Thursday

American Gangster

(2007)

This movie may be the most important release during the autumn of 2007.

American Gangster is an ambitious 157-minute crime saga based on a real-life Harlem criminal legend named Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and his antagonist, an honest cop named Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). The principal actors are superstars who can totally command the screen. It was directed by Ridley Scott, whose credentials are impeccable. He's directed two of the best sci-fi movies of all time (Alien and Blade Runner), and he has received Oscar's "Best Director" nomination for three of his other films: Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, and Thelma and Louise.

The story is almost too good to be true, but it is based on real characters and events, and the movie script sticks fairly close to reality. Lucas was a driver/enforcer for a legendary mob boss for 15 years. When his mentor died, he was left with virtually nothing of consequence, but built himself a massive heroin empire in the manner of a classic American entrepreneur. He realized that there were far too many middle men between the heroin producers in Southeast Asia and the junkies. Along the way, various corrupt criminals ranging from mafia bosses to street dealers were inflating their profits by cutting the product and jacking up the price at every stage of the distribution process. Lucas reasoned that if he could eliminate all the corruption and all the intermediate steps in distribution, he could sell heroin with twice the existing purity at half the existing price. At the time he had that epiphany, he was just one man with no organization behind him, but he had a dream and he was willing to risk everything for it, so he got his ass out into the jungle of the Golden Triangle and met with a major drug lord face to face. The two pragmatic men realized that they could become incredibly wealthy if Lucas could pull his dream off, so the supply was assured under reasonable conditions at a very reasonable price. Through this connection he was able to buy pure heroin at $4,200 per kilo, compared to the $50,000 he would have had to pay his Mafia connection back in the states. The next matter was importation into the United States, and Frank had the solution to that as well. The Vietnam War was sending back planes full of military coffins, and Frank knew a way to use a few properly placed bribes to get his heroin a free ride on those planes. He flew a North Carolina carpenter over to Bangkok. In Frank's words, "We had him make up 28 copies of the government coffins ... except we fixed them up with false bottoms, big enough to load up with six, maybe eight kilos ... It had to be snug. You couldn't have shit sliding around. We used heavy guys' coffins ... no skinny guys." The final matter was distribution to the streets, which Frank handled by moving every one of his relatives from their lives in the rural south and installing them in "front" businesses in New York and north Jersey. He dealt only with people who could trust completely.

Voila! He had created a massive criminal enterprise involving absolutely no criminals except himself and a former Chinese general turned druglord, both of whom were thrilled with the deal. Frank handled his business exactly the way a major marketing company like Pepsi Co. would have. He gave his heroin a brand name, and if he caught any street thugs cutting the product before selling it, he told them that was their own business if the product was unbranded, but it was Frank's business it they were selling it as Frank's brand. To sell an inferior product with Frank's brand name was to invite a dirt nap, because Frank could be as ruthless and violent as he needed to be to run his business properly. That was part of the standard operating procedure in his particular market segment. In a legal business enterprise, unethical competitors or copyright infringers are eliminated with subpoenas. In Frank's business, the same process required bullets.

Except for the fact that he sold heroin instead of computers, oil, or hamburgers, the movie's version of Frank Lucas was a classic American capitalist, and he behaved more like a CEO than a mobster. His personal habits were abstemious. He was never noticeably drunk or stoned. He almost never went out at night except to significant pop culture events attended by major celebs. He hung out with Sammy Davis. He lived in a Georgian mansion with his sainted mother. His tailoring and grooming were immaculate. He went to Church regularly. He insisted on decorous behavior from his family associates, both on the streets and in their private lives. He took care of his neighborhood, donated to charities, and once bailed out the legendary Joe Louis from a $50,000 personal debt. What's more, Frank was a likeable guy.

When New York magazine interviewed Frank as an old man in the year 2000, they summed him up like this:

"Braggart, trickster, and fibber along with everything else, Lucas was nonetheless a living, breathing historical figure, a highly specialized font of secret knowledge, more exotic, and certainly less picked over, than any Don Corleone. He was a whole season of the black Sopranos -- old-school division. The idea that a backwoods boy could maneuver himself into position to tell at least a plausible lie about stashing 125 kilos of zum dope on Henry Kissinger's plane -- much less actually do it -- mitigated a multitude of sins."

That fascinating Mark Jacobson article in the summer of 2000, "The Return of Superfly," available online in its entirety, is what generated the idea for this film. The movie has been kicking around in development for many years.  Frank Zaillan's script, originally titled Tru Blu (The Return of Superfly), has been around since 2003, and the film was originally expected to be released in June of 2005. Both of the major roles have belonged to other actors at one time or another, and at least four different directors have been associated with the project at various times. The first was Brian de Palma. Shortly after being brought in, De Palma said that the actors he wanted for Tru Blu would not be ready for another year and De Palma himself had three different projects at that time, so he excused himself from the project. Antoine Fuqua was the next choice, and he wanted Benicio del Toro for the role of Richie Roberts, but Fuqua soon left over "creative differences." and the film was canceled.

In March 2005, American Gangster was revived as Universal began negotiations with writer/director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) to revise the script and direct. The target budget was then $50 million. The following May, actor Don Cheadle was approached to replace Denzel as Frank Lucas, though no offer was made, pending George's script revision. As it turned out, producer Brian Grazer was not satisfied with George's concept and decided to return to Zaillian's vision.

Wikipedia picks up the story from there:

"In February 2006, director Ridley Scott entered talks with the studio to take over American Gangster, returning to Zaillian's draft as the film's basis. Washington returned to his role as Frank Lucas, and Russell Crowe was attached to star as Detective Richie Roberts. Scott chose to direct American Gangster based on the paradoxical values of Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts. Lucas operated an ethical business despite its illegal nature, and Roberts was a womanizer despite his status as an authority figure. Washington, who was not normally a fan of gangster films, chose to portray Lucas when he saw "the arc of the character" had ended with prices that Lucas paid for his actions. Crowe was drawn to the project based on his previous work with the director on Gladiator. Production was slated in summer 2006. To prepare for their roles, the actors met their real-life counterparts. Washington acquired Lucas's Southern accent, and Crowe practiced to match Roberts's manner of speaking and body language, requesting tape recordings of Roberts to assist in his preparation."

If I were a great director like Ridley Scott and wanted to make a masterpiece, I don't believe I'd go for an epic crime saga. There is always the danger of being left in the shadows of Goodfellas, Casino, The Godfather I and II, The Departed, Once Upon a Time in America, and Miller's Crossing. But Ridley is his own man and I feel that he managed to emerge from the giant shadows of Scorsese and Coppola, managing instead to stand upon their giant shoulders. American Gangster doesn't feel like any of those previous films. It gives just about equal time to the charismatic Frank Lucas and his frumpy pursuer, and while it does portray Frank as a man of principle, much as the first Godfather portrayed Don Corleone, its Southeast Asian locales and mysterious Chinese General evoke the spirit of Coppola's Colonel Kurtz rather than that of his Italian gangsters. In its portrayal of the details of Frank's business strategies, it is more like Oliver Stone's Wall Street, except with an occasional murder.

American Gangster has some of the typical elements of a crime film, but it is not an action movie so much as a cerebral and analytical one. Action junkies may be disappointed by it, but I was not. I sat riveted to my chair for the entire two and a half hours, eager to see how it would play out, relishing all the set pieces along the way. In fact, my strongest criticism would be that the film is too short! It seems to have time for only two things:

  • The details and atmosphere of Frank's business.
  • The character development of Frank and Richie.

Many, many other characters pass through the plot's turnstiles, but they remain basically strangers to us. There are just too many undeveloped characters who seem like total strangers. Frank has five brothers who comprise his inner circle, and I didn't get to know one from another. Frank's mother and his rivals are almost cameo roles. Richie has a task force working with him, and I really have no idea who those guys were. As lengthy as it is, the film is too ambitious for its running time.

That's a minor flaw, as I see it, because the two things the film does have time to do well are done brilliantly, and a longer running time would reduce the film's commercial prospects. Although it is not without flaws, this movie is definitely one you want to see. It's a great yarn, spun well, performed well, dripping with atmosphere, mostly true, and not without greater cultural significance.

(Currently rated over 9 at IMDb!!!)


 

There are about three minutes worth of nudity, including full frontal and rear exposure from several females. Every single bit of it is from anonymous performers. Most of it comes from the workers in the heroin trade, who were made to work naked except for the filters over their mouths. That is basically what you will see in this film clip.

There are two other completely meaningless bits of nudity not seen here.

  • Russell Crowe is in bed with a woman when he answers his phone and his bodily movement exposes the woman's breast very briefly. Her face is never seen.
  • Denzel's cousin is in a brothel in Southeast Asia, and a quick camera pan reveals a butt and some partially exposed breasts from some hookers.

 

 

* Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe).

* White asterisk: expanded format.

* Blue asterisk: not mine.

No asterisk: it probably sucks.

OTHER CRAP:

Catch the deluxe version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles, here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The "L" Word

 (Season 4; 2006-07)

"Like sands through the hourglass, so are the Gays of Our Lives."

After four seasons, this lesbian soap opera has yet to portray a long term lesbian relationship, and this time, they manage to break up the two hetero ones. Of course, Tina and Bette are angling to get back together and torture each other once again, provided Bette doesn't find true happiness with Marlee Matlin, a deaf sculptress who is just as pushy as Bette herself. Meanwhile, Tina has the hots for a director who is filming Jenny's latest book. Angus cheats on Kit, sending her on a binge, Alice finds herself a soldier girl, while her list finds a girl even more promiscuous than Shane, leaving room for Shane to have a serious relationship. In fact, her character had a serious year. After she skipped her wedding to Carmen, her step-mother dumped her half brother on her, and she fell for the kid. It was at his school that she met her new girlfriend, Paige. Helena's mother cut her off so she could learn that her friends liked her for more than her money, and she became a poker partner and all around girl Friday to Catherine. Max is close to surgery, is helping Alice promote her Web site, and has a new girlfriend, since Jenny doesn't really like the new Max. Bette's boss at school decides to come out as a lesbian.

That is about it. Not a lot of content for 12 hours, but I have to remember that this show is not created for me. I can understand lesbians appreciating TV where they can watch characters they have something in common with. Even so, I find myself drawn to a few of the characters, and some of the material I find entertaining.

Season 5 is assured, and I suspect the show will last for years to come. They have a niche audience, are not afraid to alter the cast, and tackle some issues which are not gender-specific, thus giving it some appeal outside the gay/lesbian community.

The series went all the way to episode 5 with no nudity this time. Daniela Sea broke the ice with a full frontal, the first nudity this season. Rachel Shelley and Sandrine Holt show breasts and buns in two scenes. Katherine Moennig and Kristanna Loken show breasts in two scenes. Leisha Hailey, Rose Rollins, and Simone Bailly show breasts in one scene each.

 

 

Daniela Sea

 

Rachel Shelley

 

Sandrine Holt

 

Katherine Moenning

 

Kristanna Loken

 

Leisha Hailey

 

 

Rose Rollins

 

Simone Baily

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Pretty Cool Too

 

Angela Dodson shows off her big boobs in this comedy flick.

Brandi Williams does not get naked but looks very sexy in her underwear.

More breasts from Jennifer Day.

Julia Lehman with some "Tiny Tots".

Tabitha Taylor with her over-inflated hooters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes and collages

"Charmed"

Season 3, Episode 18

Shannen Doherty

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three film clips of Kelli Garner and Amber Tamblyn in Havoc 2

A film clip of Mathilda May in Three Places for the 26th

A film clip of Patsy Kensit in Kleptomania

Joanna Krupa and Lynn Collins in The Dog Problem

Sigh. Possibly the greatest breasts of the past quarter century have now almost completely disappeared.

A beautiful woman!

Two good versions of the Marisa Tomei upskirt

 

 

 

 

 

The Good Night

Gary (Martin Freeman), a former pop star, starts having dreams centering on the perfect woman, Anna (PenÚlope Cruz). Barricading himself into his New York apartment, Gary can't live with her and he can't live without her. As Anna comes to life in the form of a high fashion model whose bus-poster presence haunts Gary daily, he can't decide whether he is asleep or awake. In fact, he can't decide if he wants to know the difference.

As Gary cultivates his ability to live in a dream world, covering his entire apartment with sound-deadening material to block out the sounds of New York, he starts getting help from Mel (Danny DeVito), his New Jersey guide to the land of lucid dreaming.

 

 

Penelope Cruz

 

Sonia Doubell

 

Uncredited

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Comedy Wire


The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that in her upcoming book, "Sage-ing and Age-ing," Shirley MacLaine talks about her friend and fellow UFO and reincarnation believer, Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, whom she introduced to the spiritual advisor who taught her how to talk to trees.  She recalls that he was visiting her when "the smell of roses drew him out to my balcony where, when he looked up, he saw a gigantic triangular craft, silent, and observing him."  After 10 minutes, it "sped away with a speed he couldn't comprehend.  He said he felt a connection in his heart and heard directions in his mind."  That might explain why he and MacLaine both oppose putting weapons in space. 

*  Republicans said, "See, another liberal who refuses to get tough on illegal aliens!" 



TMZ.com claims that the reason the FBI raided David Copperfield's magic prop warehouse in Vegas and took his digital camera over a rape accusation in the Bahamas is because part of his show is designed around a "system for picking up women."  They say he picks women out of the audience and uses code words such as "mama" and "secrecy" to signal his sexual interest.  His assistants then mark those women's seats on a theater map, bring them backstage, photograph them, and ask them questions, such as whether they like to vacation in the Bahamas, where Copperfield owns $50 million worth of private islands. 

*  He says it's research for a book to be called "How to Pick Girls With Only $10 Million Worth of Props and 20 Assistants."