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The Gruesome Death of Angel Fernandez (no relation) or Scarface (1982) Starring Al Pacino, (a very young) Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio making her feature debut and written by Oliver Stone.

When I hear Brian De Palma’s name strangely not much comes to mind.  I am not sure why because he directed Scarface, Carlito’s Way, The Untouchables and Bonfire of the Vanities but for some reason his name seems to stay under the radar.  Be that as it may, Scarface came up in conversation over the Mariel Boatlift, Castro’s announcement that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. were free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana the first of 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the very next day.  What the person I was discussing this event with didn’t know was that Castro used this opportunity to empty out some prisons and insane asylums.  Enter Tony Montana a/k/a “Scarface” the one time Cuban peasant turned Miami drug lord.

I was very young when I saw this film and I think because of its hardcore nature I thought it was great.  To my surprise, the film during its run was apparently shunned by many and earned Brian De Palma’s a Worst Director Razzie.  Apparently this movie is like a fine wine has acquired a large enough following during the 25-plus years since its release to push it into “cult classic” category.  When viewed today, Scarface seems less shocking than it did during its initial theatrical run and there is limited entertainment value for those who savor over-the-top, gratuitous exploitation, but the level of quality is I believe is such that Scarface deserves a full re-evaluation by the critical community.  It has become a benchmark for other films within its genre.

Look at the numbers.  Scarface was released on December 9, 1983, grossing $4.6 million in its opening weekend.  The film went on to make $45.4 million in North America and $20.5 million internationally for a worldwide total of $65.9 million (over $135 million, when adjusted for inflation, as of 2010).  Scarface also served as a stepping stone for Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio who would each go on to bigger and better things.

Scarface is also one of a very few remakes that Hollywood got right.  Scarface is a remake of a 1932 film of the same name, although only the structural skeleton remains.  The decision was made to shift the action from Depression-era Chicago to Miami around the time of the 1980 Mariel Harbor boat lift as a means to give the movie new relevance.  It’s interesting to note that De Palma apparently wanted to do a Chicago prohibition picture, since that’s what he did four years later with The Untouchables.  However, although Scarface is set in Miami, most of it was filmed in California due to opposition from the Miami tourist board.

As far as the story goes, in 1980, Cuban refugee Tony Montana arrives in Miami during the Mariel boatlift.  He, along with his best friend Manny Ribera (Steven Bauer), and their friends and associates Angel (Pepe Serna) and Chi-Chi (Ángel Salazar), are sent to “Freedom Town,” a refugee camp.  In exchange for killing a former Cuban government official at the request of cocaine trafficking player Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) in revenge for torturing his brother to death, the group is released from Freedom Town and given citizenship.  Once out of Freedom Town, the gang is offered a deal by Frank’s henchman Omar Suarez (F. Murray Abraham) to buy cocaine from some Colombian dealers.  The deal goes a little south and Angel Fernandez is dismembered with a chainsaw by the Colombians in the shower.  Some have compared what De Palma accomplishes in that scene to what the director’s hero, Alfred Hitchcock, did when Janet Leigh took her shower in Psycho.  It is impressive how the scene manages to suggest X-rated violence without showing explicit carnage the vivid sound of the saw, some splashes of blood, and a lot of frantic fast-cutting is all that’s needed to convince us we have seen something more horrific than what is before our eyes.

After checking out some women, but too late for angel, Manny and Chi-Chi finally storm the apartment before Tony get butchered, and the Colombians are killed.  Tony and Manny insist on personally giving Frank the money and drugs retrieved from the deal.  Impressed, Frank hires Tony and Manny. During their meeting, Tony meets, and is instantly attracted to, Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer), Frank’s girlfriend.

From there the film follows the rise of Montana to the dizzying height of drug kingpin to his spectacular fall in the final shootout when he famously says “Say hello to my little friend!” spoken by Montana of his M16A1’s M203-military grade grenade-launcher.  And it is a long rise and fall—the film is over three hours long, probably to long for many viewers.

I can’t tell you if you’ve got a spare three hours that you must watch this film.  Scarface is not for everyone—not even close.  But as I noted before, the movie has become a standard by which others within its genre are measured against.  That, combined with its cult classic status, make it worthy of watching for the more serious movie viewer.  So don’t say I didn’t warn you, but I will watch it again simply because I like it.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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Burn Notice the Series—Bruce Campbell Playing Bruce Campbell, from My Name is Bruce.

I’ve got to tell you, I struggled with what to use as JPFmovies’ third installment of our tribute to Bruce Campbell, so SS recommended Burn Notice.  As I don’t have regular/contemporary TV I had no clue what he was talking about, so obtained the pilot and episodes 1-2.  While he does not play the leading role (and in my opinion should get more face time) Campbell does fit the mold perfectly.

Campbell plays “Sam Axe”: An aging, semi-retired pudgy covert operative and former Navy SEAL.  Constantly short of cash, Axe spends his time drinking and sleeping with rich, older Miami women in exchange for the basics: food, booze and shelter.  He and Westen (the main character) are old buddies; Axe is also Westen’s consistent link to the official spy community.  Axe is “the guy who knows a guy,” and Westen relies on Axe’s long list of shady contacts as well as his ingrained tactical and covert skills.  Axe is not all fun and games; he is also an FBI informant, reporting on Westen when the FBI buys him lunch, but Axe is glad to become a double agent and pass questionable information to the FBI agents.  At some point in the past, Axe foiled Westen’s ex-girlfriend’s attempt to sell a large shipment of weapons to a Libyan arms dealer, costing her a good deal of money.  As a result, Fiona initially is very hostile towards him, but the two eventually become very antagonistic friends and Axe asks her for advice concerning his relationships with women.

The general premise of the show is this: Spies aren’t fired; they get “burned.”  Michael Westen received a “burn notice” and is stuck in his hometown of Miami, he’s been left in the cold with no money, no job and no information.  With no job history, cash or credit, he becomes a quasi-private eye, using the skills he learned as an intelligence operative.  With the help of his old friend, the drinking, womanizing Sam Axe (Campbell), and his gun-running, trigger-happy ex-girlfriend Fiona, he makes people’s problems disappear.  However, he remains on a constant quest to find out who burned him so he can get back into the game.  Burn Notice is in its sixth season and (like Miami Vice) filmed on location in Miami.

I liked the episodes, even though I was skeptical and expecting another run of the mill cop show with a tired twist. The first three episodes were not bad.  I don’t know if it can keep up the stories for six seasons, but the first one was probably pretty good.  The show is sort of a cross between Miami Vice and MacGiver; that is, using the flair and glitz of Miami while Westen and Campbell use hardware stores and homemade devices more than guns (that is what Westen’s ex Fiona is for).

Like I said, I think you could substitute Bruce Campbell in My Name is Bruce for Sam Axe in Burn Notice without skipping a beat—but hell, that is ok with me ‘cause there is nothing like a good old fashioned sleaze ball on TV.

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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