Something that always interests me as a cinephile is the evolution of film criticism and how the prevailing opinions of films can be shaped and changed by time; much in the same fashion that time tends to alter entire landscapes and shake sturdy mountains. Films that, upon their initial release, are touted as violent, trashy exploitation by the established film literati can grow and evolve into widely heralded classics. Such is the case with 1983’s Scarface. We hope you’ll consider revisiting this bloody triumph via Netflix Watch Instantly service over the weekend.
Who Made It: Scarface was written by Oliver Stone, who himself directed classic films like Platoon, Wall Street, and JFK. Brian De Palma, of Carrie and Dressed to Kill fame, directed the film. Scarface, at the time of its release, was a major departure for De Palma in terms of both his usual subject material and his usual style. Scarface is actually a remake of a 1932 film directed by Howard Hawks.
Who’s In It: The film stars Al Pacino in one of his most iconic roles. The film also stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Steven Bauer, Robert Loggia, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.
What’s It About: Scarface is the story of a Cuban immigrant who, upon arriving in America, turns almost immediately to a life of crime. He slowly rises from errand boy for a local drug pusher to becoming the narcotics kingpin of Miami. But his greed, his ambition, and his growing propensity to get high on his own supply lead him to inch closer and closer to a downfall of Biblical proportions.
Why You Should Watch It:
The biggest and simplest reason to watch Scarface is its star Al Pacino. Pacino was less than a decade removed from The Godfather Part II when he crafted yet another progenitor gangster role. His Tony Montana is however a vastly different criminal than Michael Corleone. Where Michael is a quiet, calculating mastermind who hardly ever seems rattled, Tony is a roaring hurricane of thundering expletives and savage violence. He doesn’t maneuver his way to the top as much as he does claw with razor-sharp talons, which he’s more than happy to unsheathe should anyone cross him or stand in his way. He’s flashy, loud, and unrepentantly evil. So why do we love him so much?
Plenty of film critics and historians have already observed that Tony Montana is, for all his innumerable faults, a champion of the American dream. Tony comes to this country with absolutely nothing and dreams of wealth, power, and prominence. His methods of achieving those goals are obviously repellant, and yet we can empathize with his ambition and his refusal to accept the position life has handed him. This is really the core of any great gangster story going back to the days of Al Capone. In fact, the 1930s gangster movie of which Scarface is a remake was based on a book by Armitage Trail which was itself based on the life of Capone. Merely replace bootleg liquor with cocaine and it isn’t hard to see how easily these themes correspond.
Scarface is a landmark film in a number of ways. First and foremost, it produced one of cinema’s all time great villains, and his quips and speeches are etched into our collective consciousness. It seems we can’t go a year without at least one film referencing “say hello to my little friend.” But apart from inspiring and informing subsequent celluloid bad guys, Scarface has certainly earned its reputation as a cultural phenomenon.
Rap culture in particular was quick to embrace the mythos of Tony Montana; many artists citing it as their favorite film and even a major influence on their work and their lifestyle. Lines from the movie frequently turn up in hip-hop lyrics and there is even a rapper who calls himself Scarface. But the influential reach of Brian De Palma’s extends yet further, and ventures to some very strange places. For example, Saddam Hussein apparently named his money laundering front Montana Management after the film’s antagonistic protagonist; not a ringing endorsement of course, but a further testament to the worldwide influence of Scarface.
It turns out that not only greed is good, but $19 million at the box office is pretty sweet as well as iconic movie villain Gordon Gekko makes his return in Fox’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. Michael Douglas reprises his role made famous in director Oliver Stone’s 1987 “Wall Street” which opened the weekend of December 11 of that year with a $4.1 million debut. The film opened in just 730 theatres and went on to earn $43.3 million at the domestic box office or roughly friendly ten times the opening weekend or about $87 million in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars. While that does not seem like a huge gross, the film certainly made an impact on the popular culture, made Gordon Gekko a screen icon and made the phrase “Greed is Good,” a national catch phrase.
Check out this Wall Street themed comic strip from Francesco Marciuliano. Francesco writes the internationally-syndicated comic strip “Sally Forth” and the webcomic “Medium Large.” He was the head writer for the PBS series “SeeMore’s Playhouse,” for which one of his episodes won two 2007 Daytime Emmys. He currently writes for the Onion News Network.
At number two with $16.3 million is Warner Bros.’ Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole. The IMAX presentations earned about 11% of the total or $1.7 million this weekend which is a strong percentage for an IMAX family (which typically land in the 6% to 8% range). Director Zack Snyder who built his reputation on highly-stylized R-rated fare such as 300 and Watchmen, now ventures into family-friendly PG-rated territory. With very few options in the marketplace for the family crowd, the owls were able to gather up a respectable second place finish.
In third with $16 million is Ben Affleck’s The Town from Warner Bros. which opened last week to number one and as expected had a tiny second weekend drop of 33% and is closing in on $50 million. The R-rated ensemble drama which boasts terrific performances from Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Hall is certain to garner continued audience support and Oscar buzz. Director Ben Affleck has also been receiving strong positive reaction to his directorial skills and could grab himself a directing nomination for his work.
Sony’s Easy A continues to make good grades for the studio with another $10.7 million against a minimal 40% drop and a domestic cumulative of $32.8 million. With an $8 million production budget, star Emma Stone has proven herself to be an appealing and profitable draw for teen audiences.
Finally the top five is rounded out by the newcomer You Again from with a weekend gross of $8.3 million. Skewing over 70% female, the ensemble comedy boasts a cast including Kristen Bell, Sigourney Weaver, Kristen Chenoweth and the always terrific Betty White.
In the indie world, Catfish from Universal/Rogue saw an 83% uptick vs. last weekend in 45 more theatres and nearly $500k for the weekend. Woody Allen also proves his drawing power with Sony Pictures Classics’ You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger which in only 6 theatres earned an impressive $163,474 (or $27,246 per theatre) in its opening weekend. Paramount Vantage saw the opening of the Davis Guggenheim documentary Waiting for ‘Superman' perform well with a solid $141k in just 4 theatres and an impressive $35,250 per theatre. Overture Films’ Jack Goes Boating added 35 theatres in its second weekend and realized a 197% uptick and $86k for the weekend and $127,612 to date.
Fall is here and audiences can find some very unique and interesting films in the marketplace. As is typical for this time of year, diversity and often quality reign supreme particularly in the world of independent film and these offerings are worth looking for in their limited theatrical runs.
Next week Sony’s well-reviewed The Social Network, Overture Films’ brilliant re-make Let Me In and Paramount’s Case 39 make their debuts.
Box Office fun fact: On this day (9-26) in 1986 Crocodile Dundee opened with $8 million and went on to earn (crikey!) a whopping $174.8 million!
Top 10 Movies - Weekend of September 24, 2010 (Estimates)
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (PG-13)
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls Of Ga'Hoole (PG)
The Town (R)
Easy A (PG-13)
You Again (PG)
Resident Evil: Afterlife (R)
Alpha and Omega (PG)
There’s an unprecedented and totally weird experiment in popular entertainment that’s going to happen on Sept. 24. Near as I can tell nobody’s ever done what Oliver Stone is about to do with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
Oliver Stone loves America. It’s obvious. He only makes movies about subjects that hit deep into the heart of his country. Even when it’s critical, attention like that is a patriotic act. Vietnam, the JFK assassination, celebrity culture, football -- in this decade he’s made movies about the two events that will leave the biggest impact on this young 21st Century: with World Trade Center, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, and now, with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the economic crisis that crystallized into public awareness in the fall of 2008.
What’s strange about this is that Oliver Stone has already made a movie about money and finance in the United States, which brings us to this week’s case in point:
1987‘s Wall Street.
Wall Street used the topic of money to explore class, power and greed, using Michel Douglas’ Gordon Gecko as the face of the financial manipulators who maneuver through Wall Street. Gecko becomes the mentor of Charlie Sheen's Bud Fox, the son of a working-class Union leader -- as if the only way to dramatize the fight between finance and people is to resort to such broad Marxist strokes.
Still, Oliver Stone has always been great at creating clear characters and muscular dramatic lines. The sheer momentum of his narratives is never in question, even when his proselytizing threatens to collapse the entire dramatic structure.
The year 1987 was a different time in the United States when it comes to finance. Just before the S&L crisis hit public consciousness and a few years before the recession of the early '90s, it was a climate in which it was possible to tell a story about Gordon Gecko that made us hate to love him. He was a pirate, a sort of financial swashbuckler. The iconic “greed is good” speech won Michael Douglas an Oscar not only because he delivered it with shameless and charismatic precision, but because somewhere in the heart of Americans it seemed true. But that was the '80s, when it seemed like our economy had a future.
In an early montage in Wall Street, Bud Fox says to a potential buyer: “…But if I could just explain the opportunities emerging in the international debt market.” Back then the line sort of swept over the viewer as a part of the music of the stock market, but now it sends a cold shiver down the spine, with the mathematical black magic of the international debt market being, of course, a large contributor to the economic decline.
Nowadays it doesn’t quite feel as if the United States isn’t an empire at its height, or even an empire that can pretend its best days are ahead. It’s an empire in that slow-motion decline into which all empires eventually fall. Greed doesn’t seem so good anymore. The representatives of Wall Street no longer seem like irascible rapscallions. At best, they’re selfish; at worst, they’re selfish and incompetent. If Gordon Gecko got up today and tried to explain to us all that greed works, no ironic sheen on the planet would save him from seeming like a fool.
So Oliver Stone is bringing him back. It’s not a sequel, strictly speaking. I’m not sure what it is, or will be, but it will be defined by what place Oliver Stone carves out for Gordon Gecko in this new financial landscape. Can he charm us? Does he have more lessons to teach? Can one tell a story about American capital that is anything other than a swan song? Or will it be Shia LaBeouf who saves us all?
Next week: an interlude about vampires.