Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Before the Devil Knows Your'e Dead

A few days after I had watched a TV during a housesitting gig without it exploding, I was back on my home turf. I hadn't seen anything in a few days, so I decided to pop in an unwatched screener, Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.

Against my better judgement, I missed out on this gem when it was in theaters, opting to watch Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding, which was like watching a bleaker, bitchier version of Interiors. Also a friend saw Before the Devil and hated it, which gave me second thoughts. Then again, this same friend laughed uproariously at Norbit, so....

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead tells the story of two sad-sack brothers, Hank (Ethan Hawke), a divorced, penniless dad, and Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a real estate attorney whose Wall Street hotshot routine is all smoke and mirrors.

Andy convinces Hank to rob a "mom and pop" jewelry store, a gig he assures his younger brother will go off without a hitch and net them $600,000. Of course, it goes disastrously wrong and soon the brothers struggle to cover their tracks and make right with their father (Albert Finney, excellent here).

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead isn't a typical caper movie because of Lumet and screenwriter Kelly Masterson. Lumet's style is very steady, very methodical. By eschewing quick editing and quick cuts, he allows Hank and Andy to stew in their own juices, making the movie that more compelling. And Masterson's script really is about the different variations of loserdome. Hank is such a coward that he recruits his scumbug friend to do the robbery, and Hawke (terrific here) plays the role like he's perpetually a day late and a dollar short. Meanwhile Andy is a power tie cliche. He's doing lines of cocaine in his office, and his smoking hot wife (Marisa Tomei) is seemingly around just for show. He doesn't even have the money to back the illusion.

The movie is out on DVD now, and it's a must-see. The acting is first-rate, the storyline is quietly powerful, and you get to see Tomei topless.

Some may not find the third option appealing, but you should still watch the movie.


It had been a long while since I had seen a movie just for the fun of it. I watch 9 to 10 movies a month, but solely in a professional capacity--a notepad in my hand and my mind in movie nerd mode. Plus, movies are so friggin' expensive--even hoofing to screeners in NYC--that it's costly to see anything outside of what I need to.

God bless friends with sweet cable packages, which allowed me to sit back and watch Billy Crystal's *61.

Last week, I housesat for some friends, which can be somewhat awkward. They told me that the house was at my disposal, that the fridge was mine, etc. But I'm a worrier, so I'm always afraid that there's some imaginary line I'm going to cross, which is why I treat the house like a crime scene. I watch the TV, of course, but it's always with a sense of needless worry. There are like five remotes for the thing, and I'm always concerned that the inadvertant push of a button or two will cause their gorgeous 65-inch TV to catch on fire or for it to go permanently Helen Keller.
I digress...

But I was exhausted one night and just wanted to watch some TV to unwind. Swallowing my fear, I plunged into my friends' expansive cable system and found *61. I'm a huge baseball fan, yet I had never seen the HBO biopic on Roger Maris' and Mickey Mantle's chase to beat Babe Ruth's home run record. 10 minutes became 20 minutes, which turned into an hour.

My biggest fear was that Crystal, a longtime Yankees fan, was going to romanticize Mantle (his hero) and play up the Yankees' mystique, but he offers a restrained, poignant look at two men struggling in the limelight. Maris (Barry Pepper), shy and reserved, gets consumed by the NYC press and its hunger for more. Mantle (Thomas Jane) struggles to cope with his craving for the nightlife and his penchant for injuries, one of which feeds the other.

What's so neat about the movie is how Crystal shows the human side of both baseball legends, and Jane and Pepper are perfect in the roles, alternately likeable and flawed. Also, the baseball action is authentic, which is a hit or miss proposition in most sports movies. Remember Tom Berenger's awful bunting in Major League or Tim Robbins moving like an epileptic while throwing 99 mph heaters in Bull Durham?

There's a parade of awesome character actors who contribute great stuff in supporting roles--Richard Masur, Bob Gunton, Christopher McDonald, Seymour Cassel, Bruce McGill, etc. They hold the movie together when Jane and Pepper aren't around.

So, I enjoyed a movie and the TV didn't explode. Pretty good night all around, I'd say.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Brief Introduction and a Q&A

Hi, Everyone:

My name is Pete Croatto, and welcome to the first of what I hope will be many installments of What I'm Watching. I am a movie critic for Home Media Magazine, Primetime A&E, and filmcritic.com and this blog will not only provide samples of my work, but offer a glimpse of my daily movie-watching life and other fun tidbits. I hope you enjoy it.

Here's a brief Q&A session so you know a little bit about me and this blog. Enjoy.

Q: What's your background?
A: I'm basically a movie geek with a good vocabulary and a goodly amount of writing experience. I've also written for Publishers Weekly, The Star-Ledger, mediabistro.com, Deadspin.com, The Trenton Times, and a boatload of natural health magazines.

Q: Are you going to review movies daily?
A: As of right now, no. I work a second job for the sweet, sweet health benefits and I'm working on other freelance writing assignments. Time is tight, bro. The site is pretty much for friends to see my reviews and to wax poetic in general on movies--that means (possibly) book reviews, interviews with film critics, and the occasional funny post or two. We'll see how it goes.

Q: I'm a girl; don't call me bro.
A: Good for you.

Q: What are some of your favorite movies?
A: Here are five quickies released from the last 20 years: Goodfellas, Boogie Nights, Pulp Fiction, Die Hard, and Frankie & Johnny (from when Al Pacino didn't bellow his lines).

Q: This isn't going to be a film snob site, is it?
A: No. My hero is Roger Ebert, and his reviews were smart, witty, and always welcoming. I've used that as my guide and I haven't been steered wrong yet....Plus, I have PCU and American Pie in my DVD collection. How could I be a film snob?

Q: Who are your three favorite actresses?
A: Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet, Maggie Gyllenhaal. How good is Mags? I'm watching the Batman sequel because she's in it, and I was not the biggest fan of Batman Begins.

Q: Who are your three favorite actors?
A: I've spent like fifteen minutes trying to think of an answer I'm satisfied with. Let's just stick with three that I really like: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Kline, and Gene Hackman.
Think about it: Have you ever seen Gene Hackman give a crappy performance? And it seems like he's been around since the dawn of time.

Q: What's the inspiration for the site?
A: My brother Dave came up with the idea, which is based on Nick Hornby's series of articles (on books) for The Believer. If it's half as good as what Hornby produces, I'll be elated...The ultimate goal is to provide a fresh look at movies and the moviegoing process that doesn't read like it's written by an illiterate fanboy or a self-serious film knob.

And with that, let's start...