Often times this column requires a good amount of weekly research. There are plenty of actors/filmmakers who haven’t worked in a long time, but among those myriad names, it becomes necessary to weed out those who have been unable to work due to being regrettably deceased, and those for whom little desired is harbored to see them return to the limelight.
But this week’s subject serendipitously fell into my lap while I was channel surfing. Snickers has been running ads of late featuring everyone from Aretha Franklin to Rosanne Barr as representations of the manner in which people’s personalities change when they are hungry. The latest one insinuates that one gentleman gets rather angry when famished as represented by none other than Joe Pesci. Suddenly I found myself wondering, where the heck has that guy been?
Why We Love Him
The soft spot in our hearts for Joe Pesci was one violently carved with a dull blade and widened by a closed fist. Pesci established himself as one of the preeminent gangsters in cinema. It began with Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America and was absolutely solidified with 1990’s Goodfellas. If there is one director who truly understands the art of the gangster film, it’s Martin Scorsese, and Pesci proved to be the embodiment of the most unhinged, sociopathic tendencies that can be fostered by organized crime—the partnership was perfect.
The role actually netted Pesci an Academy Award. He would later collaborate with Scorsese again to portray the similarly homicidal Nicky Santoro in Casino. If nothing else, Santoro taught us that a ballpoint pen in the wrong hands is as dangerous as a loaded gun.
As much as we love Pesci the gangster, the man has demonstrated his chops as a comedian on more than one occasion. Even before he bashed in heads as Tommy Devito in Goodfellas, he made a splash as Leo Getz in Lethal Weapon 2. Getz was a fast-talking, spastic con-man-turned-witness who proved to be a unique addition to the already stellar chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. As the franchise progressed through two more sequels, Pesci turned out to be as indelible to fans as anyone else in the series. Pesci also enjoyed great success as one of the bumbling Wet Bandits in 1990’s Home Alone; he and Daniel Stern would reprise these characters in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
What Happened to Him?
A remarkable actor, an American gangster, and an Oscar winner, how could this guy possibly vanish from the spotlight? But somehow Pesci did seem to fade away. Right after Casino, Pesci made two comedies which both tanked commercially: 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag and Gone Fishin’. When Lethal Weapon enjoyed its fourth installment in 1998, it seemed that he was poised to bounce back. The movie was a smash hit that not only reunited all our old favorite cast members, but also added Chris Rock and martial artist Jet Li. But strangely, this would be the last anyone saw of Pesci for several years.
Where’s He Been?
In 2006, Pesci had a small part in The Good Shepherd; a film directed by his longtime friend and collaborator Robert DeNiro. This would mark the first time in nearly a decade that Pesci had appeared in a film. I am still a bit baffled as to where he went or what he was doing, but this resurgence again proved to be short-lived. It’s now been another five years and still we’ve not seen Pesci in a theatrically released movie. Was Pesci actually in the mafia? Had he turned informer for the FBI and been relocated through witness protection like Goodfellas’ Henry Hill? Probably not, but his disappearance is baffling.
Though conflicting reports have surfaced regarding the character he will play, Pesci is set to appear in a biopic called Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father. The movie will, obviously, center on late mafia kingpin John Gotti and his relationship with his son. Rain Man director Barry Levinson is helming the project, and the cast already boasts Al Pacino, John Travolta, and Ben Cross. If this movie turns out to be Pesci’s glorious return to gangster cinema, I will be first in line to see it. But I also hope that Pesci makes a return to comedy because, despite his famous and chillingly brooding protest in Goodfellas, I do think he’s funny.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
In 1998, moviegoers had a blast from the past with The Mask of Zorro, a swashbuckling, sword-swinging revamp of Johnston McCulley's pulp hero. But its 2005 sequel failed to fuel the fire for more franchise entries and so Columbia Pictures stopped making those movies. Move over Sony; Fox is here to reboot the series once again. The LA Times reports that the studio behind blockbuster franchises like X-Men and Avatar wants to have its way with Zorro, and that means a total overhaul - into the future.
According to the source, 20th Century Fox has a script for Zorro Reborn from Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy, the screenwriters behind the Dracula reboot Harker at Warner Bros. It would focus on a new, a one-man vigilante force bent on revenge in a desolate, post-apocalyptic setting. Western influences like the works of Sergio Leone and the Coen Bros. No Country For Old Men are being used to describe the tone of the project and make it sound cooler than it probably is.
Apparently, Zorro Reborn is further down the development line than I'd believe it to be (having just heard about this project today). Fox has already set pre-viz whiz Rpin Suwannath to direct, which starts a trend of hiring VFX geniuses to helm big-budget tent-poles (the studio recently locked Tim Miller, a noted special effects guru, into directing X-Men spin-off Deadpool). While that ensures that the film will look spiffy, it doesn't give me much hope about how its story will be told.
I'm of the opinion that writer/directors often make the best filmmakers because of their dedication to character and carefully planned plot points. There are, of course, many, many exceptions, but my fear is that Suwannath will sacrifice his story for flashy set pieces and CG-heavy action sequences. Zorro needs plenty of action, no doubt, but what I loved about Martin Campbell's films were their throwback approach to filming. Less computers, more acting, stunts, etc. That's what this character needs. Unfortunately, with a film set in the future - even a dystopian future - I'm afraid that Zorro Reborn will be more Sci-Fi than Western.
I'm also afraid that Fox will whitewash the masked vigilante as Hollywood has done with every other foreign-born character. Warner Bros. has been faced with plenty of heat as it casts its Akira adaptation and Paramount got creamed over the actors it hired for The Last Airbender. Hopefully Fox will learn from these mistakes and stay true to Zorro's roots, but I'm not holding my breath.
Source: The LA Times