Tag Archives: Lorraine Bracco

Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese)

Most of Goodfellas is told in summary. After an opening scene introducing leads Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, and Joe Pesci, the action flashes back to Liotta’s childhood. Liotta narrates. Christopher Serrone plays the younger version.

Liotta’s narration guides Serrone around the neighborhood, letting the film introduce all the mobsters Serrone is enamoured with. Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi’s script does mass introductions at least two more times, maybe three. They’re setting up the ground situation, but in tone and mood, not for narrative purposes. Not even when it’d be narratively efficient to use them for useful exposition. Scorsese is revealing and examining these characters he’s introducing, their criminal monikers, their appearance. It’d be a lot if there were any neccesary information, instead it’s just gorgeous Michael Ballhaus photography.

De Niro and Paul Sorvino get introduced in the Serrone flashback. Sorvino’s makeup is all right throughout, but De Niro’s young guy makeup is far better than his old guy makeup at the end. And Pesci gets introduced, but he’s also played by someone else. Liotta’s a little hard to believe playing a twenty-one year-old. But Pesci playing one is Goodfellas biggest suspension of disbelief.

Scorsese establishes Goodfellas’s narrative pattern during the Serrone flashback. Amusing, expertly shot, expertly cut summary, often with great songs playing, followed by more summary, more summary, then a scene. The scene works at an entirely different pace, usually to let Pesci have a big scene. Scorsese’s a good son though; his mom, Catherine, gets a big scene too. She’s playing Pesci’s mom. It’s a long, self-indulgent scene, but damn if Pesci’s acting doesn’t carry it. Neither Liotta or De Niro really act much. Liotta goes from being a dimwit to a scumbag to a cokehead. He’s awesome at the narration. His performance in the narration is so much more distinct than his performance on screen. On screen he’s thoughtless and dull. In the narration, he’s sharp. He does get his one monologue at the end, tying action to narration. It’s mildly successful.

Scorsese should’ve started employing it two minutes in.

And then De Niro. Until the last third of the movie, De Niro feels like something of a special guest star. Even when he gets his own subplot in the story, the film doesn’t cover it. He goes from being the cool older thug to kid Serrone to loitering around bars less active thug. Though De Niro does tend to be in the scenes. When Goodfellas slows down and stops summarizing, it’s usually for a De Niro scene.

Little weird since he’s obviously not the protagonist.

His performance is also a little bland. He’s only ever got to show concern for one person and he doesn’t pull it off. He hadn’t been layering his performance. He’s good, he’s a lot fun sometimes. But he’s the special guest star who gets to wear a lot of old age makeup. The character’s never interesting, only De Niro.

But then it’s the same thing and totally different with Pesci. His character is extreme and unpredictable, while never dangerous. Because danger doesn’t really factor in to Goodfellas. And it shouldn’t. The movie wouldn’t work if Liotta, De Niro, and Pesci didn’t act with impunity. Pesci’s the only one who takes the time to live in that experience. To luxuriate in the impunity. In his performance, not the character as written.

And now Bracco. Or, Goodfellas’s biggest problem. Not Bracco, she’s excellent. But how the film treats Bracco.

About an hour in–still in some kind of first act–Liotta and Bracco meet and get married. There’s a courtship, but it’s not long and their eventual marriage is never in question once it gets introduced. Especially since Bracco starts narrating the movie instead of Liotta.

It’s the mid-sixties now. The film pays beautiful attention to period detail–Kristi Zea’s production design, Richard Bruno’s costumes. Bracco’s ostensibly there to seduce the viewer with the mobsters’ wives lifestyle. Scorsese does it half-hearted, treating it as narrative function. Turns out Bracco’s narration isn’t Goodfellas developing its narrative into new territory, it’s just a device. One Scorsese and Pileggi do away with–Bracco’s done pretty soon after she observes all the other mob wives wear terrible pantsuits (something she’ll be doing before the end of the movie, foreshadowing of foreshadowings). Also Bracco and Liotta don’t really develop any chemistry. She moons over his tough guyness in the narration, but their scenes together are at best thin.

Again, she’s a narrative function. Bracco doesn’t get a good character until the movie’s almost over. And it’s a shame, because she’s excellent once she gets that character. And she has good scenes before it. Scorsese and Pileggi are just way too comfortable using her as a caricature.

After Bracco, the biggest female part is Gina Mastrogiacomo’s. She’s Liotta’s girlfriend–in the early seventies era of the film. She’s even more of a caricature, though not as loud of one.

Somehow Debi Mazer–as Liotta’s eighties girlfriend who used to be Mastrogiacomo’s friend–somehow she ends up with the stronger part. At least in how it plays on screen. Her performance never gets screwed up for narrative purposes. She’s a caricature through and through, never reduced to one.

The film ends with an amazing procedural sequence. When the film gets to the seventies, Scorsese stops showcasing the period. But Zea and Bruno work just as hard on the production design and costumes as when those aspects were getting spotlights. So the procedural sequence is this magnificant slowdown, while still staying active. Liotta and Bracco finally get a long sequence to themselves. Not much in the way of acting material, but they get the sequence.

And it turns out they’re great together, which is the most disappointing thing about Goodfellas. Where Scorsese wastes potential.

Especially since the last third is full of Chuck Low’s annoying wanna-be mobster pestering everyone. Goodfellas has a problem with cariacture.

Scorsese’s direction and the technical successes–Ballhaus’s photography, Thelma Schoonmaker and James Y. Kewi’s editing–keep Goodfellas moving along. There’s a lot of moving to do–the film races through thirty years, only slowing down for De Niro and the finale. And the finale doesn’t add up. Because it’s Liotta’s finale and Scorsese’s been avoiding Liotta since before Liotta was playing the part. Embrace the protagonist’s narration, avoid the protagonist.

It’s a problem. Goodfellas has many. It’s also has some real strong strengths; those add up to a moderate success.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; screenplay by Nicholas Pileggi and Scorsese, based on a book by Pileggi; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker and James Y. Kwei; production designer, Kristi Zea; produced by Irwin Winkler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ray Liotta (Henry Hill), Lorraine Bracco (Karen Hill), Robert De Niro (James Conway), Joe Pesci (Tommy DeVito), Paul Sorvino (Paul Cicero), Frank Vincent (Billy Batts), Chuck Low (Morris Kessler), Gina Mastrogiacomo (Janice Rossi), Debi Mazar (Sandy), Christopher Serrone (Young Henry), and Catherine Scorsese (Tommy’s Mother).


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Hackers (1995, Iain Softley)

While Hackers is a terrible film, it does afford one the opportunity to see Jonny Lee Miller attempt to essay his lead role as a Ferris Bueller-type thing, only to instead do a strange rendition of Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty. It’s not worth seeing for this performance, not at all, but if you’re ever stuck watching the film, it is something to look out for.

The film’s so patently inept, it’s hard to find anything worth remarking on. Bad production design, bad photography, lame music, truly awful writing from Rafael Moreu. I mean, the script is something to behold. Again, not worth watching for it because director Softley really takes his job seriously and he’s really bad at it so Hackers isn’t even fun camp. It really ought to be, but it isn’t.

Camp might excuse the costume design or the performances.

There are a number of good actors or actors who have given good or excellent performances cashing a check in Hackers. None of them give a good or acceptable performance in this film–though I suppose Alberta Watson comes the closest–but I’m not sure it’s worth picking on anyone in particular. Though I finally understand how people can find Matthew Lillard annoying, because when he does the obnoxious schtick dressed like a cyberpunk scarecrow in terrible lighting, spouting atrocious dialogue, it is annoying. It’s a bad performance of that schtick, utterly lacking in any integrity.

Jesse Bradford, on the other hand, has plenty of integrity. He tries really hard with his part of the square white teen hanging out with all the early-to-mid twenties actors pretending to be teens. He’s always smoking a cigarette and he looks like a real, pack-a-day smoker. He clearly worked on it. It doesn’t fit the character at all and Softley doesn’t know how to glorify smoking,w hich, really, means you shouldn’t be allowed to make a film. At least not one set in the United States or France or even the UK–it’s important to know how to glorify smoking. It’s a very important part of cinema.

I feel worst for Renoly Santiago, who isn’t good but does do his job; Hackers abandons him. After being the third most prevalent character for the first act and a half, he vanishes. It’s idiotic.

Really dumb montages and “inside the computer world” sequences. Hackers is desperate to be cool. It’s desperate to be trendy, it’s desperate to be hip. And it’s not. It’s awful. It’s chilly. And chilly ain’t never been cool.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Iain Softley; written by Rafael Moreu; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Chris Blunden and Martin Walsh; music by Simon Boswell and Guy Pratt; production designer, John Beard; produced by Michael Peyser and Ralph Winter; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Jonny Lee Miller (Dade), Angelina Jolie (Kate), Jesse Bradford (Joey), Matthew Lillard (Cereal), Laurence Mason (Nikon), Renoly Santiago (Phreak), Fisher Stevens (Eugene), Lorraine Bracco (Margo), Alberta Watson (Mrs. Murphy) and Wendell Pierce (Agent Dick Gill).


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Medicine Man (1992, John McTiernan)

Whoever–studio executive, director, producer, whatever–gave Lorraine Bracco another job after Medicine Man is a couple things. One of the bravest persons in Hollywood and, additionally, a film criminal. Bracco’s performance is astoundingly bad. I mean, the character is terribly written too–a scientist smart enough to run a foundation, but she doesn’t know a thing about, you know, science. Given Connery’s rather vocal public statements about women working… nope, even with them, it’s a real surprise. I mean, the film’s thesis reads women with degrees, awards and jobs of consequence are actually quite stupid.

I rented the film on my post-Thomas Crown McTiernan high, but besides a Die Hard homage at the opening (the film opens with the same plane landing sound Die Hard does), there’s no visible sign of McTiernan doing any good work. Most of his shots are composed for pan and scanning on video (a Hollywood Pictures edict?) and the ones he wasn’t cropping in his head aren’t any good either.

Connery seemed fine, but since Bracco’s the protagonist (and the narrator), it’d be hard for him not to seem fine.

Jerry Goldsmith’s score is awful too, annoyingly so. I think the filmmakers were trying for Romancing the Stone, only with really boring medical jargon.

The writers have, thankfully, either gone on to little or to really embarrassing films….

But, as I frequently lament the state of film in the twenty-first century, it’s occasionally nice to be reminded there have been lots of bad stretches and Medicine Man‘s got a firm place in one of them.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by Tom Schulman and Sally Robinson, based on a story by Schulman; director of photography, Donald McAlpine; edited by Michael R. Miller, Mary Jo Markey and John W. Stuart; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, John Krenz Reinhart Jr.; produced by Andrew G. Vajna and Donna Dubrow; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Sean Connery (Dr. Robert Campbell), Lorraine Bracco (Dr. Rae Crane), José Wilker (Dr. Miguel Ornega), Rodolfo De Alexandre (Tanaki), Francisco Tsiren Tsere Rereme (Jahausa) and Elias Monteiro Da Silva (Palala).


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The Dream Team (1989, Howard Zieff)

I’d forgotten how loud comedies could get. Maybe I haven’t seen enough eighties comedies lately, because watching The Dream Team, I kept wondering how I’d never noticed the music in the film before. I saw The Dream Team back on video, probably in 1990–Michael Keaton as Batman might not have been box office dollars, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid who rented his movies thanks to the role. I probably haven’t seen it in ten plus years, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the film.

It’s hard not to have one, however, since The Dream Team is so nice. Even the dirty, murderous cops are kind of nice (to a point). The Dream Team takes place in a pseudo-reality but isn’t set there, which makes for an odd experience at times. So much of the film is effortless, I don’t think–besides that tone–I ever noticed the direction once, or even the writing, past some issues with the story structure. It’s a benign experience–one with audible laughs, but it’s so mild an exercise, I almost think there should be a genre called the “Imagine Entertainment Comedy.” They could get a trademark for it and everything.

The comedic acting from Michael Keaton, Peter Boyle, Stephen Furst, and even Christopher Lloyd is all great. I was most surprised at Lloyd, only because I’m used to him being so bad. Boyle’s absolutely fantastic and has most of the film’s best lines. Dennis Boutsikaris leaves an impression because he seems like he should have done more–high profile roles–but has not. Lorraine Bracco’s in it too and it was funny I had to think about her original Hollywood film career and how it disappeared so quickly. On the other hand, it reminded me how good at comedy Keaton is….

The Dream Team is actually something of a relic–not just of when comedies used to not be so bad, but when studios still somehow made uninteresting projects interesting, either through casting or production. It’s just worth seeing for the performances.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Zieff; written by Jon Connolly and David Loucka; director of photography, Adam Holender; edited by C. Timothy O’Meara; music by David McHugh; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Christopher W. Knight; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Billy Caulfield), Christopher Lloyd (Henry Sikorsky), Peter Boyle (Jack McDermott), Stephen Furst (Albert Ianuzzi), Dennis Boutsikaris (Dr. Weitzman), Lorraine Bracco (Riley), Milo O’Shea (Dr. Newald), Philip Bosco (O’Malley) and James Remar (Gianelli).


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