Dog Day Afternoon – Al Pacino week

This is Al Pacino week. Dog Day Afternoon is currently available on instant Netflix.

Dog Day Afternoon

WATCH: Dog Day Afternoon (1975) – Rated R

“To get money for his gay lover’s sex-change operation, Sonny (Al Pacino) — who’s married with kids — teams up with Sal (John Cazale) to rob a New York bank on a scorching-hot summer day. The stickup goes awry when the press gets wind of the circus sideshow-esque story. Chris Sarandon, Charles Durning and James Broderick co-star in this classic Sidney Lumet-directed film based on an actual event from the 1970s.”

As with all Sidney Lumet films, this is more of a character study than an action or crime film. As mentioned at the opening of the film, this is based on an actual event that occurred on August 22, 1972. The plot follows the incident fairly closely with the major exception that the real bank haul was $213,000.

Lumet does a fantastic job of staging the movie in a naturalistic fashion. He eschews the use of a musical score. There is almost no makeup apart from omnipresent sweat. You can see lots of people eating in the background as the siege drags on. There are no flashy camera tricks, stunts or special effects and extremely little gunfire.

The acting is wonderful – Lumet really knows how to get performances from his actors. Al Pacino is incredible and was nominated for Best Actor. While the vast majority of screen time belongs to Pacino, three of the supporting actors give riveting performances. Chris Sarandon does not smirk at all during the film (a later trademark of his) and gives his best ever performance. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. John Cazale is just as good and deserved a nomination as well. Charles Durning is great but his character arc doesn’t have enough meat to be as good as Sarandon and Cazale.

In a terrible moment of irony, Sal (John Cazale) mentions that the one thing he is afraid of is cancer. John Cazale died three years later of bone cancer at the age of 42. He only made 5 films in his career – most notably assaying the role of Fredo in The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. All 5 films that he starred in were nominated for Best Picture Oscars. At the time of his death, he was engaged to be married to the divine Meryl Streep.

I very highly recommend this film. The first few minutes, you’ll be thinking “what a bunch of idiots” and not think much of the film. As the situation degenerates, the film quickly ratchets up in intensity. This is definitely one of Al Pacino’s best performances even if Michael Corleone and Tony Montana are more iconic.

People Watch: Look for a young Lance Henriksen briefly as Murphy.

The Princess Bride

For the final day of swashbuckler week, I’ve chosen one of my all-time favorite movies (and my wife’s #1 favorite) – The Princess Bride. The Princess Bride is currently available on Netflix instant play.

The Princess Bride

WATCH: The Princess Bride (1987) – Rated PG for adult language and violence

“In this enchantingly cracked fairy tale, the beautiful Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright Penn) and the dashing Westley (Cary Elwes) must overcome staggering odds to find happiness amid six-fingered swordsmen (Christopher Guest), murderous princes (Chris Sarandon), Sicilians (Wallace Shawn) and rodents of unusual size. But even death can’t stop these true lovebirds from triumphing. Fred Savage and Peter Falk co-star.”

Like Robin and Marian earlier this week, this film is all about love. William Goldman’s script is magical and Rob Reiner’s direction perfect. While I suppose this film would have to be categorized as a comedy, it works as an adventure story, a revenge fantasy and a romance as well. The dialogue is quoted more often at our house than that of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Rob Reiner underplays any effects – the rodents are cheerfully B-esque, the tree with a door is clearly a prop, and there is clearly a landing mat under the gymnastics bar used in one of the sword fights.

The performances – all from B-listers and character actors are uniformly wonderful – in fact for each of the actors involved I’d say that it is their best performance. Peter Falk is warm and loving as the uncle telling the story to his sick nephew (a cute Fred Savage). Cary Elwes plays the dashing hero with elan (sort of a snarky Errol Flynn) and Robin Wright infuses Princess Buttercup with a charming cluelessness. As played by Chris Sarandon, Prince Humperdinck is deliciously slimy and he is aided by a matter-of-fact Christopher Guest as his second. Wallace Shawn is all over the top ego as Vizzini. Everyone attempts to steal every scene that they are in and mostly succeed especially Mandy Patinkin and Andre the Giant.

People Watch: Several cameos in this film – an over the top Peter Cook as a clergyman, Mel Smith as a hilarious albino, and Carol Kane and Billy Crystal under almost unrecognizable makeup as an old bickering couple.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Tim Burton is one of the most unique directors working these days. His visual style and sense of whimsy are so wonderful that many people who don’t follow movies and know no other directors can spot a Tim Burton film. Of course it helps to have top-billing above the title and the uber-talented Danny Elfman and Johnny Depp to work consistently with. Tim Burton wrote the poem, The Nightmare Before Christmas while working as an animator for Disney. While he invented the story and characters and helped produce The Nightmare Before Christmas, he did not however direct as he was busy on Batman Returns.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

WATCH: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – “Tired of scaring humans every October 31 with the same old bag of tricks, Jack Skellington, the spindly king of Halloween Town, kidnaps Santa Claus and plans to deliver shrunken heads and other ghoulish gifts to children on Christmas morning. But as Christmas approaches, Jack’s rag-doll girlfriend, Sally, tries to foil his misguided plans. This music-filled, stop motion-animated delight springs from the gleefully twisted mind of Tim Burton.”

Henry Selick does a wonderful job of directing this stop-motion animation film. He later went on to direct James and the Giant Peach amd Coraline. Frequent Tim Burton collaborator, Danny (Oingo Boingo) Elfman not only co-produces and provides the music and 10 songs, he also voices Barrel and Clown and sings Jack’s parts – he is splendid at each task and deserves much of the credit for the final product. Chris Sarandon does a nice job with Jack’s non-singing dialogue as does Catherine O’Hara with Sally and William Hickey is simply marvelous as Dr. Finkelstein. Edward Ivory does a fine job voicing Santa Claus but it does seem a shame that none of Vincent Price’s tracks could be used owing to his failing health. This is one of those rare films that almost require repeat viewings – there is so much going on in nearly every scene and background that it’s impossible to take it all in. While Disney initially felt that this was too dark to release under its own label, my two young daughters not only loved the film but practically wore out our copy of the VHS tape.

People watchers: look for a character based on Tor (Plan 9 from Outer Space) Johnson.