Donnie Brasco is one of the best and most overlooked gangster movies I’ve ever seen. It’s an entertaining but sympathetic look at the personal lives of criminals and the cops who go after them. Al Pacino, playing a sad, ageing gangster who is never “called up,” doesn’t get any better than this. Johnny Depp as an undercover cop pretending to be Pacino’s protégé doesn’t miss a beat. He and Pacino are at the top of their game and they complement each other perfectly. It’s an impressive movie all around, and only gets better with each viewing. Movies like Goodfellas glorify the criminal lifestyle. Donnie Brasco shows us gangsters who can barely pay their rent. Maybe that’s why it’s not as well-known. I don’t know. But it should be a classic.
That’s one of the few trailers that isn’t misleading about the movie.
It’s not fast-paced. It’s 95% dialogue, although this time not everyone sounds like Quentin Tarantino. There’s not much action. There’s some unnecessary gruesomeness, but it’s brief (and this doesn’t give anything away): two scalpings, one at the beginning, one near the end; one head bashing near the beginning; and one knife carving, shall we say — and it’s close-up, cringe-worthy gross. The movie isn’t so much about the Nazi-scalping “Inglorious Basterds” (we don’t really get to know them). It’s about a plan to kill Hitler while he’s attending a movie première with lots of talkative scenes leading up to it. It’s not a bad movie, but Tarantino seems to have peaked with “Pulp Fiction.”
3-Iron (Bin-jip) tells the story of a guy who spends his time breaking into and living in houses where he knows the owners are on vacation. He always cleans and tidies up the house, then leaves a token of appreciation behind. Inevitably he breaks into a house where someone is home, and I don’t want to say what happens next, but it’s magical. The director, Kim Ki-Duk, who directed one of my favourite movies from recent years, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, likes to create characters who develop relationships in a non-verbal manner — and he makes it work. The two main characters of this film don’t speak a single word to each other, yet we know exactly how they feel about each other. It’s pure fantasy, of course, but pure cinema, too, in that we’re drawn into the story, into the lives and feelings of the characters, simply by watching them be together. It’s magical and compelling and dramatic and tragic and funny, and I know I’m going to like this movie more every time I watch it. (The literal translation of Bin-jip is Empty Houses. I would have gone with that title instead of 3-Iron which is more likely to grab the attention of golf enthusiasts.)
Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (10/10) — A collection of illustrated poems for kids I discovered one night while looking for a bedtime book to read to my niece. (I ordered it for myself the next morning.) I laughed out loud to just about every poem in the book. A clever melding of parables and just silliness. (Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is another kids book that should be on every adult’s bookshelf.)
The Little Prince (audio book) by Antoine Saint-Exupery (9/10) — A classic short novel for young adults and children, this dramatic reading is captivating and moving. It’s about a little boy (or prince) who befriends an airplane pilot who’s crashed in the desert and tells him the story of his lonely, absurd experiences with adults. It’s magical and sad and just as good as the original illustrated book. (Note to Podcast People: I listened to it on my MP3 player while walking to and from work for a week. Not a bad substitute for regular podcast listening.)
Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut (8/10) — A funny, profound, disturbing and sympathetic story about an American writer who becomes a secret agent during WWII by posing as a Nazi propagandist. Is he one of the good guys or is he just as happy working for the Nazis? Vonnegut reminds me of Woody Allen in that most of his works blend together as variations on a theme, usually deeply ethical. If you like Slaughterhouse-Five, you’ll probably enjoy Mother Night. A quote from pages 163-64: Continue reading The last few books I read…→
So by default, it’s better than about 95% of what passes for science fiction in movies today. If the following promo peaks your interest, you’ll probably enjoy District 9. It’s not a masterpiece, but I’ve never seen or experienced anything quite like it.
I would caution that District 9 is not for everyone. The ending isn’t a complete downer, but everything leading up to it is brutal, dark and bleak. It’s an assault, one that’s not always easy to bear.