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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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Turner Classic Film Fest: A history of violence

I know, pretty dark headline for  a post about a really fun, glamor heavy film fest. All the more so because, at least for me, TCM  Fest is the kind of event that  can put you in a kind of steel bubble which the daily news can barely pierce. If another Cuban Missile Crisis happened during Comic-Con, what would happen? Maybe if it ended differently this time.

Indeed, even a momentous event  like the death of Osama Bin Laden could just barely penetrate TCM’s  mix of Hollywood fantasy and scholarship. For me, the news first came as I overheard another filmgoer during an intermission of “West Side Story,” which I had popped in on just to see how good the 70mm print was, say to another. “No, he’s really dead.” I figured it was another classic film star gone forever. George Chakiris, who played Sharks leader Bernardo, had introduced the screening, but how were Jets Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn doing?

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Movie news for a no longer new week

A few items of note…

* Back in 1939, Hollywood’s best-paid screenwriter, Preston Sturges, sold his screwball political satire, “The Great McGinty,” to Paramount for the grand sum of $10.00 on condition that he also be allowed to direct the movie. (I think he might have gotten a buck for the actual directing gig.) To this day, writers often take a pay cut for the privilege of becoming what Sturges used to call “a prince of the blood.”

Today, Mike Fleming reports that writer Dan Fogelman may be about to be paid in the neighborhood of $3 million to direct his first feature. “Imagine” is set to star Steve Carrell and will pair him with an older actor –presumably an aging superstar — who will be playing his extremely absentee rock musician dad who discovers a letter from John Lennon and decides to actually meet his now-middle-aged son for the first time.

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* My colleague Will Harris forwarded me a press release with some exciting news for serious movie fans and fans of serious movies. Screenwriter and director Paul Schrader, still best known as the writer of “Taxi Driver,” but also a fascinating director in his own right with credits ranging from “American Gigolo” and “Cat People,” to “Mishima” and “Auto Focus” is poised to come back with “The Jesuit.” The deal for closed at the ongoing American Film Market, still underway in Santa Monica, and is set to star Willem Dafoe, Michelle Rodriguez, and Paz Vega. It’s a revenge film and, between that title and the Calvinist-raised Schrader’s well known inclinations from past films, you can hope for more than just a bit of spirituality meshing with the blood, guts, and sexuality. The Playlist has more.

* The Playlist also passes along the news that Christopher Doyle, an Australian-born cinematographer who made his name doing absolutely stunning work in Hong Kong for Wong Kai-Wai and others, is going to be making his first film in 3D. That should be interesting.

* From “True Blood” werewolf to Superman? Is it a Great Dane? Is it a lycanthrope? No, it’s Joe Manganiello.

* Hot on the heels of producing “Paranormal Activity 2″ and wrapping “Area 51″ the very shrewd Oren Peli is going back to the roots of American horror with a film loosely based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe.

* Screenwriter John August responds to a less than intelligent quote attributed to Jessica Alba.

* No, Ahmet Zappa and Michael Wilson aren’t writing “Tiki Room: The Movie” but an Polynesian tale that was inspired by the Tiki Room. I don’t care, as long as the birds sing words and the flowers croon.

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Wednesday night at the movies

I’ll be taking tomorrow off, so this’ll have to hold you….

* Several blogs, including The Vulture, are commenting on Disney’s refusal to greenlight a sequel to the Sandra Bullock/Ryan Reynolds hit comedy, “The Proposal.” Apparently, Disney is only interested in either franchise pictures with commercial spin off possibilities (i.e, toys and video games) or small-budget youth-themed films.

Ryan  Reynolds and Sandra Bullock in

* So, after everything we’ve seen from him over the last eleven years or so, I’m supposed to believe George Lucas getting more involved will improve the reportedly troubled “Red Tails”? I just hope he stays far, far away from the actors.

* The Playlist has a fascinating peak at an apparent early draft of P.T. Anderson’s not-about-Scientology screenplay.

* The late John Hughes will get a special Oscar tribute this year.

* Nikki Finke on the latest version of the often remade Wuthering Heights. They might as well just go all-out and make Heathcliff a vampire in this one, from the sound of it.

* The British trade, Screen Daily, is the latest pub to go behind a paywall. Anne Thompson has some salient thoughts.

* “American Pie 4″ may come to us from the “Harold & Kumar” writers. “Middle-Aged Pie”? (H/t /Film.)

* Remember that wacky/fascinating rumored Lars von Trier/Martin Scorsese remake(s) of “Taxi Driver” rumor I mentioned a couple of days back? Not at all surprisingly, it was just a rumor.


Benecio del Toro chills out in
* Devin Faraci of CHUD provides a listen to that unused rock music score for “The Wolfman.” Yup, it’s hard to imagine how it could possibly have worked with a period horror film, but then I probably would have told Quentin Tarantino that using an eighties David Bowie song in a World War II movie wasn’t such a great idea, either.

Actually, much as I love “Inglourious Basterds,” I’m still not convinced about that particular touch.

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President’s Day movie news

It might be a national holiday, but movie news hasn’t been taking anything like a break.

* It’s not really even movie news in the usual sense, but Kevin Smith has been making big Internet news by making a big Internet stink about being ejected from a Southwest Airlines flight for being “too wide for the sky.” The latest: He might go on Larry King or “The Daily Show” to prove his point. Of course, this is movie news if it helps out the grosses for this upcoming buddy police comedy, “Cop Out.”

* This is really interesting and weird. All weekend, we’ve been hearing that Martin Scorsese has announced that he and old friend Robert De Niro would be revisiting the world of the mob in an upcoming film. Secondarily, there are numerous stories — actually not much more than written down rumors that he, together with cinema bad boy Lars von Trier, would be doing a series of remakes of some sort of his classic early collaboration with De Niro, “Taxi Driver,” possibly with the participation of the actor.

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If anyone out there has seen “The Five Obstructions” they’ll have some clue what is supposed to be going on here. It’s a highly entertaining documentary in which the director challenged his filmmaking mentor, Jørgen Leth, to remake an experimental short film of his that von Trier admired five times, each time with some creative limitation thrown in the way. The idea being that creative obstacles can sometimes lead to more interesting work.

Of course, Scorsese and De Niro aren’t going to make five full-length “Taxi Driver” remakes based on the Danish director’s whims, but if there’s anything to this, it’s certainly something I’d pay to see. Peter Hall at Cinematical has the most concise version of this confusing story or non-story that I’ve seen, and likes the idea as much as I do.

* And that’s not all on the Scorsese speculation front. The Playlist passes on word from the paywall encrusted Variety that he may be contemplating making his next film, a movie about movies called “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” in 3-D. It was good enough for Alfred Hitchcock in “Dial M for Murder,” so I wouldn’t be surprised and, for this particular project, it might make sense.

* Can you imagine the Oscars — or any award show — without innumerable thank yous? I can’t. Still if what Peter Sciretta at /Film reports turns out to be for real, it would prevent any more unpleasantness like this.

* Another Oscar institution really does seem to be on its way out: Barbara Walters’ post show interviews.

* Patrick Goldstein quizzes Quentin Tarantino on influences, why he likes them and why he doesn’t like them being used against him.

* The estimates for the entire three-day weekend are out. No huge surprises based on what I wrote yesterday.

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Mouse reshuffles, Leo the lion on the block, and other tales

* In the real world Obama appears to be rethinking Afghanistan; in the cable TV world Lou Dobbs is relieving CNN of his xenophobia and is threatening to go into politics while The Onion has the real scoop. Meanwhile in the movie world, Disney’s new chairman, Rich Ross, is reorganizing. It sounds as if technology will be leading the way in the new regime. Also, the structure of the organization will resemble more a television network, we’re told, than a movie studio. Once upon a time that might have worried me, but these days TV is hardly any worse than movies. I’m not sure if that’s good news about TV or bad news about movies. (A little of both?)

* The lion of Hollywood has been a bit mangy for a long time now. Peter Bart reports that MGM is about to be sold and the whole thing, 4,000 titles and all, is worth about $1.5 billion, which would be a lot of money to you and me but to a once mighty film studio sure sounds paltray. One factor, even the older titles in the library ain’t what they used to be, either. The studio’s signature titles: “The Wizard of Oz,” “Gone With the Wind,” and “Singin’ in the Rain” are now available on Warner Brother’s DVD along with a good chunk of their best known classics.  The ghosts of Culver City’s glory days are restless tonight.

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* Apparently being a movie critic these days is such an unstable, lousy position that some of the best known reviewers are jumping ship and becoming film festival programmers. Yesterday, it was Newsweek’s David Ansen. Today, it’s the L.A. Weekly/Village Voice’s Scott Foundas. Anne Thompson has the depressing news that might nevertheless be creating more opportunities for some of the better known online folks.

* The fruits of my compatriot Will Harris’s London sojourn are appearing in the form of some extremely worth-your-time interviews. First with writer/director Richard Curtis of the criticially underrated “Love, Actually” and the soon to be released “Pirate Radio.” Also roly-poly movie superstud and general all around good guy Nick Frost of “Shaun of the Dead,” etc., as well as “Pirate” newcomers Tom Sturridge and Talulah Riley gets the Harris treatment as well. Bob says collect ‘em all.

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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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