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Hidden Netflix Gems – Bringing Out the Dead

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Today’s entry is a hidden gem not only in the catalogue of Netflix, but also in that of beloved director Martin Scorsese, one of several underrated masterpieces so often overshadowed by more well-known ones like Goodfellas and Raging Bull. Along with films like The King of Comedy and After Hours, Scorsese’s 1999 film Bringing Out the Dead has been unjustly overlooked for the most part, and deserves more recognition than it has gotten. Sure, you could dismiss it as simply “Ambulance Driver” for its similarity to Scorsese’s breakthrough masterpiece, Taxi Driver, as well as the fact that both films were written by frequent collaborator Paul Schrader, but there is more to it than that. I’m certainly not saying it’s better than Taxi Driver, but it’s certainly different enough to warrant appraisal on its own merits.

The film follows three days in the life of constantly working New York City paramedic Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage), who is so exhausted and depressed that he has begun to hallucinate. His most frequently recurring vision is of a young woman named Rose (Cynthia Roman), who he failed to save from a fatal overdose. Throughout the three days in which we witness his life, Frank is teamed with three different partners, each of whom seem to reflect different aspects of his personality and his viewpoint toward his job. Larry (John Goodman) does his best to not take his work home with him, looking at his work as simply a job by which he refuses to let himself be haunted. Marcus (Ving Rhames) is the polar opposite of Larry, a Christian who views his job as working the miracles of the lord, bringing the dead back to life. Tom Wolls (Tom Sizemore) represents pure, unchained id, a man who encourages Frank to release his own demons through naked aggression aimed at the patients he is meant to be helping.

Along the way, Frank saves an old man named Mr. Burke (Cullen Oliver Johnson), who is ultimately so far gone that he spends his recovery in an intensive care unit, repeatedly flatlining and being revived again. His former junkie daughter, Mary (Patricia Arquette), forms a tenuous bond with Frank, and the two of them find some hope for redemption in each other, though without the expected romantic subplot that would have undoubtedly been exploited in a lesser film. Though Arquette’s performance feels oddly flat and this is not Scorsese’s best film, it is also far from his worst, which makes it vastly superior to the average movie. Bringing Out the Dead is a fascinating look at a profession that is oddly underrepresented in the movies, and the depths of the human soul that profession must regularly plumb.

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A roundtable chat with producers Irwin and David Winkler of “The Mechanic”

Irwin and David WinklerHealthy father and son relationships are certainly more the exception than the rule at the movies. Even so, the murderous biological and surrogate father and son pairings in the original film “The Mechanic” and its action-packed update with Jason Statham and Ben Foster, are unusually problematic. It’s a tale, after all, about a junior hit-man learning from an older paid killer who has, in turn, killed the younger killer’s dad.

That, of course has pretty much nothing to do with two of the new version’s real-life father and son producers, Irwin and David Winkler. For the remake of the 1971 actioner, the pair have teamed up with another parent-and-offspring team, Irwin Winkler’s long-time producing partner, Bill Chartoff and his son, Robert. (For the record, there are a total of ten producers and five executive producers credited on the film.) Both individually and with Bill Chartoff, the elder Winkler has been involved with a remarkable number of good movies and a few genuine classics, starting with Sydney Pollack’s pitch-black Oscar winner, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” and also including two of Martin Scorsese‘s signature works, “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas.” Winkler and Chartoff also, of course, produced “The Mechanic,” the first time around when it was as much of a chilling look at sociopathy as it was an action flick.

Like any great producer, Irwin Winkler has had his share of interesting financial failures.  There was the ultra-culty early John Boorman film, “Leo the Last” and Martin Scorsese’s big budget 1977 disappointment “New York, New York.” Fortunately, there was also the occasional modest but high quality success like Bertrand Tavernier’s great 1986 love letter to jazz and jazz fandom, “‘Round Midnight.” He and Bill Chartoff were also key players in one of the most enduring franchises in film history, the one that started with a low-budget boxing drama called “Rocky.” Since 1991′s “Guilty by Suspicion,” Winkler has also occasionally directed. His most recent films include the musical Cole Porter biopic, “De-Lovely,” and the Iraq war drama “Home of the Brave,” which received a speedy burial.

For his part, son David Winkler has worked on a number of television movies as well as with his father on 2006′s “Rocky Balboa.” He also directed the 1998 drama, “Finding Graceland” starring Harvey Keitel.

I was personally anxious to talk to Winklers during a recent L.A. press junket for “The Mechanic” because of an oddball “only in L.A.” family anecdote. I was nevertheless beaten to the punch by an Italian reporter with a rather distinctive interviewing style who tended to dominate the discussion.

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Midweek movie news

No promises we’ll have a Friday news dump this week, so you’d better enjoy this edition…

* Well, the big news tonight is most definitely the reorganization going over at the Warner Brothers megastudio. As far as I’m able to suss out, what this amounts to is a consolidation of power for CEO Jeff Bewkes. Reading Nikki Finke‘s current summary of the situation is a bit like reading a Television Without Pity post for a very complicated soap opera you’ve never seen, but Anne Thompson keeps it much, much simpler. On his way out exec Alan Horn is a good guy who Thompson believes was simply superfluous. Another case of a nice guy finishing last?

Warner-Bros

However, Nikki Finke does allude to a very crucial part of the Warners empire, and that’s DC Comics now being headed by the Warners minded and Finke approved Diane Nelson. As it happens, my deep, deep connections in the comics biz were e-mailing me news earlier today — which I was somewhat aware of but failed to properly cover earlier in the week — of an onging reorganization going on over there which certainly ties into the ongoing attempts at Warners to become more aggressive regarding comics adaptations along the lines of what Marvel Entertainment has been doing for some time — and also to try and avoid more flops like “Jonah Hex.”

There was even talk some talk of DC becoming entirely a West Coast operation, but that would be a major breach of publishing industry tradition with some actual problems involved and, in any case, thanks to FedEx and the ‘net, freelancers can live where they want now. Heidi MacDonald’s great comics blog The Beat has been covering this end of the story and you read about some of what’s going on here.

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A trailer for the road: “Middle Men” show us how to make money on the ‘net

As I prepare for a reasonably brief semi-hiatus, via Anne Thompson comes this trailer for a film being pitched as one part “Boogie Nights” and one part “Goodfellas,” though this trailer reminds me more of the cold blood business machinations of “Casino.”

Co-writer-director George Gallo, who penned “Midnight Run,” brings us the story of how Luke Wilson, with a little help from Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht, figures out that this Internet thing just might be good for showing people very naughty pictures. Since this is a movie, naturally the porn-purveying “Middle Men” get a bit more than they asked for.

Nice bit with Kelsey Grammer there at the end. Also, considering that he’s openly contemplating running for office someday, kind of gutsy. On a different note, I’d love to know the actual “true story” this apparently pretty heavily fictionalized movie is supposed to be based on. Just curious. Finally, let it be said, I hold no ill feeling against actor Gabriel Macht for the despicable and unholy desecration that was “The Spirit.” He just did what Frank Miller told him to do. I just felt like that needed to be said.

Oh, and speaking of trailers, Anne Thompson also has the trailer up for the third Narnia film. Go ahead and click, I mean, if you’re into that kind of kinky shit.

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Bullz-Eye’s Pacino and De Niro on the QT

They’ve been linked since 1974 and “The Godfather: Part II.” Al Pacino, with only one major performance behind him, had become a major star with a perfectly modulated performance as reluctant Mafia prince Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.” Two years later, Robert De Niro‘s energetic work as the young Vito Corleone in the universally acclaimed sequel transformed the respected working actor into an almost instant superstar. The laws of time and space dictated that they could not appear together as father and son (this wasn’t “Back to the Future: Sicilian Style”), and so the two remained on separate tracks. Even in Michael Mann’s hugely successful 1993 action drama, “Heat,” the ballyhooed Pacino-De Niro collaboration was mostly limited to a single scene over a cup of coffee at a pricey Beverly Hills eatery. It was as if all that intensity could only be contained in a few minutes of caffeine-fueled conversation and posturing.

The release of the new cop thriller, “Righteous Kill,” promises more Bob-and-Al interaction, but there’s no reason these two acting powerhouses with Italian surnames can’t share the screen comfortably. There’s no taking away from the power of their most iconic non-”Godfather” roles: screwed-up vigilante-in-training Travis Bickle (“Taxi Driver”); hapless would-be bank robber Sonny Wortzik (“Dog Day Afternoon”); troubled boxer Jake LaMotta (“Raging Bull“); ultra-ambitious immigrant gangster Tony Montana (“Scarface“); or quick to kill wise guy Jimmy Conway (“Goodfellas“). And there’s a lot more to these two performers than barely concealed rage, well-wrought angst and occasional bouts of scenery munching.

Take a look at our list of 20 somewhat less well known performances showcasing the less obvious attributes of these two Italian-surnamed dynamos, and then come back and let us know what performances you might have added (or subtracted).

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