Film Review: The Funeral (1996)


‘One family, one murder, too many lies’

Directed by:
Abel Ferrara

Written by:
Nicholas St. John

Cast:
Christopher Walken (Ray), Chris Penn (Chez), Annabella Sciorra (Jean), Isabella Rossellini (Clara), Vincent Gallo (Johnny), Benicio Del Toro (Gaspare), Gretchen Mol (Helen), John Ventimiglia (Sali), Paul Hipp (Ghouly), Victor Argo (Julius)

Abel Ferrara is an interesting director and The Funeral – his second gangster film after King of New York (1990) – is an a-typical, but interesting film that is set in the 1930’s. Christopher Walken plays Ray Tempio, boss of a mob clan. His young brother was killed and the body is brought to his house where relatives and associates gather for what will be a three day funeral.

Soon, his other brother Chez (Chris Penn) arrives, a hothead who’s mentally unstable. The brothers want to go after the killer and their suspect number one is gangster Gaspare (Benicio Del Toro).

Through flashbacks we learn more about the Tempios although it is hardly information overload. Ferrara and his regular screenwriter St. John are holding back! But first the positive points. The film is shot beautifully. From the images of mourning relations to the gangster nightlife that is portrayed, it all looks stunning. Also, performances are great all around. Two cast members deserve special mention. Chris Penn gives a career best performance as the craziest mobsters ever. And Annabella Sciorra is truly excellent as Ray’s wife Jean, who is openly critical of the gangster lifestyle.

What I am less thrilled about is the build-up. The movie ends with a dramatic act by Chez, but it is not really clear how he comes to this act, apart from the fact that he is crazy. We are not given enough pieces to work out this psychological puzzle. Same for the youth flashbacks from Ray. It is obvious that they have impacted him greatly, but exactly how remains elusive. Is the screenwriting the problem here? Or does Ferrara just enjoy leaving things a little vague? Judging by most of his films, it is the latter. Normally, this is good. A true artist knows as well what to leave out as what to put in. But this time he used the scissors too rigorously.

Rating:

Quote
JEAN: “They’re criminals, and there’s absolutely nothing romantic about it.”

Trivia
In 2009, Empire Magazine named The Funeral #16 in a poll of the ‘20 Greatest Gangster Movies You’ve Never Seen (Probably)’.

Le samouraï (1967, Review)

Directed by:
Jean-Pierre Melville

Written by:
Jean-Pierre Melville
Georges Pellegrin

Cast:
Alain Delon … Jef Costello
Francois Périer … Superintendent
Nathalie Delon … Jane Lagrange
Cathy Rosier … Valérie, The Pianist
Jacques Leroy … Man in the passageway
Michel Boisrond … Wiener
Robert Favart … Bartender
Jean-Pierre Posier … Olivier Rey
Catherine Jourdan … Hatcheck Girl
Roger Fradet … First Inspector

‘There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai. Unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle. Perhaps…’
– BUSHIDO (Book of the Samuraï)

As the above quote that opens Le samouraï indicates, this film revolves around a loner. Hired killer Jef Costello (Alain Delon) lives in a greyish apartment with a bird as his only company. As soon as he gets up from his sofa, he engages in a dangerous mission: a contract murder in a crowded nightclub. Many patrons spot him in his conspicuous outfit: a raincoat, a hat and white gloves, much like how the gangsters in old Hollywood movies dressed.

After the murder, the police start to round up the usual suspects including Costello. He turns out to be a professional however; the beautiful Jane provides him with a watertight alibi. There is something strange at work though. The nightclub’s pianist, who clearly had a good look at Jef, lies to the police and says it wasn’t him. The cops are forced to release him, but the superintendent doesn’t trust it and has him tailed. In the meantime, we meet Jef’s employers who are unhappy with the many eyeball witnesses and plan to have him removed.

Le samouraï is a very minimalist film with also a sense of avant garde in it. It reminds a lot of John Boorman’s Point Blank that was released in the same year. The story is deceivingly simple, but leaves much room for various interpretations. Rather than on storytelling, director Melville focuses on style and he does so in a brilliant fashion. This movie is just perfectly crafted. Every image, many just showing uber-cool protagonist Jef roaming around in Paris, is shot amazingly and serves a purpose as well. The colour pallet consists of solely cold colours.

Although inspired by American gangster flicks, Le samouraï is still very distinguishable due to Melville’s master’s touch. In turn, it has inspired many modern gangster authors including John Woo and Quentin Tarantino. The films from Woo – most notably A Better Tomorrow and The Killer – feature scenes almost literally lifted from Le samouraï.

The first viewing is a bit awkward because of the cold, distant tone. But multiple viewings are bound to reveal a lot of hidden substance in the multi-layered screenplay. Both critically and commercially this is considered as one of Melville’s greatest successes.

Quote:
OLIVER REY: ‘A wounded wolf. He’ll leave a trace now. No, we have to get rid of him and quick.’

Trivia:
This is Johnnie To’s favourite film.

Dungeon Classics #10: Gremlins 2: The New Batch

FilmDungeon’s Chief Editor JK sorts through the Dungeon’s DVD-collection to look for old cult favorites….

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990, USA)

Director: Joe Dante
Cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, John Glover
Running Time: 106 mins.

According to IMDb, director Joe Dante prefers this movie to the first one. Understandably so. Obviously, the makers had a lot of fun coming up with the overload of mayhem the new batch of gremlins cause. This time Billy finds Gizmo in a hyper modern office building, but leaves him unattended. So of course, he gets wet and the gremlins make a glorious return, creating an incredible amount of damage to the building. Since most of the human characters are unsympathetic, it is easy to root for the monsters. It is only because of Gizmo, who Spielberg insisted must remain good in the first film (originally he was to turn into Stripe), that we find satisfaction in the gremlins’ ultimate demise. This fast-paced sequel does indeed offer plenty of the good stuff that made the first movie such a resounding success.

Dungeon Classics #9: Gremlins

FilmDungeon’s Chief Editor JK sorts through the Dungeon’s DVD-collection to look for old cult favorites….

Gremlins (1984, USA)

Director: Joe Dante
Cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton
Running Time: 106 mins.

Billy gets a very special Christmas present: A mogwai (Kantonese for monster or devil). A cute little furry thing called Gizmo. The problem is: keeping mogwais ain’t that easy. You get them wet, they spawn more mogwais. You feed them after midnight, they morph into the little monsters called gremlins. And if you drop one in a swimming pool…you get violence, terror, and mayhem during the Christmas season. This Spielberg-produced creature feature became understandably very popular. It has many memorable scenes, a super cute hero and a terrific villain in Stripe, leader of the monstrous gremlins. The movie has aged pretty well due to the excellent creature effects (all animatronics). And since it is family oriented, it remains a favorite for the holidays. Not just for eighties nostalgists like me.