Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Iceman

“The Iceman” has all the staples of a film about the mob.
There’s the basics like a business to serve as a front for illegal activity and the money coming in paired with themes like the main character struggling not to betray their family and who they work for.
Either scenario doesn’t end well. That is certainly the case in “The Iceman,” and it’s all based on a true story.
Michael Shannon stars in the film as Richard Kuklinski, a contract killer from New Jersey who killed more than 100 men. The film focuses on a period of his life from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, but it is reported Kuklinski’s mob career started in 1948.
Director and co-writer Ariel Vroman tells the story, for the most part, in a linear way to show the highs and lows of Kuklinski’s life.
He was a family man in the beginning, one that would do anything for his wife Deborah (Winona Ryder) and two kids.
But you soon learn Kuklinski has a dark side that blurs the lines between what he can justify as good and bad all with the purpose to support his family.
At first Kuklinski simply follows orders from his boss in the mob, Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta) while his family thinks he has a day job lucrative enough to support their comfortable lifestyle in the New Jersey suburbs.
After Demeo is told to stay off the grid for a while by his boss, Leonard Marks (Robert Devi), Kuklinski continues on by working with another contract killer Mr. Freezy (and unrecognizable and amazing Chris Evans).
In the film Kuklinski and Mr. Freezy freeze their victims’ bodies to cover up when they died. Thus, Kuklinski’s nickname “The Iceman.”
The filmmakers credit a novel (“The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer” by Anthony Bruno)
and documentary (“The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer) about Kuklinksi’s life as sources for their work.
Shannon stands out for his portrayal of Kuklinski over about 20 years of his life and the actors cast in roles of those closest to him help show the type of man he was.
The cast also includes a mustachioed David Schwimmer as Demeo’s sidekick, another actor it is difficult to recognize at first glance, and James Franco.
I wasn’t familiar with Kuklinski’s story before seeing “The Iceman,” but I feel the filmmakers effectively used their own style to tell it while staying true to what happened and the book and documentary they credit.
Kuklinski was ultimately arrested and received two life sentences in prison for his crimes. He died in 2006.
In an interview, Vromen said he wanted to focus on the “love story” between Richard and his wife Deborah (named Barbara in real life) in making “The Iceman.”
The other side of it is the undercover investigation that led to Kuklinski’s arrest.

“When you have 18 or 19 years of stories, of so many characters, and a limitation of time and budget, you gotta choose what story you’re telling,” Vromen said at a recent press gathering in New York, when asked about the brevity of that important chapter. “I wanted to tell the love story. So I started the movie on a date and I end up on a separation.” (northjersey.com)

Maybe Vromen’s choice will divide audiences and, understandably, people who knew Kuklinski.
But I think it was a choice worth making to expose people, like me, to one facet of a story they had not heard about and to the inspiration it came from.

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The Great Gatsby

After seeing the above photo and reading James Franco’s thoughts on Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gastby” I began to wonder why Mr. Franco wasn’t cast in the film.
This is really off topic from where I wanted to start this post, but I will go ahead and say Franco would have made a very interesting Nick Carraway opposite Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby.
Franco, a writer and actor with a diverse film resume, could have pulled off the depth of Carraway’s character.
Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the great American novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald already seems to be a love it or hate it film so it is unlikely that Franco as Gatsby’s neighbor and, ultimately, best friend, would create any more of a divide between critics and audiences.
My personal preferences aside, Tobey Maguire did fit the bill of Carraway’s character quite well.
Carraway is introduced right away, but the narrative to connect him with Gatsby is a slow burn.
Luhrmann’s use of glitter, green, and glam are enough of a distraction until Gatsby’s delayed appearance.
Carraway speaks the narrative from a perspective slightly different than the novel. I actually didn’t notice that until listening to Slate’s Spoiler Special about the film. That review, and others I’ve listened to so far, did not criticize Luhrmann for his choice.
The script, co-written by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, stays true to the rest of the story.
The visualization of it is to reach a new audience. I just hope they read the novel to see Luhrmann’s inspiration.

Leonardo DiCaprio is an obvious inspiration for the director too. Did I mention he is FANTASTIC as Gatsby? Just checking.
Luhrmann builds the anticipation for the viewer, through Carraway’s eyes, to meet Gatsby for the first time as one of many luxurious parties rocks on at his mansion off Long Island.
Then you’re soon reminded it’s all for his lost love Daisy (Carey Mulligan) who lives across the bay with her husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).
I noticed similarities to Luhrmann’s “Romeo and Juliet” in some of Gatsby and Daisy’s interactions and in the visuals he used to connect the characters.
There is tragedy and darkness in both romances, but a feeling of just a little bit more hope from Jay Gatsby.
In fact, Carraway describes Gatsby as the most “hopeful” men he’s ever met.
That hope held on until the end of the film and the life of Gatsby’s character.
Luhrmann’s “The Great Gastby” is very over the top at times, but it’s worth it to see the life it brings to a classic story.
That’s all, old sport.

Mud

“Have you been to the cinema lately?”

“Why yes, Doug Benson, I have. I saw ‘Mud.'”
Doug: “Ooooh, what did you think?”
Me: “Well, if the Leonard Maltin game can wait a bit, let me tell you.”
I’ll stop my “Doug Loves Movies” dream there because I doubt I’d even be able get those words out on stage. But if you’re reading, Doug, here are my thoughts on Matthew McConaughey’s latest film. 
The Jeff Nichols (writer and director of “Take Shelter”) project stars McConaughey as “Mud,” a man on the run encountered by two teenagers, Ellis and Neckbone. 
The encounter is pretty early on the film, set in Arkansas, when Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) find him in hiding on an island in the Mississippi River.
Mud is living in a boat wedged in the treetops that, while it keeps him hidden, he ultimately needs a motor to get off the island so he can escape with his true love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).
Ellis and Neckbone agree to help Mud by finding a motor for the boat, communicating with Juniper and bringing him food.
On the one hand Mud could be a bad guy, having killed a man in Texas and being pursued by bounty hunters for the crime, but his story also has a good guy component focusing on love and family.
The boys and Mud forge friendships and trust and in the end Nichols effectively mixes the love that is at the backdrop of the characters’ actions with the danger connected to Mud’s past.
In fact, the softer side of the story distracted me from the fact that Mud committed a crime and had his enemies seeking retribution for it.
I don’t know if it was on purpose or not but Nichols’ storytelling created a twist in the plot that then allowed for the secret of Mud’s world to fully connect with that of Ellis and Neckbone.
The revelation, I think, ultimately brings everyone closer and defines the love they need in their lives.
For Mud, it is from an unexpected source.
Nichols doesn’t completely spell it out for the viewer and leaves symbolism he uses in the film up for interpretation, which I liked.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Matthew McConaughey, but he is growing on me. It’s hard not to see the capability he has as an actor through his portrayal of Mud and to know he will have his pick of roles in the future.
The supporting cast of Michael Shannon (also from “Take Shelter”), Sam Shepard, Tye Sheridan, and even Witherspoon are strong alongside McConaughey.
Sheridan and Lofland’s characters are reminiscent of those in “Stand By Me” while moving the definition of performances in a coming-of-age story to a new level
I’ll watch out for their next roles, as well as anything McConaughey is in.
I need to catch up on some of his work, such as “Bernie” and “Killer Joe,” and let’s not forget “Magic Mike.” I’ve seen it four times already to study up on Channing Tatum, but McConaughey’s performance is impressive too and may warrant a fifth screening.
Some of his next roles are in Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan films, which are always a good sign for an actor’s resume.
I hope “Mud” stays on the radar for award season later this year.
Overall I can look past the fact that there are several scenes involving snakes in “Mud” and recommend the film as an original work of art to see if you like to think about stories long after they’re over.
That’s the magic of movies, right?