa Gant, who had also taken the NZT-48. I was also impressed by Johnny Whitworth’s performance as Vernon Gant, the drug dealer who had hooked Eddie on to NZT-48. Sleaze had never looked classy. Welsh actor Andrew Howard injected style, if not class into his role as the Russian thug Grennady. And he did so without developing his character into a cliché. It has been a while since I have seen Robert DeNiro in a worthwhile role. And I must say that I found his portrayal of the subtle and intelligent Carl Van Loon as one of his best in several years. He was right on target in portraying a no-nonsense and powerful businessman that had risen to the top by his own intelligence and hard work. But the man of the hour . . . or movie was Bradley Cooper. And he gave a complex and superb performance as the novelist, whose life is changed by one little pill. Cooper proved that he had what it takes to become a Hollywood powerhouse, as he guided the role of Eddie Morra from a sad sack loser to a self-assured think tank through various little triumphs and setbacks. He certainly deserves to become a full-fledged star, thanks to his performance in this movie.

“LIMITLESS” has its minor flaws. After all, no movie is perfect. But I must admit that I found it a very entertaining and intelligent film. Director Neil Burger did justice to both Alan Glynn’s novel and Leslie Dixon’s first-rate script. And he had a superb cast, lead by a very talented Bradley Cooper to help him. This is one movie I can never get tired of watching.