Film Review: Scarface (1983)

Release Date: December 1st, 1983 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Oliver Stone
Music by: Giorgio Moroder
Cast: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, Miriam Colon, F. Murray Abraham, Paul Shenar, Harris Yulin, Angel Salazar, Arnaldo Santana, Pepe Serna, Michael P. Moran, Al Israel, Dennis Holahan, Mark Margolis, Michael Alldredge, Ted Beniades, Geno Silva, Richard Belzer, Charles Durning (voice, uncredited) Dennis Franz (voice, uncredited) 

Universal Pictures, 170 Minutes, 142 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“[to Sosa] I never fucked anybody over in my life didn’t have it coming to them. You got that? All I have in this world is my balls and my word and I don’t break them for no one. Do you understand? That piece of shit up there, I never liked him, I never trusted him. For all I know he had me set up and had my friend Angel Fernandez killed. But that’s history. I’m here, he’s not. Do you wanna go on with me, you say it. You don’t, then you make a move.” – Tony Montana

After binging a bunch of my favorite Brian De Palma films over the course of a few days, I wanted to revisit Scarface, as I hadn’t seen it in ages and because it was one of my favorite movies in my teen years.

Once I hit the play button, I was immediately reminded of just how great this motion picture is. From the opening shots of Cuban refugees leaving their home country for America with the great musical score blasting through my speakers, it brought me back to where I was the first time I experienced this movie in a special theatrical showing for its tenth anniversary in 1993.

From there, the movie gets rolling and every scene is just as incredible as I remembered it. This movie didn’t disappoint and it’s greatness has held up. Actually, it made me yearn for a time when movies this superb were actually fairly common.

It should go without saying that the acting in this is stellar. Al Pacino kills it but then again, when doesn’t he? Especially back in his prime.

I also really liked Michelle Pfeiffer, who shows that she has incredible chops even as young as she was in this picture.

The real scene stealer for me though is Steven Bauer, a guy I’ve always loved because of this role and have always wondered why his career didn’t go to the moon after this. The man is super talented and to be so good that you can not just hang with Pacino in this era, but actually come across as his equal, is pretty damn impressive!

Beyond that, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is prefect and sweet and then turns it up in the end and delivers an extremely heartbreaking end to her character.

We also get solid performances from legends like Robert Loggia and F. Murray Abraham, as well as the smaller bit players like Mark Margolis, Pepe Serna, Miriam Colon, Paul Shenar and others.

Shenar is especially great as Bolivian drug kingpin Alejandro Sosa. So much so, I wish his part would’ve been expanded somewhat.

The story is just as great as the acting that brings it to life. I liked this take on the story of a crime lord’s rise to power from nothing. For the time, it was incredibly topical and looking at the time frame, it’s rather impressive that this got into theaters by 1983 when the events that kicked off the backstory happened just three years earlier.

The film’s music is also pretty incredible from the pop tunes to the grandiose and remarkable score by Giorgio Moroder. I had forgotten just how important the music in the film was in regards to setting the tonal shifts. It’s certainly a soundtrack I need to track down on vinyl.

The most important element to this picture’s greatness, however, is Brian De Palma. As one of the greatest directors of his generation (and all-time, frankly) De Palma already had a half dozen classics under his belt by this point but this was, at the time and maybe still, his magnum opus.

Beyond directing the actors, De Palma proved just how good his eye was at creating a unique, artistic composition. There are touches of Stanley Kubrick’s visual style in this but the film is still very much De Palma’s from start-to-finish. But man, the cinematography, lighting and general tone is stupendous regardless of where the scene takes place from Miami, New York City and Bolivia.

Scarface is one of the all-time great crime films. It will continue to be till the end of time. And while there have been many great films within this genre, this one will always stand out due to its unique style, story and character. It’s a film that has been emulated and homaged countless times but no one has truly come close to replicating its magic.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other crime films starring Al Pacino, as well as other Brian De Palma movies.

TV Review: Ray Donovan (2013-2020)

Original Run: June 30th, 2013 – January 19th, 2020
Created by: Ann Biderman
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Marcelo Zarvos
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Paula Malcomson, Eddie Marsan, Dash Mihok, Steven Bauer, Katherine Moennig, Pooch Hall, Kerris Dorsey, Devon Bagby, Jon Voight, Susan Sarandon, Graham Rogers, Susan Sarandon, Elliott Gould, Peter Jacobson, Denise Crosby, Frank Whaley, Hank Azaria, James Woods, Rosanna Arquette, Sherilyn Fenn, Wendell Pierce, Ian McShane, Katie Holmes, Leland Orser, Aaron Staton, Fairuza Balk, Embeth Davidtz, Richard Brake, Lisa Bonet, Stacy Keach, Tara Buck, Ted Levine, C. Thomas Howell, Donald Faison, Lili Simmons, James Keach, Adina Porter, Jake Busey, Sandy Martin, Zach Grenier, Alan Alda, Lola Glaudini, Kerry Condon, Kevin Corrigan

David Hollander Productions, The Mark Gordon Company, Ann Biderman Co., Bider Sweet Productions, CBS, Showtime, 82 Episodes, 45-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Lots of people talked this show up for years like it was the second coming of The Sopranos. I wanted to wait for it to end, as I typically binge things in their entirety. With this show, that was probably the best way to view it, as so many things happen with so many characters, that it would’ve been hard remembering all the details over seven years.

I wouldn’t say that this is anywhere near as good as The Sopranos and I also don’t have as high of an opinion of that show as most people do. Granted, I did still like it quite a bit when it was current.

Ray Donovan follows Ray Donovan, a badass uber masculine guy that works as a Hollywood fixer. However, his entire family is complex and interesting and this isn’t so much about Ray being a fixer, as it is about his family’s criminal behavior and their turbulent personal lives.

The show does a remarkable job of pushing its characters to the point of you hating them but then finds a way to make you realize you love them. It’s a show that actually has a lot of mini redemption arcs but it also shows, within that, that people tend to surrender to their nature even if they want to work on themselves.

Ray is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever seen on television but that can also be said about several other core characters, here

I think in the end, my favorite character ended up being Eddie Marsan’s Terry, the eldest Donovan brother, as he was always trying to do the right thing by his family, even if they often times found themselves doing really shitty things.

I also liked Bunchy a lot but by the end, his constant bad luck and terrible decisions became exhausting.

The first five seasons are really solid, even if the fourth was a bit weak. The show kind of lost me in season six, where it moved from Los Angeles to New York City and didn’t feel like it had much of a point. Plus, there are things that happened in season six that made the show jump the shark for me.

The only thing that really saved the last two seasons was how damn good Sandy Martin was once she entered the show.

Overall, I enjoyed watching this and if anything, it showcased incredible performances by stellar actors playing really fucked up but endearing characters.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Sopranos, Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Justified.