I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale

Can you name all the major actors from the “Godfather” movies? If you’re missing one, it’s probably John Cazale. He played the initially minor character of Fredo, the tragic runt of the gangster litter who figured so prominently in “The Godfather: Part II.” An accomplished stage actor, Cazale appeared in only five moves before his death from lung cancer in 1978 at age 42, but since they also included “Dog Day Afternoon,” “The Conversation” and “The Deer Hunter” — all nominated for Best Picture Oscars — it is slightly strange he isn’t better known. It’s definitely not for lack of esteem from his peers. This short HBO documentary from director Richard Shepard (“The Matador“) proves that point with testimonials from friends, colleagues and fans including Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, Gene Hackman, Olympia Dukakis, Richard Dreyfuss, Steve Buscemi, Sam Rockwell, and Meryl Streep, who was Cazale’s girlfriend at his death. It seems that, aside from his ability to submerge himself into a role and raise the game of his fellow actors, the unglamorous and good-natured Cazale also had a way with beautiful women.

Though the packaging of this DVD is first-rate if overly elaborate, it also attempts to hide the fact that “I Knew It Was You” is only 40 minutes long, not counting about an hour’s worth of special features. Nevertheless, this is a sincere, well-made, and entirely laudable labor of movie love.

Click to buy “I Knew It Was You: Redisocovering John Cazale”

  

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An official trailer for a Thursday: Kevin Spacey is (not quite) “Casino Jack”

Not to be confused with Alex Gibney‘s documentary, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money,” also about the jailed conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff, this new trailer for “Casino Jack” is slicker than ones I’ve seen before.

Something still feels off here to me, for all the snazzy editorial work. The only joke that’s actually funny is Kevin Spacey‘s spot-on Al Pacino impersonation, though even the choice of Spacey feels off. Perhaps I’m being too literal minded, but Abramoff was younger and more jockish and athletic when all of this was going down. On the other hand, the movie-obsession is correct. Abramoff is a movie buff who even co-produced an actual action film or two, including the Dolph Lundgren vehicle, “Red Scorpion.”

Still, I’m keeping an open mind. He hasn’t had gigantic luck with fiction features so far, but director George Hickenlooper (“The Big Brass Ring”) has been involved with probably two of the best all-time documentaries about outrageous show business figures, the Francis Ford Coppola-centric “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” and the even better “Mayor of the Sunset Strip” about DJ and ultimate scenester Rodney Bingenheimer. I’m sure there’s a bit more here than meets the eye, at least I hope so

  

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Ashes of Time Redux

Wong Kar Wai isn’t the first filmmaker to go back and fix one of his earlier movies, but it is the first time that it’s happened on a film as insignificant as “Ashes of Time.” Though it makes sense to want to improve a movie that didn’t necessarily work during its initial release (as opposed to Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, who meddled with films that were already considered perfect), “Ashes of Time” remains a colossal disappointment for fans of the director. Constructed as a broken narrative of flashbacks, the film stars Leslie Cheung as Ouyang Feng, a lovesick hitman who wanders the desert hiring swordsmen to carry out contract killings. For as interesting as that may sound, however, “Ashes of Time” is the cinematic equivalent to watching paint dry. The performances are fine and Christopher Doyle’s cinematography is beautiful as usual, but the film is so boring, lackadaisical and drenched in philosophical narration that you might just find yourself dosing off. Many would argue that all of Wong Kar Wai’s movies operate the same way, and while that may be true, they usually always win you over with some combination of grace and charm. “Ashes of Time” does not, and though it’s been dubbed as a martial arts epic, it’s really just another love story dressed to look like one.

Click to buy “Ashes of Time Redux”

  

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