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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The Winning Season

Sam Rockwell might just be one of the most consistent actors of his generation, delivering solid work for the better part of the last decade with little recognition to show for it. But while his performance in “The Winning Season” can hardly be considered a career best, the film is a lot better because of his involvement. After all, most underdog sports movies rarely aspire to more than just crowd-pleaser status, and though the story is as predictable as they come – a washed out basketball prospect (Rockwell) is given a second chance at life when he’s offered the coaching job for a girls’ high school team – it does its best to avoid the typical genre clichés and offer something beyond those schmaltzy, inspirational moments.

That’s not to say that the film is entirely successful, but director James C. Strouse keeps those moments to a bare minimum, focusing less on the basketball team and more on the man in charge. It’s a lot like “Hoosiers” in spirit, but hardly a classic in the making. Still, Rockwell is always a joy to watch, and he’s surrounded by a great supporting cast (including Emma Roberts, Rob Corddry, and the ever-reliable Margo Martindale), so unless you’re just sick of the genre as a whole, there’s no reason you won’t enjoy “The Winning Season” for the piece of feel-good entertainment that it is.

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Kinda midweekish movie news

Again, plenty to do so I’ll try to keep things efficient this evening as I go over a few stories. Some of them, I must admit, are left overs from last night. Still, just like the way cold chicken can be even better after sitting in the fridge, maybe this news will have improved slightly with time.

* If we can believe the Wall Street Journal, it appears that the Weinstein/Burkle deal to kinda-sort retake Miramax is off, writes Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical.  Since the company is actually named after the parents of Harvey and Bob Weinstein, I imagine this might hurt a little.

Dominic Cooper in * John Slattery of “Mad Men” was one of the more pleasant surprises of “Iron Man 2” as a middle-aged (actually long-deceased) Howard Stark. Now, we know who’ll be playing Stark as a young man in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” It’s Dominic Cooper, the male ingenue of “Mamma Mia,” whose other recent parts includes playing Uday Hussein, so he’s definitely running the gamut.

* Jesse Eisenberg, who had a rather good weekend with two films in limited release, is reteaming with his “Zombieland” director, Ruben Fleischer. The picture sounds like a pretty fun black comedy about a bizarre bank robbery. Aziz Ansari is also in the film as a middle-school teacher which, right off the bat makes me laugh.

* Sam Rockwell as…Joe Christ?

* There’s very little reason to expect the Paul W.S. Anderson 3-D version “The Three Musketeers” is going to be anywhere near one of the better versions of the oft-filmed adventure tale, but I actually like the idea of elf-to-punching-bag actor Orlando Bloom as a bad ass villain. I’ve missed most of his non-elven performances, so I’m not yet a Bloom-hater. Anyhow, it’s good for actors to stretch a bit.

*  I might have been tempted to run clips from the ongoing “Star Wars” spoofery going on at “The Family Guy” only I have this strange, yet deep, inner conviction that Seth MacFarlane should in no way be confused with someone who makes funny shows. The clip from a table read embedded on a  post by Geoff Boucher only strengthens that conviction. I seriously do not understand what those people are laughing at. I’ve asked this question before and have never received a good answer: is the “joke” of his shows that all the jokes are bad?

* If the movie adventures of young Jack London get more kids to actually read Jack London, I think that’ll be great. Confession time: I’ve only read The Sea Wolf. The movie, despite having Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield, and Ida Lupino in it, didn’t begin to do it justice. Steling Hayden or Robert Ryan were the only men ever born to play the half-insane, ultra-macho, pseudo-intellectual control freak Wolf Larsen. Actually, Russell Crowe could not only play Wolf Larson, I suspect he is Wolf Larsen.

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An audience with the “Iron Man 2” crowd

So, a couple of weeks back, a volcano went off in Iceland. That meant that planes in Europe couldn’t fly for several days, which meant that suddenly a London press junket was canceled and rescheduled in Los Angeles, which meant that, one recent Thursday night, I wound up seeing “Iron Man 2” at the AMC Theater in Century City instead of “A Star is Born” at Grauman’s Chinese for the TCM Classic Film Festival. (The world is getting much smaller…)

Moreover, thanks to the volcano, the next morning, instead of my Crunchy Raisin Bran and 1% milk, I was instead being buttered up by with French toast and applewood-smoked bacon buffet at the Four Seasons, a free Iron Man action figure, and a theoretical chance to ask a question of the all-star cast of “Iron Man 2” — i.e., Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle,and soon to be super-villain of the year Mickey Rourke — not to mention director/co-star Jon Favreau, writer Justin Thoreaux, and producer Kevin Feige.

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Of course, considering the 150 or so people in the room, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get to ask any questions, but it was a pretty entertaining event. Robert Downey may have famously given up a number of vices, but being a perpetual class clown does not seem to be one of them, and it wasn’t like he was the only interesting person in the room.

The first question, about whether Favreau or he felt any pressure in terms of living up to the success of the first “Iron Man,” set the tone. Favreau admitted he had never been involved with a sequel before, unless you count his “under five” bit part as “Assistant” in Joel Schumacher’s notorious “Batman Forever.” It certainly is a change from small independent films like Favreau’s career-making acting and writing debut, “Swingers,” which he compared to throwing a party and hoping people would come.

“…[On ‘Iron Man 2’] we knew that people were going to show up,” Favreau said. “We just wanted to make sure that everyone who showed up had a good time and that this was going to be as fun or more fun than the last party. So it’s a different kind of pressure.”

Downey then felt the need to start listing sequels others on the panel had been involved in, real and fictional. “Scarlet Johansson was in ‘Home Alone 3.’ Don Cheadle, 11, 12 and 13.”

That led to a question that was geeky in a way that anyone whose ever been a superhero comics fan will recognize, and which wound up being answered by producer Kevin Feige. It was about the “time-line” of the film. It turns out that, if viewers pay close attention, they can figure out that “Iron Man 2” actually takes place before 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk.” (Having seen both movies, I have no freakin’ clue how you’d deduce that.)

The Incredible Hulk

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The original “Robin’s Big Date”

Via Kevin Jagernauth at the Playlist, we learn that one of the skits for the upcoming, unnamed 17-director comedy anthology film is an expansion of the funny little film below from 2005, which comes as news to yours truly. “Robin’s Big Date” features Justin Long as a sensitive young Robin who has to put up with a supremely overbearing, bearded Batman (Sam Rockwell) who doesn’t seem to realize when he’s not wanted.

Especially with his outstanding work in “Moon” and the upcoming “Iron Man 2,” Rockwell is an actor who has really been growing on me a lot lately — I had previously found him a tad bland but I now see the error of my ways. His work here with Justin Long, also excellent, shows that his way with a comic scene is great stuff. Though I love that the updated version will include not only Rockwell and Long, but also writer-turned-actor Jon “I’m a PC” Hodgeman of “The Daily Show” as the Penguin, this nice little film is going to be hard to top. Enjoy.

Especially with his outstanding work in “Moon” and the upcoming “Iron Man 2,” Rockwell is an actor who has really been growing on me a lot lately — I had previously found him a tad bland but I now see the error of my ways. His work here with Justin Long, also excellent, shows that his way with a comic scene is nothing too new he already. Though I love that the updated version will include not only Rockwell and Long, but also writer-turned-actor Jon “I’m a PC” Hodgeman of “The Daily Show” as the Penguin, this nice little film is going to be hard to top. Enjoy.
  

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