Donnie Brasco: Forget Aboud’ It!

I’ve watched gangster films before: The Godfather, of course, the biggie, The Untouchables, Public Enemies, American Gangster, for the most part, I don’t find this film genre especially riveting, except for some shining gems. When I say gems I mean The Godfather. Donnie Brasco is by no means a bad film. But it is not The Godfather. Then again, so few films are.

Donnie Brasco came out in 1997, and stars a young Johnny Depp and an aging Al Pacino. An FBI agent, Joseph Pistone,(Depp) who uses the alias Donnie Brasco, goes undercover to crack open the New York Italian mafia. Eventually, the middle manager, Lefty (Pacino) takes him under his wing. But the closer Joseph gets into the mob, the more he begins to identify with it, and even become the very same people he is trying to expose.

I enjoyed this film more than most gangster movies I’ve watched, and others have agreed. Donnie Brasco is considered as one of the iconic gangster movies in film history. It is based on a popular novel by Richard Woodley, is based on a true story, and was nominated for best writing and best screenplay based on material previously produced or published at the 1997 Oscars. The film does have some definite strengths.

The beginning is set up in total en medias res. For a while the audience really has no idea what is going on, which I think is meant to make viewers have a similar experience to Joseph as he’s absorbed into the mafia, a world so different from anything he’s ever known. It also creates the needed feel of tension and excitement. The character of Joseph is fleshed out in a very interesting way. The audience learns just enough about Joseph to barely understand him, so when he begins to be lost in the mafia world, we really start questioning him. The ending was blunt and powerful.

 

The only critique I have of this film is that I got quite bored for a good hour in the middle. It just didn’t hold my interest enough. And perhaps that is not a bad thing. Perhaps it just says I am just not quite so interested in most gangster films.

I feel like I want to give this film a 6, but it does have some really big strengths, but I don’t think it deserves a 7, so I will settle with a 6.5. It deserves that extra .5 if only because in the film Lefty forces Joseph to shave off his god-awful mustache. Let’s all thank him for keeping up Johnny Depp’s appearances.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

I just watched the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. I am happy to report that I think I found a movie that can knock Sucker Punch off my list of The Top Ten Best Mind Fuck Films.

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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was released in 2009 and directed by Terry Gilliam. I think its two main claims to faim are the fact that it was the last movie Heath Leger was ever in, and I think it is one of the most imaginative movies ever made. Suck it James Cameron.

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In this modern version of the Faustus myth, Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) made a deal with the devil (Tom Waits) to become immortal, with the proviso that should he ever have a child, at the age of 16, he or she would become the devil’s property. Well, of course, Parnassus eventually has a daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole) and as her 16th birthday comes up, he dreads when the devil comes collecting. However, the devil offers Parnassus a wager. If Parnassus can collect five souls, he will save Valentina’s life. Parnassus fears it’s an impossible feat, but then he and his traveling sideshow save the life of a strange man named Tony (Heath Leger). When he is roused, he jumps at the chance to repay the kindness by helping Parnassus acquire the five souls.

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This is one of those movies that have so much depth that you kind of want to watch it again so you can make sure you understood it all. If a movie can do that, make you feel like there’s more to it that you have to find, it’s incredible. That is why I love movies, because they can have that power.

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I would like to mention that this movie came across a very tough challenge. During filming Heath Leger died. There have been precedent for such a situation. Plan 9 From Outer Space (yes, the movie considered by some to be the worst ever made) cast Bella Lugosi to play a vampire, and he died three days in. What they did was cast someone new and simply told the actor to hold his cape in front of his face the entire movie. Which I would like to believe started that image of a vampire.

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But anyway, the makers of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus decided to cast not just one, but three more actors to finish playing Tony: Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell. In the context of the film, Tony changes to one of these actors when he ventures into the imagination of Dr. Parnassus. The movie doesn’t explain explicitly why Tony morphs in Parnassus’s imagination, but I think it was hinted that he did because he has a fractured personality. It is incredible that the movie makers could take such a tough set back and work it into the plot.

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And of course, I have to mention the artwork in this movie. It was stunning. I literally felt as if I was wandering in someone’s imagination. I have never seen a movie before that had such fun, fanciful imagery. I kept wanting to see more, and was upset when the movie ended.

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Despite all these good things, I think over all, the movie jut isn’t completely in synch. It’s like the pieces of the story were forced together in a kind of off-kilter way. Which can be expected considering Leger’s death. I’m sure lot’s of unpredictable changes had to be made because of that, making the story kind of go out of wack. So I can understand that.

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I give The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus an 8 for it’s creativity. If you like innovative films and interesting art, this movie is right up your alley.

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Dark Shadows: Finally, a Vampire Movie That’s Not Twilight, Or Is It?

I saw Dark Shadows Yesterday. As a Tim Burton and Johnny Depp fan (I guess since they seem to always make movies together I don’t need to even say both their names) I had some expectations for this movie that I usually do not have. I’m sure my regular readers know by now I am a cynic. Interestingly, I have never had such a bipolar experience with a film. I usually either love a movie, or hate it. Yet, there were very specific things that I loved about Dark Shadows, and some very specific things that were just God awful.

Dark Shadows, released the summer of 2012, directed by Tim Burton, is a movie based on the popular 70’s television show of the same name. In this film, the witch Angelique (Eva Green) transforms Barnabas Collin (Johnny Depp) into a vampire and imprisons him because he will not return her love. 200 years go by, and Barnabas’s coffin is dug up and he is set free. He connects with the new Collins’s family and tries to restore the family business while Angelique tries to burn it to the ground.

There were some awesome things about Dark Shadows. First off, Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp is one of those actors that when you see him in a role, you don’t think, “Oh, that’s Johnny Depp.” You see his character. In my opinion, Depp is more suited toi play a vampire than he is to play a pirate. I just felt he did the role seemlessly as always. As far as I’m concerned, Robert Pattenson is out of the job.

However, the actress I was even more impressed with was Eva Green. She played a witch extremely well, mainly through her powerful eyes which expressed emotion like no one I have ever seen. Her eyes flashed so hot that I think she could make the saying “if looks copuld kills” a reality. Her performance was a joy to watch.

The part of this film that I loved the most, however, was an effects shot when the witch Angelique dies. I know that my regular readers will be shocked. Me, enjoying special effects? I’m usually always ranting about them. But let me explain. In this shot, as Angelique is dying, her skin starts cracking, literally, as if she is delicate glass or porcelain. The effect is not only beautiful, but it really solidifies the character in the audiences’ minds. Angelique is cold and hard but also vulnerable and hollow. So, yes, I do like the effects shot, but the difference here is that it adds to the story rather than trying to hide the fact that there is none (couch cough Michael Bay).

But now, let me whip out my sarcasm. Just as there were many things I loved about Dark Shadows, there was a lot that I hated. Most of these problems I believe happen in the ending. The story becomes quite contrived and forced. First, during the standoff between Angelique and the Collins’s family it is randomly revealed that Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a werewolf. This comes completely out of nowhere. Carolyn’s character is odd. She is dark and sexually charged, but I thought pretty much every 15 year old girl was like that in the 70’s. I feel as if the screenwriter was working on this scene and started thinking, “Hmmmm, maybe if I do some research on vampires I can flesh out this scene,” and picks up a copy of Twilight, thinking no one would notice. We did.

Second problem with the ending. After killing Angelique, Barnabas has to save Victoria (Bella Heathcoat), the woman he loves. Under one of Angelique’s spell, she is going to plunge herself off a cliff. Barnabas saves her just in time. He tells her he wants them to be together, but Victoria says they can’t because he is immortal and she is not (sound horrifyingly familiar to anyone yet?). She says the only way they can be together is if he turns her into a vampire. (Have you gotten it yet?) Barnabas says no, and then Victoria throws herself off the cliff (I guess feminism hadn’t really made a huge dent in the 70’s). Barnabas jumps after her and bites her neck, turning her into a vampire before they crash to the ground. So please tell me you see the similarities here. This entire plot sequence is Twilight! I can just see the screenwriter thinking, “Hmmmm well, I’m stuck, and it helped before,” so he picked up Twilight again. Also notice that terrifyingly, the first name of the actress who plays Victoria is Bella. Even more scary is the blatant similarity between “Collins” and “Cullen.” Seeing that the Dark Shadows TV show came before Twilight, that’s just a coincidence, right? Right? Just wait. In the sequel, Barnabas will be sparkly, and Victoria will be caught between him and the sensual Carolyn, because she can give her things that Barnabas can’t. But Victoria can’t deny that Barnabas is her true love, because she has no emotional depth or mind of her own.

Despite the terror of the last two paragraphs, remember the good things I told you about this movie. Since there is such a disparity between good and bad elements, I think I can only give Dark Shadows a score of 5. Despite the fact that it is basically a good version of Twilight, it is quite entertaining, so give it a try.