(mx) wrote: My Cousin Reviewed a Movie Once--Once For many years, my only awareness of this movie came from the Weird Al video for "This Is the Life," which turns out to be the movie's theme. It's a pretty standard movie theme video, meaning that there are clips a-plenty from the movie in it. Now, I didn't see this until the '90s, so obviously, I knew who Michael Keaton was. But it also means that my mental image of Michael Keaton was coloured by roles he did later which weren't exactly light parody. Actually, I'm not sure most people realize exactly how varied his career has been. I wouldn't say he's underrated, exactly. I think he's unconsidered. I don't think most people really think of him at all most of the time. When they do, I don't think they really stop to consider his acting ability much at all. Of course, given some of the movies he makes, that's not all that surprising. Keaton plays Johnny Kelly, who grew up poor in New York played by Byron Thames. One day, he fell in with Jocko Dundee (Peter Boyle), the head of a local gang. Johnny helped Jocko in a fight against Roman Troy Moronie (Richard Dimitri), winning Jocko's loyalty. To hide his identity as a gangster from his mother (Maureen Stapleton), who took on the name of Johnny Dangerously. For years, Johnny successfully balances his double life, pretending to his family that he's a legitimate nightclub owner while running Jocko's crime organization. Moronie gets deported. Jocko retires, leaving Johnny in charge to the anger of his rival, Danny Vermin (Joe Piscopo). Everything seems to be going just fine, and Johnny is able to get his younger brother, Tommy (Griffin Dunne), through law school. Only Tommy decides that he's going to go to work in the DA's office and take out that crooked Johnny Dangerously for once and for all. Can Johnny make things right? He can with the help of a Good Woman, Lil (Marilu Henner). Yeah, it's more than a little silly. You can tell; it has a theme song by Weird Al, after all. The movie is full of sight gags and cheap jokes. In many ways, it seems that the early '80s were the golden years of film parody, and this movie touches on all the highlights of a mob picture. Everyone in the neighbourhood knows that Johnny Kelly grew up to be Johnny Dangerously, but somehow, they all manage to keep it secret from Ma and Tommy. When he's first talking to Lil, he tells her that she's good at banter. Danny Vermin is your standard thug, used largely to highlight the difference between him and Johnny, because of course Johnny isn't a real criminal. Danny shoots people. Johnny manages to bomb Moronie's place without actually hurting anyone. There's padding in the movie, and it kind of falls apart toward the end. It's dated in places, too; Young Johnny is shown breakdancing early in the movie. However, it isn't as hopelessly pop culture-laden as modern parody. In most places, the production values are astonishingly high. That is, for the kind of movie it is. It's a silly movie, as I said, and it wasn't exactly full of great stars. It seems somewhat low budget--presumably a higher budget would have allowed for real stars--but work was put into the sets and the costumes nonetheless. Yes, it was a major studio release, which means they had access to a backlot and a costume department, but it still feels more expensive than I think it probably was. It was probably hoped that it would make stars out of Keaton, Piscopo, and Dunne, though it would have taken a lot to make a real star out of Joe Piscopo. Two years before, Amy Heckerling had done the same for Sean Penn, and there was every reason to expect that it would work here--though it didn't after all. Sometimes, you come to a movie too late. You would have loved it if you had encountered it during its time, but because you never did, you're never going to appreciate it. It's a risk you run every time you watch a movie that isn't current. Especially if it's one that people you know really love, because then you're going to be seeing it with different eyes than they, which often leads to conflict. I have friends who are never going to forgive me for not liking [i]The Goonies[/i], for example, even though they acknowledge that it's because I saw it more than twenty years too late. If I had seen it when it was new, I would have the nostalgia for it as well. I spent three weekends in a field listening to two guys tell each other that their fathers hung them on a hook once--once. And yet, rather than making me nuts, it made me think, "Hey, I could watch that movie." This, I think, is a good sign.
(it) wrote: It's nigh impossible to think of this movie without one word ringing like a Church Bell inside your head over and over: Attica! Attica! Attica! Shouted relatively early on during its running time, it is arguably the most deeply resonant element from a movie made way back when the heady optimism of the 60s Hippie era was dead and buried. In a decade when the common man was at a loss at every step, our main character Sonny, played with all with the right notes by Hollywood heavyweight Al Pacino, is the embodiment of that misfortune, and along with his hapless partner Sal, a very understated John Cazale, robs a bank in broad daylight, and things seem doomed from the get-go. Sidney Lumet crafts a movie which is funny, suspenseful, claustrophobic, and constantly keeps you guessing which way it's going to swing. Pacino is electrifying as the leading man who goes from petty thief to folk hero in record time, and you can see why the masses would love such a character. One of the primary strengths of the movie is that we see the action from both sides: The robbers and the authorities, and are constantly forced to question who are the 'good' guys and who are the 'bad', and if such a line can be so clearly drawn. The movie opens with a frenetic energy, and if it could sustain that throughout the film it would be mind-blowing. Alas, the film begins to drag as it becomes evident there isn't enough story or action to fill its rather excessive length, and so we are forced to endure some unnecessarily long scenes and even longer exchanges of dialogue. It does get fairly boring, but the positives are just too good to ignore. The first half of the film alone is worth the price of admission. The second half, not so much.