February 12th, 2014

LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: AL PACINO

Last time on Legends of the Silver Screen, we celebrated the work of Robert De Niro. And honestly, you can’t talk about De Niro without talking about Al Pacino. They’re kinda like the Beatles and Stones of acting. Today, we’ll be taking a look at three of Pacino’s films.

First up is…

PEOPLE I KNOW (2003) **

Al Pacino stars as a formerly famous left wing press agent who now reduced to doing publicity for really bad plays. His only big client is Ryan O’Neal, who virtually has to be blackmailed into appearing at events for him. While organizing an upcoming event for some political detainees, Pacino and a hooker friend of O’Neal’s (Tea Leoni) do a lot of drugs. (They even go to opium den!) She’s in possession of some information that could ruffle a lot of feathers, so she is killed, but Pacino is too fucked up to remember anything. He starts a relationship with his dead brother’s wife (Kim Basinger), and over time, starts to remember bits and pieces of what happened. Naturally, this puts his life in jeopardy.

Sporting scraggly hair and glasses and speaking in a southern drawl that sounds like his character from Scent of a Woman has overdosed on painkillers, Pacino’s performance in People I Know is somewhat entertaining. He only occasionally veers into fits of overacting (“This isn’t a room… it’s a vagina!”) and for the most part, he has energy to spare. It’s just a shame that the movie he inhabits is a dull, rambling, meandering affair.

People I Know is kinda like one of those “Day in the Life” sort of things (although it takes place over the course of two days). It’s more of a character study than an actual involving story. And once a story does kinda float to the surface, it’s not exactly entertaining. Ultimately, it really goes nowhere and is generally uninvolving. And the conclusion is unsatisfying to boot.

Still, if you ever wanted to see Al Pacino go to the doctor and get a dick-scope jammed up his pee hole…

Next we have…

THE SON OF NO ONE (2011) * ½

Shortly after 9/11, a rookie cop (Channing Tatum) is assigned to investigate a cold case murder from years earlier. As it turns out, he was a part of the incident as a boy. As he pursues various leads, he has flashbacks to the incidents leading up to the crime. Of course, this not only threatens to expose his involvement in the crime, but also his mentally challenged childhood friend's (Tracey Morgan) as well.

The Son of No One is an extremely slow-moving cop drama from the director of Fighting. On second thought, I can’t say the movie is slow-moving. That would give you an impression that it actually moves. It doesn’t. It just sits there.

The post 9/11 scenes work better, mostly because at least this portion of the film doesn’t revolve around children in jeopardy. The plot isn’t remotely involving and the “mystery” surrounding the murder isn’t hard to figure out. The flat cinematography and claustrophobic camerawork doesn’t do the movie any favors either.

The cast is pretty random and no one really seems to fit well together. Tatum underplays things to the point of almost disappearing completely. Katie Holmes is likewise invisible in the thankless role of Tatum’s wife. Al Pacino shows up briefly as Tatum’s father’s old partner, but not long enough to make much of an impression. And Juliette Binoche is pretty awful as a muckraking journalist. Only Ray Liotta has any spark as the Asshole Captain. His temper tantrums are the only scenes in the whole film where it shows any sign of life.

And our final Pacino film is…

PHIL SPECTOR (2013) ** ½

After playing Jack Kevorkian in HBO’s You Don’t Know Jack, Al Pacino starred as another famous murderer for the cable giant. Phil Spector comes to us from writer/director David Mamet, and I don’t really know how to feel about this one. A title before the opening credits tells us at the onset that this is a “work of fiction”. That just seems to me like Mamet way of letting himself off the hook. It’s speculative fiction, sure, but seems more like an excuse for Mamet to make a trashy ripped-from-the-headlines movie instead of just a good movie.

Mamet’s usual flair for dialogue is dialed down considerably. In fact, there is very little here to make you think Mamet did this one, aside from his wife, Rebecca Pidgeon popping up in a supporting role. And since there is so little in Mamet’s voice in the picture, it makes me wonder why he even signed on in the first place.

Maybe I am just overprotective here. I was always a big Lana Clarkson fan. I’ll never forget the time I picked up Barbarian Queen 1 and 2 on VHS at the flea market as a teenager. It was love at first sight. And to see her tragic death exploited here… well… it pisses me off a bit.

However, seeing Al Pacino as the weirdo eccentric Spector takes the sting out of a lot of the film’s shortcomings. Wearing a collection of crazy wigs and chintzy clothes, Pacino certainly nails the oddball demeanor of Spector (even if he just sounds like Al Pacino). The film is at its best when it’s just Spector shooting the shit with his defense attorney (Helen Mirren) at his mansion. And some of the legal maneuvering Mirren does behind the scenes of the trial is somewhat interesting too.

But while some of the scenes between Pacino and Mirren are good, the film as a whole doesn’t quite work. It wants to explore the legal ramifications of the events surrounding Clarkson’s death while at the same time being a freakish character study of a murderer. And in the end, it does neither of those things thoroughly enough to satisfy the audience. If you’re a Pacino fan, you’ll find some value here. Just don’t go in expecting to learn anything about Phil Spector.

Next week’s Legend: Liam Neeson!

PAT AND MIKE (1952) **

Pat and Mike is a romantic comedy starring Spenser Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. It’s not usually the sort of thing I would go out of my way to watch. But since it was playing at our local theater, The Clayton, I thought I’d give it a whirl. Part of the reason why I try to catch all of the movies in their Classic Movie Monday line-up is to see films I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. Sometimes, I’m pleasantly surprised. However, this is one time when my instincts were right. This one was a total dud.

Pat (Hepburn) is a great golf player, but she always misses her putts when her fiancé is around. A crotchety sports promoter (Tracy) notices this and agrees to manage her without the fiancé’s interference. Naturally, they fall in love, but it takes forever.

Pat and Mike is a sports movie, but the sporting scenes are deadly dull. You’ve heard of ESPN 2? Well, this is ESPN 1952. And it’s boring as heck. Apparently, this movie was made because Hepburn was a good golfer and tennis player, and the filmmakers wanted to showcase her ability. Well, I was pretty good at Little League and you don’t see filmmakers lining up to put me in Field of Dreams 2.

There’s a brief bit of hope when none other than Charles Bronson shows up as a mobster. But when he goes to rough up Tracy, Katharine Hepburn beats him up! Yes, you read that right. Katharine Hepburn beats up Charles Bronson in this flick. It’s just the sort of thing that makes you sick inside.

Even though Pat and Mike was a washout, things are looking up next week because The Clayton is showing King Kong!!!

LURID TALES: THE CASTLE QUEEN (1997) *

David DeCoteau, working under his “Ellen Cabot” pseudonym directed this lame Skinamax flick. He’s made some stinkers in his time, but it’s definitely on the lower end of the DeCoteau totem pole. And it’s a shame too because the man is certainly capable of better. (He made this back to back with the much more enjoyable Petticoat Planet.)

A college guy goes into an arcade and sits in a Virtual Reality machine at the behest of a sexy redhead. He is then whisked away to medieval times where he happens upon a castle full of hot women. The puritan government wants to confiscate the ladies’ castle, but the ‘90s dude convinces them to fight back and save their home.

In the ‘80s, late night cable was rife with costume drama skinflicks that were inspired by Harlequin romance novels. Lurid Tales: The Castle Queen reminds me of these movies. The fact that it was made in the ‘90s should tell you something.

Lurid Tales: The Castle Queen is a stuffy and dull Skinamax movie. It’s more romantic than most (it’s one of those “couples” movies), which means it’s not a whole lot of fun. And for some damn reason the plot gets bogged down in the politics of medieval land snatching than actual snatch. I will say the costumes and locations give the film a different look than most Skinamax movies I’ve seen lately, but that doesn’t make it “good”.

The most damning thing about Lurid Tales: The Castle Queen is that there’s nothing remotely “Lurid” about it as the scant sex scenes are tepid at best. During the film’s 76 minutes, there are only four sex scenes. We get three Guy on Girl scenes and one Girl on Girl on Guy scene. That means that there’s only one sex scene every 19 minutes, which is a pitiful Skinamax Statistic. And that makes sense because Lurid Tales: The Castle Queen is a rather pitiful Skinamax movie.