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From the DVD Shelf: The Deer Hunter (1978)

A few years ago when I was watching the documentary I Knew it was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (a really incredible short documentary that is well worth checking out — click here for my review), I commented that of Mr. Cazale’s five films, the only one that I hadn’t seen was The Deer Hunter. When Universal decided to release a nice new blu-ray of the film as part of their 100 year anniversary celebration, it seemed like it was finally time for me to remedy that.

The Deer Hunter is a powerful anti-war film, co-written and directed by Michael Cimino. It concerns the effects of the Vietnam war on a small group of friends from a Pittsburgh steel town. The very long (over three hours) film basically has three distinct sections.

The first act, well over an hour long, depicts a tumultuous day and a half in the life of Mike (Robert de Niro) and his steel-worker buddies. When we meet them, they are finishing a day’s work in the steel mill. They head to a bar to relax, and we learn that that night is Steven (John Savage)’s wedding, an event which the film depicts in geat detail. I don’t recall this lengthy an on-screen wedding celebration since The Godfather. The weddings in both films serve a similar function: slowly introducing us to all of the characters and their relationships.

I love how Mr. Cimino (working from a script he co-wrote with Deric Washburn, which was adapted in part from a script by Louis Garfinkle and Quinn Redeker) takes his sweet time with the opening act.  We really live with these characters for a while, and I think that gives the film’s second and third segments that much more power.  We spent time in this opening act learning some character details that don’t really go anywhere in terms of the film’s plot — I’m thinking specifically of the scene with Meryl Streep’s character Linda and her abusive father — but which enrich our understanding of these people and their lives.  The wedding itself takes up a huge chunk of screen-time, but none of it feels extraneous or wasted.  Indeed, the 30-40 minutes we spend at the wedding might be my favorite part of the film!

The film’s second act takes place in Vietnam.  We skip right over all the usual basic training sequences, and also over seeing our characters’ reactions to arriving in Vietnam.  Instead, we jump right into the middle of a harrowing sequence in which Mike (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage) are being held captive by a group of Viet Cong soldiers.  The captured American soldiers are forced to play Russian … [continued]

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Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show!

August 14th, 2011

Do you only know Titus Welliver from his role as the Man in Black on Lost? The man is a terrific actor and comedian.  Check out his Christopher Walken impression:


That was pretty good, right?  But it’s nothing compared to his staggeringly spot-on impersonation of Al Pacino, at three different phases of his career.  Check this out, you won’t be disappointed:


Those two clips are both from Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show.  I had no idea this existed until a few weeks ago, and now it’s just about my favorite thing ever.

The great Kevin Pollak (who is a terrific actor, comedian, and impressionist of his own) has been doing (for quite some time now!) a weekly on-line chat show, in which each week he interviews a different guest.  Many of his guests are famous actors and comedians, though Mr. Pollak has interviewed fascinating folks from other fields as well.

I’ve fallen in love with Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show not only because of the guests (take a look at the show’s archive page to see that Mr. Pollak has interviewed a staggeringly phenomenal list of amazing people), but because each interview is nearly two hours long!  The conversations are extraordinarily in-depth — this is a far cry from the five-or-so-minutes that you see guests interviewed on the late night talk shows these days.  Mr. Pollak is a great interviewer — his relaxed style gets the guests to open up, and he’s able to keep his conversations interesting and very, very funny.  (Again, it helps that many of his guests are hysterical people in their own right.)

I discovered Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show when I saw a link on TrekMovie.com to Mr. Pollak’s interview with Damon Lindeloff.  I was engrossed by the conversation, and reminded just how likable and intelligent Mr. Lindeloff seems to be, despite his staggering cluelessness as to the total and epic failure of the final season of Lost.

Then I made my way to this interview with Eddie Izzard, one of my very favorite stand-up comedians, and I was hooked.

In the past few weeks I’ve watched Mr. Pollak’s interviews with Rob Reiner, Nathan Fillion, and Andy Richter, and each one was better than the next.  I am working my way through the archives of the show — there are SO MANY amazing interviews that I can’t wait to watch!  (I need more hours in the day!)

Readers of this blog will LOVE this on-line chat show, I promise you.  Check it out without delay.… [continued]

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Spielberg in the Aughts: Catch Me If You Can (2002)

When I began this project of rewatching the last decade-and-a-half’s worth of films directed by Steven Spielberg, I was hoping that I’d discover (or rediscover) some great films that I had perhaps dismissed too easily when I originally saw them in theatres.  I wondered if watching the films now, years later and separated from the hype and expectations that came with their original theatrical releases, would allow me to appreciate them more and perhaps cause me to re-evaluate my original opinions.

So far, though, that hasn’t happened.  I’ve enjoyed (for the most part), re-watching The Lost World, Amistad, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, and Minority Report, but for all four films my opinions have remained almost exactly what they were when I first saw them.  (In a nutshell: mediocre, good, horrible, mediocre.)  But then, this week, I arrived at Catch Me If You Can.  I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this flick!

Based on the autobiography of Frank Abergnale, Jr. (and co-written by Stan Redding), Catch Me If You Can tells the story of Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young man who, for years, successfully conned people into thinking he was an airline pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, and who forged millions of dollars worth of checks.

Mr. Spielberg skillfully strikes a deft balance with the tone of the film.  There are some great moments of humor to be found in the tale (I particularly loved Hanratty’s knock-knock joke), and over-all the film has a fun, light tone.  And yet, at its core, Catch Me If You Can is really a profoundly sad story.  To me, the relationship between Frank and his father, Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken) is the back-bone of the film, and it is heartbreaking.  In Frank Jr. we see a young man who, for all of his experiences, is still basically a child, looking for his father’s approval and desperately hoping to find a way to return his life to his idealized vision of how things used to be — with him, his father, and his mother all living happily together in a nice suburban house.  Frank Sr., meanwhile, has seen his business slowly fail (in the film we see him continually dogged by the IRS, and one assumes, despite Frank Sr.’s repeated claims, that this is not without good reason) and his wife leave him, but he is too proud to admit when he needs help and too angry at the government (and the society that allowed him to fail) to push his son to stop the increasingly elaborate con that he’s spinning.

Mr. Walken’s unique line-delivery can make him a ripe subject for parody.  For me, his one scene in Pulp [continued]