John Cazale: Who knew Fredo was from Revere?

By Michael Curtis

John Cazale

John Cazale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many people know of the late actor John Cazale’s work. The man made an indelible mark on the history of film despite only being in a total of five movies. Those five films, however, were nominated for a staggering 40 Academy Awards. Now you may know him best for his role as Fredo Corleone from The Godfather. But what you probably didn’t know is that Cazale is a local product. That’s right; Fredo is originally from Revere, MA.

So I’m a little late with this post, but I felt like I needed to write something. AMC recently dedicated an entire week to classic mob movies. While watching both Godfather films (I don’t acknowledge that The Godfather III exists), I couldn’t help but notice how tremendous of an actor John Cazale truly was. I then started to remember an HBO documentary I watched a little over a year ago called I Knew It Was You directed by Richard Shepard.  It was a great piece based on his life, so I decided to watch it again. During the film, some of the greatest actors of our generation absolutely praise this guy. Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro, Richard Dreyfuss, and Gene Hackman just to name a few. They all acted alongside this skinny, frail, homely looking man, and they all spoke of how he made them all better actors.

Now when we think of actors from The Godfather series, the first two people that obviously pop into our heads are Al Pacino and Marlon Brando. Then it would probably be the Roberts, as in Robert DeNiro and Robert Duvall. But what about Cazale? Fredo is certainly one of the most unforgettable characters ever. He was the one who stood there fumbling a gun while Don Corleone was being shot by a rival family. And it was Fredo who was part one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the history of cinema when he confessed to Michael his betrayal of the Corleone family.

So I guarantee if you showed someone a picture of John Cazale they would most likely say “Hey, that’s Fredo!” But more often than not when you asked them if they knew what his real name was, they probably would have no clue.  And that’s a problem.

Like I said, he only starred in five films. But they weren’t just any five films. Try The Godfather, The Godfather II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. Oh, and did I mention that every single one was nominated for Best Picture? To this day he is still the only actor to have this honor. And the best part about it? He’s from Reveahhh.

Imagine that. This guy was born and raised in Revere. These days when you think of actors from the Boston area Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and the Wahlbergs come to most people’s minds. Throw in there Uma Thurman, Chris Evans, Steve Carell, and John Slattery for the people who know their shit. But John Cazale? As we know, you’re lucky if someone even knows his real name.

It’s a shame due to the fact that he may be the most talented and influential actor to ever come out of this area. “I learned more about acting from John than anybody,” Al Pacino said about Cazale. They became friends early in their careers while they were on Broadway together. And it’s no surprise that they both won numerous Obie awards during that time. Both men of course got their big break playing two of the Corleone siblings in The Godfather. And they would once again reunite in the Sidney Lumet classic Dog Day Afternoon in which Cazale provides an unbelievable performance as Pacino’s silent nutcase partner in a bank robbery that goes epically wrong. Meryl Streep, who was engaged to him, still does not like to talk about him almost 35 years after his death from lung cancer. She actually threatened to quit The Deer Hunter when the studio was considering firing Cazale because he was dying while they were filming. Just goes to show you that two of the greatest actors of any generation were both profoundly influenced and affected by this man.

It also goes to show you just what kind of effect growing up in Revere can have on a person. All that pain and depravity Cazale exhibited through his characters can be traced back to the home of America’s first public beach. I mean it’s certainly not surprising for anyone who is familiar with the city. It can be a rough and tumble place sometimes to say the least. Factor in that Cazale grew up during a time where Revere was even more of a rough and tumble place than it is now, it could explain where a lot of his inspiration came from.

Remember that next time you watch any of his classic characters. And the next time you travel into the city of Revere, just remember that you are standing in the hometown of the incomparable John Cazale. Or where Fredo grew up if it’s easier for you.

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Boston Movie Spotlight: Why You Should Check Out Monument Ave.

Cover of "Monument Ave."

Cover of Monument Ave.

By Michael Christina

Long before Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner were knocking off Fenway Park in The Town there was another flick that documented what it’s like growing up in the infamous Boston borough of Charlestown. And odds are you’ve probably never seen it.

Monument Ave. (1998) chronicles a group of Irish hoodlums torn between breaking their loyalty to the neighborhood’s code of silence while dealing with a ruthless crime boss who has no remorse for taking any of them out when he feels need be. And just so you know, I hate the word hoodlum. It’s just a nicer way of saying criminal.

Directed by the late, great Ted Demme (Blow, The Ref) and starring Worcester native and early 90s MTV tough guy Denis Leary, the film provides a genuine look into the inner workings of a world that few ever get to see.

Full disclosure, I had never seen this movie before until a few weeks ago. I was looking to watch a few Boston films on Netflix and it was pretty much one of the only ones that looked decent and was available for streaming. Honestly, try watching 15 minutes of The Proposition without wanting to break your TV.

Now I went into it with high hopes solely based off the fact that Ted Demme was behind the camera and Blow was one of my favorite movies growing up. But I have to say, it completely exceeded my expectations and then some.

First of all, the cast is outstanding. Other than the horrendous sideburns, Denis Leary provides a great performance as Bobby O’Grady, a small time car thief with a just a wee bit of a gambling problem. The legendary Martin Sheen perfects one of his favorite roles apparently of being a Boston cop long before The Departed in Monument Ave. Billy Crudup makes a small but memorable appearance as O’Grady’s junk tank cousin Teddy. Even Jean Gray (Famke Janssen) gets in on the act giving Blake Lively a run for her money in the category for trashiest Townie chick in a film. And then last, but certainly not least, Colm Meaney plays Jackie O’Hara (apparently there is an unwritten rule that at least one Jackie has to be in every Irish Boston gangster movie), the ruthless criminal boss alluded to earlier. Meaney is a personal favorite of mine because we share the same birthday and he was also in Con Air, which I consider to be a masterpiece.

Oh, and just as in most every other project Denis Leary has ever been a part of Lenny Clarke is not far behind. And just in case you were wondering, it’s fat Lenny Clarke. I mean really fat Lenny Clarke. It’s to the point where the people from NESN (New England Sports Network) would watch the movie now and think “Thank God we never had to fit him into the announcer’s booth during a Red Sox game when he was that big.” Between Don Orsillo’s giant head and Lenny’s unearthly body mass back then, the entire press box at Fenway would’ve collapsed. But I digress, Lenny has lost a ton of weight and we are all very happy for him and blah, blah, blah…now back to the movie.

Demme’s direction of the film is not overdone or overdramatic in any way. He lets the characters be the main focal point throughout the entire movie, which provides for a more fufilling and authentic experience. One scene in particular encapsulates an all-night coke binge within a seven minute sequence that is absolutely priceless. It’s almost as if Leary and Demme had some personal experience during their lifetimes with that sort of thing (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge). A street hockey game between the members of Jackie’s crew also provides one of those you’ve had to live here to understand moments, which is quite frankly awesome.

The film certainly does not hold any punches, which I truly do appreciate. In terms of race relations, Charlestown’s history is spotty at best and Monument Ave. does not try and sugarcoat it. Now I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea and think that I’m excited that blatant racism is a part of this film. I just believe there is a certain reality that Bostonians unfortunately still know and I appreciate when anyone presents something for truly being what it is. For me, holding back on things of this nature does no one any good. Coming out in the open and presenting a particular mindset can be the first step in solving an issue, particularly one that still somewhat plagues the image of the entire city of Boston. And in the case of Monument Ave, it makes for for one of its most powerful scenes.

This movie overall provides a realistic view of a crew of friends living and surviving together in one of the roughest sections of the city. And a feeling of family shines through in the end to make for a very sort of redeeming experience. Weird to say, but it somehow all works.

So for those of you looking to check out a good Boston film that you may have never seen before, I suggest you check out Monument Ave. It’s available on Netflix, and conveniently the entire movie is also on YouTube. And don’t worry, its high quality streaming. None of that grainy, low quality stuff. Now let’s just hope it doesn’t get ripped down in a few days.

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Boston, Stand Up: 4 Beantown comedians to watch out for in Hollywood

By Jimi Zevon

Maybe it’s our bad attitudes. Maybe it’s our borderline religious devotion to cynicism. Maybe it’s the pent-up Irish Catholic guilt so ingrained in this city that it’s impossible to avoid even if you aren’t Irish or Catholic. Maybe it’s because we not only embrace sarcastic wit – we take pride in it, like some demented class-clown in the homeroom of American society. Or maybe it’s just ’cause we’re fuckin funnier than everyone else. But for whatever reason, the best stand-up comedians come from Boston.

The relationship between the dingy house lights of the Boston stand-up comedy scene and the golden marquee of La-La land is a complicated one. Some comedians use their act as a vehicle to propel themselves into the public eye with the end goal of Hollywood stardom (Dane Cook). Others avoid the advances of agents, managers, and other headaches and remain local to establish themselves as hometown favorites (Steve Sweeney). But whatever career choices these comics make, no city compares to the hub when it comes to successful standup comedians per capita.

Everyone knows Boston as the home of the gritty, noir-ish crime drama. But with so many funny people, it isn’t a question of if Boston natives will begin to appear more big studio Hollywood projects, it’s a question of when. Let’s talk about the funniest guys from Boston, their TV/film careers, and who’s going to make the next blockbuster comedy.

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The Boston movie stereotype is Southie’s reality

By Michael Curtis

Saint Patrick's Day in Boston. Police officers...

Saint Patrick’s Day in Boston. Police officers point to photographer. The Canon 70-200L IS lens garnered a lot of attention on the St. Patrick’s day parade route (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reality TV is coming to Southie. Cue the, “Wea betta than everyone ked” from the natives. Can you imagine a reality TV show following Patrick O’Reilly down Broadway as he looks for yuppies to beat up? I’m pretty sure MTV can’t wait for that. It’s Jersey Shore without the hair gel and fist pumps. Instead, we will be getting red heads, freckles and Jameson.

I love this city; I was born and raised in East Boston. I am a Bostonian. But unlike most, I know that there’s more to my city than just what is being portrayed. Boston has some of the best hospitals and the best schools in the world. Beautiful views, awesome restaurants, wonderful art museums, great sports teams and tons of history can all be found here as well. There is so much more potential for great television and movie projects to come out of this city. But Americans don’t care about that. Entertainment is just that: entertainment. And sometimes I feel that the majority of Americans have goldfish like attention spans. A drama based show on say an HBO like network with a plotline and good actors? Nah, we’d rather watch a war between Southie natives and the yuppies who are invading their “turf”. It will be just like “Gangs of New York”, only in Southie.

Now I’m not knocking anyone from Southie. I have plenty of friends from all over the city, and certainly more than a few in South Boston. But the truth is the truth. A reality TV show filmed there or anywhere else in the city would just further the correct stereo type that we have already created for ourselves of being the home of Irish tough guys.

Every section of the city is the same. Dorchester, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Southie, and Eastie can all be put into the same category. The North End is the same way too, just Italian. Many different ethnicities occupy the city, but we are still one and the same. We are loud, obnoxious, blue-collar pieces of work who think we’re better than everybody. The Bruins of the 70s and the Celtics of the 80s encapsulated the stereo type perfectly. We don’t take shit from no one. And we’ll hit you before you have the chance to hit us, just to prove our point. I’ve accepted this reality and fully understand that the rest of the world knows this about us by now.

The bottom line is that people bitched and complained for years about Hollywood not coming here. Now that they’ve arrived we are complaining about being portrayed like what, how we really act?  You want to complain about something? Complain about the fact that reality television actually exists and that its next victim for the mindless masses is Boston. Don’t complain about who we really are.

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Blame the mad man, not the movie maker

James Holmes

James Holmes (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

By Michael Christina

It’s difficult to have a movie blog of any sort and not focus somewhat on the events that took place in Aurora, Colorado this past Thursday. It’s still hard to even fathom that someone could take innocent lives with such ease and apparently have no sense of remorse.

The Dark Knight Rises” was supposed to be the movie event of the summer. And judging by the numbers ($162 million earned domestically) it still will be. I am planning on seeing the movie tonight and I honestly couldn’t be more excited. But it is clear that this film will now and forever have a certain stigma to it because of one James Holmes.

Like I said before, it is hard to comprehend a mass tragedy of this scope. From an outsider’s perspective this disgusting act is nothing more than a cowardly lunatic getting his jollies off of pretending to be his favorite comic book character. It does, however, conjure up a debate over the images of violence we consistently see on a daily basis.

For my generation, Heath Ledgers portrayal of “The Joker” went beyond just being a movie villain. The character became a cult legend. And it is easy to see why.

Ledgers untimely death certainly added to the mystique of his performance. The performance itself also was legendary for the fact that he created one of the most diabolical and unpredictable characters in the history of film. But for me, it goes beyond that.

My generation is the 9/11 generation. We understand the true scope and horror of terrorism. “The Joker” was a terrorist in every sense of the word, and this aspect of the character tapped into something that we all know too well. There was, though, a different twist within Christopher Nolan’s version of our favorite bad guy. There was no clear-cut explanation as to why he did what he did. There was certainly a method to his madness, but his depravity was never fully explained. It was that sense of mystery that made him all the more horrifying, and ultimately one of the most unforgettable characters of all time.

Now for normal movie-goers it is characters like this that challenge our perception of truth and force us to go to dark places, only to come back to reality when the film is finished. It is truly the beauty of cinema. Unfortunately for society, there will always be people on the outskirts who take the images they see beyond what they should be. The power of freedom of expression is a double edged sword. Always has been and always will be.

With that being said, it is not acceptable to automatically question the intent of every violent image we see in movies. The truth is that people are murdered every day. I know that this seems harsh, but it is a fact of life. In 2010 there were 12,996 murders in the United States alone.

The appeal of “The Dark Knight” was that it was a comic book flick that was supposed to mirror life in a realistic way. The cruel reality of life is that violence is still an everyday occurrence in the world we live in. To sweep this under the rug and act as if violent images portrayed in films or any other type of media are the sole cause of tragedies such as the one that occurred in Aurora is just wrong.  Characters like “The Joker” challenge our perceptions of society by providing mental images that can often be more powerful than a news report ever could be. And once again, a stable individual can understand the difference between the fantasies being shown to them and the reality of the consequences of a particular character’s actions. James Holmes was clearly not a stable individual.

Violence in films and other forms of media should be used as a jumping off point to a more productive dialogue between people, whether it is about gun control or the overall disgustingly high homicide rate that exists in this country in general. That is not to say that there are no films that exist solely off of the use of gratuitous violence. There are certainly plenty of those. This Batman trilogy, however, cannot be put into that category. These films represent a deep and textured character study, and the truth is that the portrayal of the characters is very powerful. But in the end, isn’t that what we ask of our artists? It is their job to make us believe in these characters and stories. Unfortunately there will always be the risk of someone completely taking what they see and turning it into their own sick and twisted fantasy.

So all I’m saying is this: have some perspective when it comes to situations like this. Don’t blame Christopher Nolan. Blame James Holmes.

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