The Departed


You talkin' to me?

You talkin’ to me?

(2006) Drama (Warner Brothers) Leonardo di Caprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Corrigan, James Badge Dale, David Patrick O’Hara, Mark Rolston, Robert Wahlberg, Kristen Dalton, Thomas B. Duffy, J.C. MacKenzie, Mary Klug, Peg Saurman Holzemer. Directed by Martin Scorsese

Our identity is often complicated. There’s the person we allow ourselves to be perceived to be, then there’s the person we really are. Often the two are entirely different people.

In Boston, Frank Costello (Nicholson) is king – the king of hoods. He is the most powerful mob boss in the city and he has his corrupting fingers in just about every civic institution. One of his most important pieces is the mole he has in the police department, Colin Sullivan (Damon). Recruited as a youngster, the squeaky-clean choirboy type Sullivan went through the police academy with flying colors and serves under Captain Ellerby (Baldwin) and using his intimate knowledge of ongoing investigations of Costello is able to move Costello’s assets around the city so that the crusty old mob boss doesn’t get caught with his pants down.

Captain Queenan (Sheen) of the BPD wants to catch Costello in the worst way and he knows he needs to send someone deep inside to do it. Billy Costigan (di Caprio) is the perfect undercover; a Southie with a history, and family ties to the Mob, Corrigan turns out to be a perfect fit. However, before long both Queenan and Costello begin to realize that their organizations have been infiltrated. Now begins a cat and mouse game to find the moles; the stakes are life and death for Costigan and Sulliva, as well as for those around them.

The Departed is a fairly faithful remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs and will be remembered if for nothing else but as the movie that won Martin Scorsese his first Oscar for Best Director. There are those that grouse that it is not his best movie (it isn’t) but it was deserving nonetheless; the movie is certainly one of Scorsese’s best works.

Part of what makes it work is that this movie is as tense as any I have ever seen. From the moment that the two opposing forces discover that they have a rat in their midst the race is on to discover who it is and the fact that we end up rooting for both Sullivan and Costigan makes the tension all the more intense.

Another factor in the movie’s success is that the film is chock full of memorable characters, cast with stellar actors who deliver incredible performances. Both Damon and di Caprio are at the top of their game, and Nicholson delivers his best performance since he snarled at Tom Cruise that he couldn’t handle the truth in A Few Good Men.

The supporting cast is just as amazing. I think Mark Wahlberg came into his own with his portrayal of the foul-mouthed Lt. Dignam, Queenan’s right hand man. Ray Winstone is menacing and unforgettable as Costello’s enforcer, Mr. French. Vera Farmiga showed her star power in her role as Madolyn, the police psychologist who enters into relationships with both Costello and Corrigan as well.

There is a ton of violence here (which is a Scorsese trademark), perhaps too much for some. There is also a whole lot of profanity – there are more F bombs (or variations thereof) for any Best Picture winner in Oscar history. Those who are sensitive to such matters, take heed.

Good as this is, the source movie from Hong Kong is just as good. While it can be seen with subtitles, an effective translation program can be helpful as well – if you choose to go that route, I’d recommend Smartling, which is primarily a business translation software. You can find out more about it at the link above.

What makes The Departed so compelling is that Costigan and .Sullivan are so obviously two sides of the same coin, and the cops and the mobs more alike than unalike which is an unsettling thought in and of itself. While the profanity and violence may put some off, they are utilized so beautifully that they become a kind of poetry within the confines of the movie. Given the top-notch performances throughout the movie, this is, like so many of Scorsese’s other films, a must-see for any film buff and it remains to this point my favorite American remake of a foreign film.

WHY RENT THIS: Amazing cast. The tension in this movie is delightfully unbearable. One of Scorsese’s best.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be too violent for some.
FAMILY VALUES: As is par for the course with Scorsese films, the violence is strong and often brutal and the foul language pervasive. There’s also some sexual content and drug material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Scorsese wanted to shoot the film in Boston where it is set, but due to political concerns and cost concerns he was only able to shoot a few weeks in the city. For most of the film, New York City – where Scorsese was able to get tax benefits for filming – doubled for Beantown. After the success of the film, Massachusetts enacted a 25% tax break for movies filming in the state.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition and  2-Disc Special DVD edition have a featurette on real-life gangster Whitey Bulger (who Frank Costello was based on and who is getting a movie of his own this fall) as well as the TCM documentary Scorsese on Scorsese.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $289.9M on a $90M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray Rental only), Amazon, Flixster, iTunes, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Boondock Saints
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT: Catch .44

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In the Loop


In the Loop

Peter Capaldi uses some language that would surprise even Tony Soprano.

(IFC) Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, Steve Coogan, Anna Chlumsky, Chris Addison, Paul Higgins, Gina McKee, Mimi Kennedy. Directed by Armando Iannucci

Words can be crucial things. We assign meaning to them, sometimes a meaning unintended by the person who uttered the words. Those meanings can often take on a life of their own.

Simon Foster (Hollander) is a mid-level British government flunky who has a talent for being absolutely thick in the head. During a radio interview, he casually mentions that an invasion by the U.S. (although it’s never explicitly mentioned in the film, we assume it to be Iraq) is “unforeseeable.” Sounds harmless, but it ignites a firestorm of political maneuvering on both sides of the Atlantic, both from those opposed to war, like State Department Assistant Secretary Karen Clark (Kennedy) and those supporting it like career politician Linton Barwick (the always terrific David Rasche).

In the meantime, foul-mouthed British spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi) has had to step in and take charge of the situation which is rapidly spiraling out of control. As Foster backpedals, giving ammunition to the hawks, generally dove-ish General George Miller (Gandolfini) who once had an affair with Clark, is caught in the middle and astutely refuses to take sides. And a report written by one of Clark’s aides (Chlumsky), dubbed “career Kryptonite” by a snarky fellow aide – further exacerbates the mess.

If it all sounds confusing, well, it kind of is, but that’s politics for you. This is actually an extension of a British television series called “The Thick of It” which hasn’t been seen much on this side of the pond, but I’m assured that over in the UK it’s gotten rave reviews. In fact, the filmmakers got unprecedented access to 10 Downing Street because the staffers there were so enamored of the show, which is a little like a “West Wing” movie filming in the actual West Wing.

The movie is extraordinarily well-written (and in fact got an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay), with the kind of humor that comes at you from all sides without pause. One zinger after another follows, which probably doesn’t work as well with American audiences who generally need to be told when to laugh and prefer their humor…paced. The humor here is bone-dry, which again is not what most Americans are used to.

Some of the best British comic actors are working on this, including Capaldi, who reprises the same role he played on the TV show. I’m not sure what the censorship laws are in the UK, but if his verbiage is anything like it is here, it must have melted its share of television speakers. There is a good deal of profanity here, folks, and those sensitive to that kind of language would be well-advised to steer clear of this movie. To its credit, it has some of the most imaginative swearing I’ve ever heard in a movie.

Gandolfini, after his long run as Tony Soprano, is well on his way to being one of the better character actors in the business. He plays a career military man who has risen through the ranks, developing an acute political sense in the process. While he doesn’t believe a war is a good idea, he’s savvy enough to go with the flow, even if he thinks the flow is headed the wrong way. General Miller is very different than the mobster Gandolfini is associated with, which might blow a few minds expecting the character to whack a few feckless Brits himself.

Towards the end, the movie loses its steam and the final resolution is a bit weak. Still, this is an entertaining – if vulgar – movie that is as clever or smart a comedy as you’re likely to see. The beauty of watching it at home is that you can rewind it again and again until you figure out what’s going on. It kind of worked for me, I’m not ashamed to admit.

WHY RENT THIS: Extraordinarily well written with a mind-blowing ensemble cast of some of the best comic actors in both Britain and the United States.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie loses steam in the final reel, leaving the viewer with a curiously unsatisfied feeling.

FAMILY VALUES: This has some of the foulest language you will ever see in a movie. It’s fine for your kids to watch – only if you stuff duct tape into their ears.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: After 30 days of filming, the shooting script was 237 pages. The first cut was over four and a half hours long. It took four months to complete the final edit of the version that made it to the screen.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Yonkers Joe

Zack and Miri Make a Porno


Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Didn't I see this in a letter to Penthouse?

(Weinstein) Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Traci Lords, Katie Morgan, Ricky Mabe, Jason Mewes, Justin Long, Jeff Anderson, Brandon Routh, Tom Savini. Directed by Kevin Smith

I am quite frankly a big Kevin Smith fan. Chasing Amy is one of my favorite movies from the Nineties, and I also adore Dogma and Jersey Girl (which I guess makes me a fanboy). While I wasn’t high on Clerks II or Mallrats I still admire them as well. I guess it’s safe to say he has a whole lot of leeway with me when it comes to his movies.

Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks) have been friends since high school and while they’ve never been romantically involved, they manage to stay close; in fact, they share a dumpy apartment. The electricity has been shut off just before they go to their high school reunion, one which is important more to Miri than to Zack (she’s even managed to procure a new dress for the occasion). Zack works at a coffee bar with his good friend Delaney (Robinson) and Miri is forced to change into her new dress in the coffee bar’s kitchen, which is filmed by a couple of teenaged dickweeds. More on that later.

The reunion is a complete disaster. The guy that Miri is trying to impress, Bobby Long (Routh) turns out to be gay, much to the amusement of Zack who discovers this while talking to Bobby’s gay porn star partner (Long) who then proceeds to out Bobby to the whole class. Ouch.

With funds getting thin, water and power turned off and the prospects of not being able to pay the rent looming, they discover that Miri has become famous for her striptease video which the dickweeds uploaded to YouTube. They need cash quickly and they decide to cash in on Miri’s newfound fame by making a porno. Hey, if Bobby’s gay partner can do it, then it can’t be impossible can it?

Surprisingly, Miri agrees to the scheme. To this end they recruit Delaney as a producer, high school videographer Deacon (Smith regular Anderson) to shoot the movie, as well as several would-be porn stars to act in it; Bubbles (former porn star Lords), Stacey (current porn star Morgan) and the very well-hung (and possibly deranged) Lester (Mewes). They decide to do a Star Wars-themed porno but when circumstances force that to shut down, they decide to film in the coffee bar instead.

However, when the time comes for Zack and Miri to film their own sex scene, they discover that it becomes more than sex. Once the two of them have scenes with other actors, it complicates a friendship which when they least expected it had grown into something else.

Smith is maybe one of the best writers in the business. Yes, he’s fond of using a variety of profanity but he uses it in the same way Hemingway used machismo, as a means to an end. The characters here are all interesting; you could spend time with any one of them and find yourself entertained and you get a room full of them at any given time. There are moments that are hysterically funny, and others that are quietly endearing.

Smith’s movies have a tendency to be rather raunchy on the outside but have a surprisingly tender inside. Chasing Amy for example was one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen, and one that gets what love is more thoroughly than any ten Lifetime Movie Channel movies you could name. Certainly sex is part of the equation, but as it does for Zack and Miri, the movie goes beyond the equation by a really large margin. It’s actually refreshing to see a movie that balances both the emotional with the physical instead of dwelling on one or the other.

Rogen made a name for himself as the endearing schlub in Knocked Up and this movie comes closest to the sweetness of that character. Sure he has an immature streak but you love him anyway, the same way you love that friend of yours that can be counted on to mess up at any given time, but not so much out of malice or stupidity but more out of bad luck and low ambitions.

I can’t tell you why Elizabeth Banks isn’t an A-list star, but she surely deserves to be. She is pretty and smart and plays a character that can hold her own with anybody. Sure, she makes some poor life choices but again, who hasn’t? Roles like this are perfect for Banks, who can be sexy and smart – often the two don’t mix in Hollywood. I’m still hoping for a big breakout film for her, but there don’t appear to be any forthcoming for her for the moment.

There is a lot of graphic nudity, simulated sex and sexual humor here, so this is definitely not for the Puritanical at heart, but those who aren’t easily offended will find this a bit refreshing; a raunchy comedy that actually is more than just funny. It makes you feel good and at the end of the day, isn’t that why you see movies in the first place?

WHY RENT THIS: There is more heart than crotch in this movie despite all signs to the contrary. Rogen and Banks exhibit some real chemistry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sensitive souls will find the overuse of the f-bomb and the frank sexual humor off-putting.

FAMILY VALUES: This very nearly got an NC-17 and while it didn’t really deserve it, there is plenty of sexuality and frank discussion of sex, enough to scare any prude away.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Tom Savini, who plays Jenkins, was the make-up man for Dawn of the Dead which was set in Monroeville, Pennsylvania; the hockey team Zack and Deacon play on is called the Monroeville Zombies.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: As with most Kevin Smith films, there is a wealth of features, deleted scenes and other assorted goodies totaling well over two hours.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Knight and Day