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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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“Hugo” and Scorsese nab some nominations

Martin Scorsese is profiled in a recent feature in Fast Company. The in-depth article offers some insight into the way he makes movies and his respect for past filmmakers.

His latest film “Hugo” is not quite what you would expect from this great director. But it’s beautifully shot as you can see from the trailer above. Scorsese and the film were nominated for Hollywood’s Critics’ Choice Awards and the film received a Golden Globe nomination for best drama. We’ll see if he gets acknowledged this year at The Oscars.

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Oscar madness kicks into high gear at the DGA and SNL

People who want a real Academy Award horse-race got probably the best possible news last night at the Director’s Guild Awards. As you’ll no doubt be hearing many, many times over the next month or so, the DGA Award for Best Director and the Oscar for Best Director have only not lined up six times in the history of both awards. Also, of course, the directorial Oscar and the Best Picture Oscar often tend to correlate as well because, sometimes rightly but occasionally wrongly, most of the credit for a good movie tends to go to the director.

Those who remained confident that “The Social Network” remained the favorite for an Oscar sweep despite it getting beaten out in the number of Oscar nominations by two films, were given a sharp jolt because the winner last night was not David Fincher, but the extremely talented fact-based-drama specialist Tom Hooper of “The King’s Speech.” Count me among the surprised.

I’ll save for later why I still think the Oscars’ are either movie’s ball game or could easily be a sort split decision. However, in an amusing not quite coincidence, “Social Network” star and Oscar nominee Jessie Eisenberg had a small surprise of his own to reveal as he hosted “Saturday Night Live” last night.

Let’s see Colin Firth pull that off with King George VI. Also, Mark Zuckerberg can’t complain that he was misrepresented in terms of height, at least. H/t Nikki Finke.

The winner in the best documentary DGA category, by the way, was Charles Ferguson of the hugely acclaimed “Inside Job” which might actually guarantee that it won’t win the Best Documentary Oscar, because that’s the way the documentary category often rolls. We’ll see. For you TV fans, I’ll post/paste the complete list of DGA Awards (nice wins for Mick Jackson and Martin Scorsese,) after the flip.

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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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Boardwalk Empire 1.12 – Life’s a Funny Proposition After All

Welcome, my friends, to the season finale of “Boardwalk Empire.” I really haven’t a clue how many of you there actually are, but given how few comments I’ve been getting, I have to figure that it isn’t a huge number. Still, I’ve been trudging ever onward, mostly because HBO has been kind enough to provide me with the episodes far enough in advance that I generally haven’t had to stay awake into the wee hours of Sunday evenings to finish up my blogs. Tonight, however, all of America’s TV critic stand on even footing, watching the finale at the same time as everyone else…or, in my case, slightly later. I was away on a brief vacation – except not really, since it was a trip that I’m going to end up writing about for Bullz-Eye, thereby making it a work-related excursion – and literally walked in the door just as the finale was kicking off, and it’s taken me ’til now (10:50 PM EST) to finally get myself wound down from my flight, grab a snack and a drink, and settle in to write.

When we first see Agent Van Alden this evening, he’s quoting St. Augustine. Moments later, he’s smacking the living shit out of a potential new recruit and lying about Agent Sepso’s cause of death, claiming it was a heart attack rather than, y’know, at Van Alden’s own hand. Clearly, he’s losing it…oh, who are we kidding? He lost it long ago. One presumes, however, that a certain part of him knows he’s losing it, as he’s decided to depart the bureau. I can’t see him getting away with having murdered Sepso, however. Not with all of those witnesses.

Nucky’s pretty pissed off about the current state of affairs in the mayoral race of Atlantic City, with the democratic candidate, Fletcher, poised to take home the victory. In asking his team – which includes Chalky White – to hunt up as many potential voters as possible for his candidate, Bader, Nucky’s seething with anger over the goings-on his personal life is palpable, and it doesn’t help that he’s being constantly told that his decision to remove Eli was a wrong one. Chalky admits, however, that Fletcher’s people have approached him in an attempt to get him to use his sway with his “people” and get them to vote for him. In truth, however, he says he’s only doing it for the money, that he’s really doing it for Nucky…particularly if he can get a little bit more money out of the deal. In addition to the money, Chalky wants a new car and an invitation to the new mayor’s victory party. Nucky said it’s tough to promise the latter, but Chalky calmly suggests it’s probably in both their best interests if he comes through.

Although she’s evacuated from the love nest provided to her by Nucky, Margaret and her kids are still in the general area, hanging out with Nan, mother of Warren Harding’s love child. Nan’s still quite naive, the poor thing, expecting to hear from Harding any day now. (Yeah, right…) As such, she can only offer Margaret a place to stay for a few more days, focusing on her future as a resident of the White House. In the meantime, Margaret keeps her chin up as best she can, baking a barn brack but clearly worrying a bit about her new friend’s state of mind.

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Boardwalk Empire 1.11 – Thou Hast Fulfilled the Judgment of the Wicked

At last, after several references to him during the course of the season, we finally get a first-hand look at Hardeen, brother of Houdini. His performance, while ostensibly impressive, receives little more than a yawn from Nucky. Margaret, meanwhile, is on the verge of offering a standing ovation. Harry and Annabelle are also in attendance, with Harry looking particularly nervous. He claims it’s because it makes him nervous to see Hardeen tied up. I’m skeptical. I don’t know what’s going on, but Harry’s clearly up to something…

Angela’s drifting off in thought while sitting at the dinner table, which really apparently pisses off Jimmy. Fair enough: he’s still smarting from the situation with the photographer, clearly distrusting his wife despite her assurances that she never slept with the man…which is true insofar as it goes, but let’s not go there right now. What’s more important is that he receives a phone call. It sounds like business, but he says it was his mother, letting him know that his father is dying. Given that Jimmy seemed to have viewed Nucky as a father figure when the season kicked off, I think it’s fair to say that the bond between him and his real father must be pretty weak.

Agents Van Alden and Sepso are enjoying a spot of Chinese when Van Alden unsurprisingly turns the topic of conversation to that of Sepso having killed Billy, and it’s not exactly what you’d call a polite dinnertime chat. Sepso maintains his cool, relatively speaking, but it’s clear that this won’t be the last time Van Alden brings up the matter.

The evening with Hardeen continues beyond his proper show, as he entertains the troops back at Nucky’s place. Once again, Margaret and Annabelle are enthralled, while Nucky shrugs and Harry sweats. It’s pretty funny to watch Hardeen play up his reputation even as he plays down his brother’s, but the fun stops when Harry explodes and at least explains why he’s been looking so sketchy all night: he’s lost a huge amount of money at the hands of one Charles Ponzi…and if the name sounds familiar, yes, he is the one who gave name to the so-called Ponzi Scheme, which most recently came to prominence via Bernie Madoff. So much for the relationship between Harry and Annabelle, eh?

Rothstein gets word from Chicago that things ain’t looking good for him with the whole Black Sox situation. His attorney suggests that he heads to Chi-Town, but to make sure he knows someone in the city who’s willing to do him a favor. Will it be Capone or Torrio?

No, The Commodore’s not dead yet, but you can’t blame his maid for fearing the worst. I mean, the guy’s already sick, and then his dog dies…? Talk about the kind of thing to send a guy into a tailspin. But, wait, who’s the Commodore’s guest? Jimmy?!? Wait a minute: Jimmy’s the Commodore’s son? Did we already know this? I’m pretty sure we didn’t. (Given the predilection of the majority of this blog’s few readers to only comment when they have a chance to criticize or complain, I can only presume someone will quickly confirm if I’m wrong.) Boy, Jimmy’s really pissed off that he’s had to make this visit, and it’s clear that he won’t miss his father when he’s gone. How else to explain the fact that, when the Commodore says he’s dying, Jimmy’s only response is to say, “Well, then, I will call you a priest.” Still, when the Commodore adds that the wrong person is running Atlantic City, it causes such mixed feelings in Jimmy that he promptly pukes. Still, I guess it would be a little confusing to realize that a man you’ve loathed for decades could well be the one who holds the key to the future you’ve been seeking.

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Boardwalk Empire 1.10 – “That’s Mommy’s kissing friend!”

At last, the spotlight is placed back onto Richard Harrow…and, wow, how utterly depressing it must be for him to go from a dreamworld where he’s still the man he used to be back into a reality where his face frightens children. Nucky looked like he might’ve been as least slightly more sympathetic about the situation than Margaret was (which stands to reason, given that it was her daughter who had the bejeezus scared out of her), but he’s right: after his assassination attempt last week, they are already on edge. Hearing the shriek of her child no doubt stopped Margaret’s heart cold.

Sepso’s trying to look as utterly innocent as possible as he swears up and down that he had no choice but to kill Billy in self-defense, even going so far as to claim that the incident will haunt him for the rest of his days, but Van Alden’s expression when Sepso’s exonerated reveals that he doesn’t even remotely believe him, and he only gets more exasperated and infuriated as he’s accused of being a bungler. He’s got one more chance before his career comes crumbling down around him…and, boy, does he know it. The later scene with him flipping through his paperwork, trying desperately to find a way to bring down Nucky, is pitiful.

Angela’s painting a peaceful beach scene when Jimmy emerges from the bedroom for his first cigarette of the day and compliments her on her artwork. She seems mildly surprised that he’s even been paying attention. When he first started groping on her, I thought she was getting annoyed, but instead she found herself titillated to the point of letting her canvas clatter to the floor and allowing Jimmy to have his way with her. Clearly, their relationship is getting at least somewhat back on track.

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A “Peeping Tom” returns

This is not the first time I’ve posted about the great thriller Michael Powell made with writer and famed WWII cryptographer Leo Marks. Released the very same year as “Psycho,” “Peeping Tom” was also about a serial killer, but was much more stylized and shot in eye-filling Eastmancolor. It featured, I believe, not a single drop of onscreen blood. Yet, it more or less permanently disabled the career of one of the greatest directors of all time.

Below the often thoughtful but highly tendentious BBC film critic, Mark Kermode, is on his absolute best behavior as he provides terrific interviews with Powell’s widow, famed film editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and her boss/colleague and #1 Powell fan and friend, Martin Scorsese, as they try to explain just what made, and makes, “Peeping Tom” so powerful and relevant today.

The irony of the completely opposite post-serial-killer movie fates of Alfred Hitchcock and Powell, who were of roughly the same generation and peers in the English film industry at one point, never fails to stun me. I’m also endlessly impressed by the fact that there was a time and a place where movie critics could not only destroy a film, they could end a career. I wonder how “Peeping Tom” would have been received if it came out in North America first.

You can see the even more excellent complete 22 minute interview with Martin Scorsese over at The Guardian which, among other topics includes some discussion of the upcoming “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” and Scorsese’s thoughts on shooting the film in 3D. As for, “Peeping Tom,” let’s hope, that restoration hits the States before too long.

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Boardwalk Empire 1.9 – The Road to Oz

Eli may still be stuck in bed, recovering from his gunshot wounds, but he’s doing well enough to finger the guys responsible for taking him down while robbing the casino: the D’Alessio brothers. Their reputation as a bunch of full-fledged thugs more than precedes them, and Eli wants them taken down before they do any more damage. (The Thompsons’ take on criminal activity is of a much higher class, you know.) Nucky, however, is concerned about a mayoral candidate named Derwood Fletcher who’s been talking about all the corruption in the city. Eli shrugs it off, but Nucky’s concerned about how it’s going to affect the election. Something tells me that Eli’s desire to get out there and perform a bit of spin control is only going to backfire. I don’t know if it’ll damage Nucky’s career or Eli’s health, but I just can’t imagine something’s not going to suffer as a result.

Meanwhile, on the boardwalk, Nan Britton – a.k.a. Warren Harding’s mistress – is musing to Margaret about how Warren’s love for her can’t compete for his love of America…not that she’s rationalizing her situation. They soon pop into Margaret’s former place of employment in order to get Nan a few new frocks, but Margaret also gets an earful from Madame Jeunet, who complains how much of her income goes straight into Nucky’s pocket. Oh, that woman: her complaints are valid, but the way she’s trying to play Margaret is despicable.

Hey, look, Jimmy’s back in Jersey! Once again, he confirms that his family isn’t his priority by conceding to Nucky that he came straight from the train station to his office. As I suspected last week, Richard Harrow is going to play a part, with Jimmy telling Nucky that he wants Richard to help him on the D’Alessio job. It’s interesting that Jimmy wants Nucky to admit outright that he wants him to kill the brothers, then makes a face when he gets confirmation that “the kid” has a death sentence as well. Criminals have the strangest take on ethics.

Speaking of the D’Alessios, they’re meeting with Rothstein, who clearly outclasses them by about 10:1, if not more. He knows it, too. First, he underlines the fact that he’s got a reputation to uphold, thereby indicating that he’s not sure they won’t embarrass him, then he discusses the methods of making money via bootlegging in such a way that he gives hem the opportunity to put their foot in their mouth with their stupidity. He wants to set up a scotch-importing business, and he’s hopeful that they might be able to assist him in bypassing Nucky in the equation, though he has them sign insurance policies to cover his bases. I had to laugh at Rothstein’s closing joke about the monkeys at the zoo, because he’s right: he and the D’Alessios are two completely different species of criminals.

I like how Nucky’s a fan of L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books. I don’t know if you’ve read anything beyond the original “Wizard of Oz,” but there’s some really great stuff to be found in Baum’s exploration of the land of Oz…but I digress. He and Margaret soon descend into a political discussion, where Nucky lays out his theory on politicians: “If we only elected good men, we’d never have leaders.” Is that an original quote? Somehow, it seems too profound for Nucky. The topic quickly shifts to Madame Jeunet and her business, causing Nucky to tense up at the unsuitable nature of the topic and leave abruptly. Whoops: power struggle in the Thompson house.

Angela looks horribly uncomfortable with a man’s arm around her, doesn’t she? Not so when she’s being kissed by another woman, though. Hello, menage a troi…? If so, it’s going to be a decidedly uneven affair. But, no, the proceedings are interrupted by the return of Jimmy, who’s acting pretty shitty for someone who’s been away from home and virtually incommunicado for as long as he has. Her friends make a hasty departure, leaving Jimmy and Angela to…interact? I don’t really know what you’d call it. It hardly starts off as consensual, but it appears to end up that way, unless she’s just resigned to her fate.

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Boardwalk Empire 1.8 – It’s A New World

As Eli sits behind Nucky’s desk, trying to make everything look just so, only one thought comes to mind: “This man could not possibly look less comfortable in a position of power.” Clearly, everyone knows it, too. When Nucky’s in town, there’s always a line of people to see him, but with Eli in charge…? The place is a ghost town. As soon as Eli started mouthing off to his right-hand man about how easy it’d be for him to do what Nucky does, I knew that a major screw-up was destined to go down before the end of the episode. The only question was what it would be, and it didn’t take long to figure out that it’d have some connection to Neary’s replacement missing his route for a day to be with his polio-stricken daughter.

Similarly, it was inevitable that Nucky would cross paths with Jimmy at some point while he was in Chicago, but until that happened, we got to see him try to pull rank with a hotel concierge. I actually thought he might fail, given that he wasn’t on his home turf, but never underestimate the power of a big wad of cash. Sitting down for dinner, he flips open his brochure for the Republican National Convention and finds an ad for Colosimo’s, thereby securing a visit to that particular establishment in the near future, but before he can make any specific plans, Senator Edge swings by the table to invite Nucky to attend Harry Daugherty’s shindig on his behalf. Obviously, it’s funny in retrospect to hear them disparaging Warren G. Harding, but looking back at the race for the Republican candidate in 1920, you can see why. Even with all the bootlegging going on in the wake of prohibition, Harding’s nomination may have been the biggest crime to be committed that year, and Harry Daugherty was the man behind it.

Margaret and her gal-pal Annabelle (a.k.a. Harry’s woman) are gossiping it up over tea when a harried Madam Regina approaches, unexpectedly asking for assistance with…Lucy? Oh, God, this is going to be bad. Lucy’s trying to get a few more things on Nucky’s dime, but when Margaret tries to politely sway her into leaving calmly, it descends into namecalling that, somewhat surprisingly, leads Margaret to slap Lucy. Ouch!

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