Gang’s All Here

“There’s no Scarface 2, no part three, none of that with this picture. There’s just Scarface. And I think there’s something to that.” — Al Pacino during last night’s Scarface Bluray event at L.A.’s Belasco theatre (1050 So. Hill Street).

Why does Michelle Pfeiffer never take part in these tributes? She never records commentary tracks or is interviewed in any looking-back video essays…nothing. Her performance as the snotty trophy wife Elvira wasn’t Lysistrata-level, but for what it was she delivered quite well. And Scarface certainly boosted her profile and made her known to the multitudes. So why the attitude?

There are several minor first-act irritants, by the way, that popped through during yesterday’s viewing of the Bluray. One, the dubbing of the senior immigration official in scene #1 (by Charles Durning, no less) is horribly mixed in that it sounds like dubbing — it stands completely apart from the other soundtrack elements. Two, when the actor playing Emilio Rebenga (Roberto Contreras) is being tormented by cries of “Rebenga!” and “libertad!” before his assassination in the Cuban detention center, he puts up his hands and seems to stupidly mouth at one point, “No, not me…please be nice…don’t kill me!” Three, as Pacino complains to Steven Bauer about working at that Little Havana food stand, he hold out his hands and goes, “lookadat…fuckin’ onions!” Onions aren’t made of acid — they don’t leave stains.

There are at least ten or fifteen other things in this film that bother me. I could do 2000 words on this but I have a plane to catch and things to do before I leave in three hours.

43 thoughts on “Gang’s All Here

  1. jesse on said:

    I just rewatched Carlito’s Way, the far-less-heralded (though I think still semi-admired-by-gangsta-culture) Pacino/DePalma reteam, for the first time in years and years. And I haven’t seen Scarface in a good while, and only once, and I watched it at home so I was probably a little distracted. BUT: I have to say, at this point I prefer Carlito’s Way. There’s a little more heart to it, while still maintaining that impeccable De Palma craft. I feel like it was considered kind of a disappointment when it came out, following up Pacino’s Oscar win and (less directly) De Palma’s more mainstream successes like Scarface and The Untouchables. But I have to say, it’s aged quite well and I’d put it above all of that stuff (though I also haven’t seen Untouchables in awhile).

    In general, I feel like mid-nineties Pacino was somehow simultaneously considered too hammy yet also not as tour-de-force-y as the totally hammy Scent of a Woman Oscar win. But in retrospect, those nineties performances are excellent: Carlito’s Way, Heat, Any Given Sunday, and even sillier stuff like Devil’s Advocate. They all have moments of ham, but they’ve all got really quiet, subtle moments (even Devil’s Advocate, he’s pretty restrained until that ca-razy monologue at the end).

    That’s not even to say “oh man what happened to Pacino?” because he was great in Insomnia and he’s done some good work since (although god 88 Minutes is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen)… but like a lot of things, his consistently strong work was judged as merely pretty good when it was actually going on.

  2. And jesus, I forgot The Insider and Donnie Brasco. I’d almost be willing to call the nineties his best decade, just because the seventies have less output: in terms of iconic or great performances, pretty much the two Godfathers, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon… am I missing anything? And Justice for All is OK, but kind of hammy. I’ve heard Scarecrow is good but I haven’t seen it yet.

  3. TCM just showed the original Howard Hawks/Paul Muni Scarface the other night. I wasn’t familiar with the original when I saw the DePalma/Pacino version. I guess I always assumed the remake just used the title and a few vague story beats.

    But after seeing the original, I was amazed how much of a direct remake the second one is. The rise to power, the henchman in love with the sister, the incest angle, stealing the boss’ girlfriend, the fortress shoot out at the end – it’s all there. Throw in some blood and have Muni say fuck a couple hundred times, and they’re virtually the exact same movie.

  4. Durning’s voice over has always sounded like a last-minute dub…and I doubt there’s anything they could have done to fix it, other than have Durning re-do it…but that’s a long tradition….Paul Frees, the voice-over/cartoon character guy, used to pop up in all kinds of movies from the 40′s through the 60′s….(he does some of the Nazi villain’s voice in “Dark Of The Sun”)

  5. Scarface is a pretty raggedy film. It’s rough around the edges. Still, there is something mesmerizing about it, too.

    A for Pfeiffer, she’s probably embarrassed by the role because her character is basically an object to be owned by Pacino, and she’s nothing but an opportunistic coke whore.

  6. I love Carlito’s Way and Pacino’s output in the ’90s. There’s nothing silly about The Devil’s Advocate either. It’s a great movie.

    As for unheralded De Palma flicks, the first Mission:Impossible is about as great as spy flicks come. It bears no relation to the sequels.

  7. “A for Pfeiffer, she’s probably embarrassed by the role because her character is basically an object to be owned by Pacino, and she’s nothing but an opportunistic coke whore.”

    Pfeiffer, outstanding in the movie, did take part in a SCARFACE 20th anniversary event in NY and had a good time. She has no issues with the film–and she is not just “an opportunistic coke whore.” She’s the only person who sees through what’s happening and escapes the degradation. De Palma and Stone are clearly sympathetic toward her–other than Tony’s mother, she’s the only person to survive.

  8. Agreed with Pfeiffer, it’s not exactly a role an actress is going to be that proud of.

    And I have to agree with Rashad about M:I, what a great piece of entertainment on all levels.

  9. Actresses love to play cokeheads, whores, and “coke whores,” and Elvira is a good one, with several standout scenes to play. More fun and more challenging than supportive wives or mothers, and in this case a role that gave Pfeiffer A-list attention.

  10. Right now, Pfieffer is in London, doing Dark Shadows. So Scarface is a remake. Interesting which remakes get a pass, while bloggers scream to high heaven anbout most remakes and sequels. Not talking quality, because they scream before they’re made, having no clue of the quality.

  11. My favorite Pacino performance is in Cruising. My dad and I watch Cruising every Thanksgiving after we eat our pie. It’s a tradition.

    Pfeiffer doesn’t like to talk about Elvia because that character is about as close to autobiographical as any character she has ever played.

  12. Rule of thumb: remakes of movies from the black and white era are welcomed (The Thing from Another World, Scarface, Cape Fear, King Kong (?)). Any movie that had a great premise, but was exectuted poorly? I encourage a remake.

    Stone-cold classics should not be remade, but whatever, life goes on. I’m almost certainly not going to watch it but the existance of such things doesn’t fill me with rage. Yes, plenty of people get riled up about how many films today are remakes or sequels, and it does strike me as a disappointing trend for those that value creativity. Then again, it’s not like you can’t make an interesting remake. There are only so many stories to tell, whether or not you use the same title as another film. It’s not what story you tell, it’s how you tell it.

  13. I wasn’t complaining about the Pacino Scarface being a remake. As far as remakes go, I think it’s fine. It brings the story into a modern era and changes things enough to make it fresh.

    I was just struck by how similar the two stories were and, frankly, how modern the original was, particularly given the plot of the remake. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised because it was Hawks and, I think, pre-code. But the incest angle, which I assumed would be more of a subtle “protective big brother” thing in the original, was right there on the screen. And what’s more, the feeling from Ann Dvorak seems to be mutual, which makes it even creepier.

    I do think the original is the better movie, if for no other reason than it’s much tighter. But the remake doesn’t bother me per se.

  14. CARLITOS WAY is soooooooo unappreciated it’s a crime. GREAT on cable rotation.

    99% of the movie is PERFECT. Pacino, Penn, PENN’S HAIR.

    The 1% is Penelope Ann Miller. Wet blanket casting error. Movie needed an actress luminous, not plain/cute.

    I can’t always watch DeNiro anymore. I can nearly always watch Pacino. I’ll rewatch Any Given Sunday before I’ll watch the TRAILERS for DeNiro’s new movies.

  15. Remakes are fine if the original had a great idea but was executed poorly, was a great film dated by a specific era but can be updated to the modern age / modern themes, was a minor film no one ever saw, or was in FUNNY FOREIGN TALK.

    Remaking classic films that people still watch today for no reason but to make a buck off the title? F THAT SHITE.

  16. @JLC Yes indeed, that was clear from your post. I was more directly reacting to the concerns of tate4.

    Grand Theft Auto: Vice City inspired me to watch “Scarface” for the first time. The Miami Vice influence on the game was obvious but watching the movie showed how many set pieces they stole from there as well. Also, I hear, from Carlitos Way. I still haven’t seen that one, but clearly I need to bump it up on my queue.

  17. You know better than to get on The Pfeffer.

    As Robert Cashill said, she DID partake in the 20th Anniversary with Pacino and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. I don’t know if I’d fly back from London for a BLU RAY q&a. Plus, I hear DePalma was all about objectifying – I think she’s on record somewhere saying that. They screen tested her three times and she paid for her flights all three times…maybe her memories aren’t as grand as the others. Or maybe she was just busy. OF course, you assume the worst – an “attitude.” Ridiculous.

  18. Ha, Ray, I was thinking about Penelope Ann Miller when rewatching. To be honest, she wasn’t as bad as I had sort of feared/assumed based on her straight-to-TV-before-it-was-cool career (though I guess she’s in The Artist, this fall?!). But yes, she’s more Cute Actress X than real personality, and that does make her scenes with Pacino a bit of a drag. Luminosity would’ve helped, sure; so would’ve a greater sense of toughness, or intelligence… or anything beyond being a nice, reasonable, normal person who Carlito is semi-inexplicably obsessed with (and semi-inexplicably loves him back).

    De Niro gave an excellent performance in STONE last year, which I’d say was better than anything Pacino has done lately (though I haven’t seen his Kevorkian HBO movie). And I’ve enjoyed his forays into pulpy B-movie junk like MACHETE (and, I assume, KILLER ELITE; he makes me smile in the trailer) much more than when he was doing faux-respectable-thrillers-that-are-actually-B-movie-junk-or-worse like HIDE AND SEEK.

    I’d say De Niro has the edge in the seventies and eighties; Pacino might’ve pulled ahead in the nineties (though there are plenty of good De Niro performances in that decade, especially in supporting roles); and now it’s sort of toss-up because Pacino doesn’t work enough and De Niro works so much that there’s a lot of dreck in between the better ones.

  19. “Scarface is a pretty raggedy film. It’s rough around the edges. Still, there is something mesmerizing about it, too.”

    Perfectly sated by Ray.

    Really looking forward to grabbing this new blu at some point soon…

  20. @Paste Pot- they state at the beginning that the remakes they’re picking aren’t additional versions of the same source material, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That would seem to preclude movies like Ben Hur.

    Then, of course, they completely violate their own rule with their #1 choice, so whatever. (I shudder to think that they don’t know that both Things are based on the same novella, but it’s entirely possible.)

  21. Jeff – I always thought Montana was referring to his own fingers as “onions” when he was complaining about the job at the Cuban food stand – his fingers pruned as a result of washing dishes all of the time?

    jesse – I aways thought Scarecrow was a good film, until I heard Pacino mention recently that the film didn’t work because it was done 17 days early, and a good portion of the script was un-shot….

  22. “@Paste Pot- they state at the beginning that the remakes they’re picking aren’t additional versions of the same source material, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That would seem to preclude movies like Ben Hur.”

    In that case that precludes them from including 3:10 to Yuma, The Ring, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers as well, as the originals films were based on a short story and two novels, respectively.

  23. Not disagreeing PastePot. (BTW, if Jeff ever bans you, you should come back as the Trapster, even though that’s not nearly as cool as Paste Pot Pete.) They either forget their own rules or, more likely, didn’t know there was existing source material. It’s especially egregious with The Thing because the remake is actually more faithful to the novella. But it’s the only thing that explains the absence of Ben Hur and The Maltese Falcon.

  24. “Is the original Scarface 1080 on the blu ray? I think it’s pretty cool that they give you both movies. ”

    No. It’s on a DVD-5.

  25. “There’s nothing silly about The Devil’s Advocate either. It’s a great movie.”

    Oh, there’s *plenty* silly about DA, from Keanu’s accent to Charlize’s histrionics to the pat Owl Creek ending. Though it’s still a perfectly entertaining movie… a “great” from you is truly devalued currency.

    “As for unheralded De Palma flicks, the first Mission:Impossible is about as great as spy flicks come.”

    More puffery (“as great as spy flicks come”?) … but the real problem is that you don’t understand what “unheralded” means. M;I was solidly enjoyed by critics & auds and is usually still recognized as a nice commercial comeback for DePalma.

    “The Jew lawyer in GTA was Penn’s character in Carlito’s Way. Also the boat mission was taken from the movie.”

    No – one is an ‘actual’ stereotype and the other is a true regularly-attempted crime from Miami’s coke heydey that long-predate “Carlito’s Way”.

    “No remake list is complete without Heat. LA Takedown shows just how much the same dialogue can suck without good actors.”

    Again, this particular list is of film remade from preceding *films*. Just by using *logic*, this list shall be just fine without L.A. Takedown.

    And, oh yeah…. “Jew lawyer”?? Class act.

  26. No – one is an ‘actual’ stereotype and the other is a true regularly-attempted crime from Miami’s coke heydey that long-predate “Carlito’s Way”

    Without getting into your other ridiculousness, it’s common knowledge by that Rosenberg in the game is based off of Penn’s character. You aren’t smart, or witty to say that it’s a generalization, when the reference was specific. And there’s nothing wrong with saying Jew. You’re the one putting a negative connotation to it.

    And film is synonymous with movie, and it really doesn’t matter if LA Takedown was made for tv or not. Heat was a remake of it.

  27. No one needs to imbue the term “Jew lawyer” with any negative connotation. It’s already there. That you don’t understand that connotes that maybe you’re a rube.

  28. “Without getting into your other ridiculousness” = “You got me again, so I will only try to respond to a couple things with desperate spin,”

    “it’s common knowledge by that… ” (sic) = “a couple guys say on the internet…”

    Kid, I wasn’t trying to be “smart” or “witty”. You were just glaringly wrong. Again.

    See Milkman’s typically true take on your slur.

    “And film is synonymous with movie, and it really doesn’t matter if LA Takedown was made for tv or not. Heat was a remake of it.”

    I am utilizing the rules that DEFINES THE LIST WE’RE DISCUSSING, asshole. Disavowing “made for tv” is THEIR criteria, not mine.

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