Tag Archives: Danny Aiello

Do the Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee)

There are no clocks in Do the Right Thing. The film takes place over a twenty-four hour period; all the action is on one block, most of the characters live on the block. It’s a Saturday. Some people are working, some people aren’t. It’s a very hot day. And for the first ninety minutes of the film’s two hour runtime, writer-director-producer-actor Lee takes a relaxed approach to the pacing.

Lee’s protagonist isn’t exactly the main character; Thing has maybe four main plots running throughout the day, casually intersecting until everything crashes together. Lee’s part of most of them, but so’s Ossie Davis, so’s Giancarlo Esposito, so’s Bill Nunn. It’s about a lot of different people’s day. And Lee goes so deep with the backgrounds–narratively and filmically–it’s not always the top-billed who get the best scenes. Sure, John Turturro, Danny Aiello, and Ruby Dee all get excellent scenes and they’ve got bigger parts, but where Lee the filmmaker isn’t always in those scenes. Not for monologues for sure. Sam Jackson is the DJ and he gets some great scenes. Lee and editor Barry Alexander Brown change energy and tone with one cut to the next; the film already opens with Lee and Brown affecting the energy and tone.

The opening titles are over Rosie Perez dancing. She plays Lee’s girlfriend. They’ve got a kid. He’s not a great dad and he’s not a great boyfriend. But he loves her. They don’t live together.

Back to the opening titles. They’re over this red-colored monochrome Brooklyn street, empty besides Perez. Brown perfectly cuts on every movement as the shots cycle. Perez in different outfits, on different locations, with Ernest R. Dickerson changing up the lighting for most. More than the editing–or even pace, because Thing is never as relaxed as when Perez is dancing, not even in the quieter moments–more than either of those technical elements, Dickerson’s photography defines a lot of Thing. Especially during the first act when everything is getting set up. There’s a sharpness to Dickerson’s colors, but also enough warmth nothing ever clashes. And Frankie Faison’s third of a sidewalk raconteur trio is loudly dressed enough he definitely ought to clash. He’s in pastels in front of a red wall.

But Dickerson keeps it just warm enough. All those times where a clash should cause some kind of verisimilitude fissure–not because of the cast, but because of how Lee’s directing it–Dickerson’s photography keeps everything even. Or more inviting, actually. Faison doesn’t say much but he’s definitely the most amiable of the trio.

Robin Harris and Paul Benjamin make up the rest of the trio. Harris’s the most lovable, Benjamin’s unexpectedly the most dangerous. They sit and narrate the day, providing background through exposition. Lee’s script has so much going on at once, laying groundwork. One plot will discard an element, only for another to pick it up. Esposito is the energized pinball dinging between them.

Lee’s long setup, even after the first act establishing is done, is determining what exactly Esposito is dinging against. What are the bumpers he’s hitting. Only Espositio isn’t the main character either. He’s barely a supporting character. He’s kind of background, only he’s not, because the point of Thing is there is no background. Foreground and background intersect over and over–sometimes in great sequences, like Aiello friendliness to Joie Lee (Lee’s sister as his sister, which is a pragmatic goldmine). Lee and Turturro (as Aiello’s openly racist son–Aiello owns a pizza shop in a predominately Black neighborhood) don’t like Aiello’s attention to Joie Lee; Lee gets a lot of mileage out of it, both visually and in terms of narrative import.

There are times when Lee just lets a tangent go. It’s too hot to let things get drawn out. The end is different.

When the sun sets, Lee starts slowing things down. The last twenty minutes, minus the last two scenes, are in real-time. And Lee goes from a narrative distance of intense close-up to crane shot before things are over. He yanks the focus around, with Dickerson and Brown (and composer Bill Lee, accompanied by Branford Marsalis) making it all pretty, to keep the energy up but always different. He’s creating an entirely new narrative perspective, using materials he’s prepared in the previous ninety minutes.

Do the Right Thing goes from being great to being great in a totally different way; that second way is this careful rejection of melodrama, done at high speed. It’s awesome.

Great acting. Ossie Davis is the best. He’s got one of the fuller characters. Aiello’s real good, not flashy but real good. Turturro’s flashy and real good. Lee’s a fine protagonist. He’s generally reserved, which ends up helping to quickly introduce characters. In his scenes with Joie Lee and then Perez, he jumpstarts his character development. He’s more reactionary in his scenes with Aiello, Turturro, and Richard Edson (as Aiello’s nice younger son). Again, protagonist but not really main character.

In smaller parts, some fantastic acting. Dee, who starts a bigger character than she finishes, Harris, and Jackson, in particular. Joie Lee’s pretty good but never as good as when she’s bickering with her brother. Lee directs her a little different than everything else, almost like she’s in a featured cameo. The same goes, in very different ways, for Rosie Perez. She’s good too; it’s a good thing Perez is so naturally memorable–it’s the writing too but no one curses like she does–because she’s so set completely aside from everything else.

And, of course, a special mention of Christa Rivers. She’s in the background, she’s got no other film credits, but she’s tasked with holding a bunch of the film together just through reaction shots. She’s great.

Do the Right Thing is technically magnificent and beautifully acted. It’s also a stunning success for Lee. He goes after a lot with the film, does a lot with the film in terms of style and tone (and rapidly changing them), and it all hits.

Even with that studio-mandated insert shot of Lee at the end.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, produced, and directed by Spike Lee; director of photography, Ernest R. Dickerson; edited by Barry Alexander Brown; music by Bill Lee; production designer, Wynn Thomas; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Spike Lee (Mookie), Danny Aiello (Sal), Ossie Davis (Da Mayor), John Turturro (Pino), Joie Lee (Jade), Ruby Dee (Mother Sister), Rosie Perez (Tina), Giancarlo Esposito (Buggin Out), Richard Edson (Vito), Bill Nunn (Radio Raheem), Roger Guenveur Smith (Smiley), Paul Benjamin (ML), Frankie Faison (Coconut Sid), Robin Harris (Sweet Dick Willie), Miguel Sandoval (Officer Ponte), Rick Aiello (Officer Long), John Savage (Clifton), and Samuel L. Jackson (Mister Señor Love Daddy).


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The Stuff (1985, Larry Cohen)

According to IMDb, Larry Cohen cut about a half hour out of The Stuff. It’s entirely possible with that added footage, the movie might have made sense. As it’s cut now, it’s a somewhat diverting–at least until the third act–cross between The Blob and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Unfortunately, Cohen’s direction is weak throughout, so when he loses track of the story in the third act… there’s nothing to keep the film going.

As a satire, it’s only moderately successful. Cohen has a lot more success when he’s dealing in absurdity, like Paul Sorvino’s extremist militia leader who ends up saving the world. The way Cohen presents the character–clearly a nut job, but also one who genuinely cares about people and is completely ethical–is maybe the best thing about the film. It’s a small thing, but it just makes for some great scenes.

Sorvino’s not the lead though. Michael Moriarty is the lead. I’m not sure Moriarty could ever give a bad performance and he doesn’t here, he just doesn’t have a character arc. It seems like Cohen cut out the romance between Moriarty and Andrea Marcovicci, which is unfortunate. It would have given them both something to do when they weren’t doing the horror scenes.

I was a little surprised by Cohen’s bad direction, since it’s pervasive. The budget contributes to some of the problems, but certainly not all of them.

Garrett Morris is wasted, as is Danny Aiello.

Anthony Guefen’s goofy music doesn’t help.

Still, never boring.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Larry Cohen; director of photography, Paul Glickman; edited by Armond Lebowitz; music by Anthony Guefen; produced by Paul Kurta; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Michael Moriarty (David ‘Mo’ Rutherford), Andrea Marcovicci (Nicole), Garrett Morris (‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs), Paul Sorvino (Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears), Scott Bloom (Jason), Danny Aiello (Vickers) and Patrick O’Neal (Fletcher).


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Léon (1994, Luc Besson), the long version

When he’s doing good work, Luc Besson makes these transcendent films, but even some of his lesser works often have some moments with that quality.

Léon does not.

Many of the elements are there–but something’s off. Maybe it’s something simple, like Jean Reno is supposed to be playing an Italian immigrant who, apparently, just acts really French. Maybe it’s Gary Oldman’s histrionics. But, while both those things are definitely contributors to the film’s general failure, it’s mostly because Besson doesn’t really know what he’s doing with Natalie Portman.

If the film worked, it’d be a brilliant metaphor about her character’s transition into puberty… it’d be the Iron John for girls, only with guns.

And it’s never clear if Besson even realizes he had a real opportunity. One of the major problem’s with Besson’s films are how simplistic he gets when it comes to human emotions. In Léon, he tries hard to talk about emotions as much as possible. But it’s just talk.

Portman’s performance is excellent–so excellent she gave nearly identical performances a couple more times (Beautiful Girls and Heat)–but it should have been clear she didn’t have anywhere else to go. Besson’s characters in Léon are some of his most shallow–quite an achievement since shallowly conceived characters are a Besson staple–but at least Reno and Oldman are somewhat supposed to be ciphers. Portman’s character isn’t, but all the exposition is ludicrous.

Léon‘s a really boring film without much value. But it is competently produced.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Luc Besson; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Sylvie Landra; music by Eric Serra; production designer, Dan Weil; produced by Patrice Ledoux; released by Gaumont.

Starring Jean Reno (Léon), Gary Oldman (Stansfield), Natalie Portman (Mathilda), Danny Aiello (Tony), Peter Appel (Malky), Willi One Blood (1st Stansfield man), Don Creech (2nd Stansfield man), Keith A. Glascoe (3rd Stansfield man), Randolph Scott (4th Stansfield man), Michael Badalucco (Mathilda’s Father), Ellen Greene (Mathilda’s Mother), Elizabeth Regen (Mathilda’s Sister), Carl J. Matusovich (Mathilda’s Brother) and Frank Senger (Fatman).


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Moonstruck (1987, Norman Jewison)

I’ve seen Moonstruck once before–though I’d forgotten the terrible opening titles–and I think (I repressed the experience) that time I had the same response I just had this time. Moonstruck makes me worried I have brain damage. The first three quarters of the film, roughly until the very good scene between John Mahoney and Olympia Dukakis–one of the film’s two scenes of any merit–is something of a blur to me. It’s either entirely incoherent, some kind of audio visual LSD or my brain is simply shutting down and restarting every few seconds in the vain hope I’ve stopped watching the film.

The film owes quite a bit to Airplane!, which I wasn’t aware of when I started watching it this time–seriously, I didn’t remember it being quite so terrible–it’s probably the worst film I’ve sat through since Crash. There are all these lame, Airplane!-like jokes, except they aren’t funny. They’re actually rather desperate. I’d list them, but my brain’s already started repairing, so I cannot. Except the last one, with Danny Aiello forgetting his luggage all the time. Ha ha. Just like Crash, Moonstruck is Academy material.

There are a couple things to talk about it, before I run out of time (I’ve been eating tortillas with omega-3 added, so the neurological repairs are probably speedy). I’ll start with the actors, because I can sum up the other bit–about writer John Patrick Shanley–by simply saying he stinks.

Cher has a terrible accent and lousy dialogue. Her character is a witch with a b at the beginning–except the film doesn’t seem to recognize it. Everyone in Moonstruck is entirely self-absorbed. It’s like watching an unfunny “Seinfeld.” But at the beginning, the example I’m thinking of, involves Aiello’s dying mother and Cher being absolutely insensitive to it. She’s even hostile about it. It made me hate her. I don’t often hate fictional characters, but I hated Cher’s character. I didn’t start liking her until after she dyed her hair and stopped talking so much. The strange thing about her performance is it probably would appear good on mute. Her expressions, her physical performance, are good. Speaking of her dying her hair, Moonstruck very strangely objectifies her.

Anyway, there’s also the whole thing about Vincent Gardenia being a lovable adulterer. It’s too much to get into, but it’s astounding.

Nicolas Cage is actually pretty good in the first half. In the second half he has some of the worst dialogue in the film, so he’s terrible. But in the beginning, he’s fine.

Aiello’s lousy.

Louis Guss and Julie Bovasso are both good.

There are lots of nonsensical details, ones I can’t remember–I’m not even going to discuss Shanley in detail, I don’t want to kill any already mangled brain cells. My new favorite is Cher’s engagement ring–she’s wearing it on the wrong finger.

I’m trying to think of anything good to say about Moonstruck, but it’s pretty much impossible. Editor Lou Lombardo has one of the worst jump cuts I’ve ever seen in a major studio release. Actually, that point brings up an interesting comparison–Moonstruck‘s so incompetently written, Troma wouldn’t have greenlighted the script. Umm… the photography frequently doesn’t match because the effects shots of the moon are so terrible. Director Norman Jewison doesn’t have a single good shot in the whole picture, not even during the two good scenes.

I’m just glad I’ll have this response preserved in perpetuity… so I never make the mistake of watching this film again. Unless I’m trying to compare it to a hallucinogenic depressant.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Jewison; written by John Patrick Shanley; director of photography, David Watkin; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by Dick Hyman; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Patrick J. Palmer and Jewison; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Cher (Loretta Castorini), Nicolas Cage (Ronny Cammareri), Vincent Gardenia (Cosmo Castorini), Olympia Dukakis (Rose Castorini), Danny Aiello (Mr. Johnny Cammareri), Julie Bovasso (Rita Cappomaggi), John Mahoney (Perry) and Louis Guss (Raymond Cappomaggi).


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