Summer of Sam

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Cast: John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, Adrien Brody, Jennifer Esposito, Michael Rispoli, Ken Garito, Brian Tarantina, Michael Badalucco, Patti LuPone, Bebe Neuwirth, Ben Gazarra, Anthony LaPaglia, Michael Imperioli, Spike Lee… and more.

Written by: Spike Lee, Michael Imperioli, Victor Colicchio

Directed by: Spike Lee

Rated: R

Released: July 2, 1999

Overall score: 6/10

Brody performance: 7/10

An aside:

This was a particularly life changing project for Adrien Brody. During a fight scene near the close of the movie, his nose was broken for real. And the moment stayed in the film! You can actually see it happen. It’s quite upsetting, actually. I thought it was my imagination that the moment was left in, until I heard Adrien say so in an interview.

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Oxygen

Cast: Maura Tierney, Adrien Brody, Terry Kinney, Laila Robins, James Naughton, Paul Calderon, Dylan Baker, Frankie Faison, Michael Henderson…

Writer/Director: Richard Shepard

Released: November 12, 1999

Overall score: 6/10
Brody score: 7/10
Commentary track score: 9/10 (more about that below)

A side note

I want to start off this post by recommending that if you get your hands on a DVD of Oxygen, you listen to the commentary track. It features writer/director Richard Shepard, along with the movie’s stars: Maura Tierney and Adrien Brody. It is so entertaining. Really. Funny in parts, informative in parts, and deliciously awkward in parts. It’s a must hear.

A Familiar Feeling

Oxygen is what you might call “Silence of the Lambs Light,” with Adrien’s character getting into a seasoned police officer’s psyche almost as adeptly as Dr. Hannibal Lecter would. There is a sense of urgency in both films that drives these otherwise guarded women to allow these men (Lecter and “Harry,” respectively) in. To permit themselves to think like a monster for the good of the case. The story lines of the two films aren’t much alike at all, it’s the psychological aspect I find comparable.

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Restaurant

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Cast: Adrien Brody, Elise Neal, David Moscow, Catherine Kellner, Jesse L. Martin, Simon Baker (then credited as Baker-Denny), Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Sybil Darrow (then Temchen), Michael Stoyanov, Vonte Sweet, Elon Gold, John Carroll Lynch, Lauryn Hill, and Avery Kidd Waddell

Writer: Tom Cudworth

Director: Eric Bross

Release date: July 24, 1999 (Japan); January 28, 2000 (U.S.)

Overall score: 7/10
Brody performance: 7/10

This film is one I think I would enjoy even without Adrien’s involvement, especially considering my fondness for others in the cast, such as: Jesse L. Martin, David Moscow, Lauryn Hill, and John Carroll Lynch. However, it’s really hard to picture anyone else taking his place. 

His performance here is captivating. He breaks your heart, charms you, makes you laugh… a mixture we’ve come to expect from him by this point. You almost always get multi-dimensional work out of Adrien. He lends more complexity and layers to a role than even the writer(s) or director likely expected. You could write a completely one-note type character, or a two-sentence character description, but you’ll be fine if you cast Adrien Brody. To paraphrase Woody Allen: you hire good people, stay out of their way, then when it comes out good, take credit for it.

Adrien’s character, Chris Calloway, is the center of the story, and all else kind of revolves around him. Chris is a bartender at a restaurant in New Jersey, but has aspirations of breaking free and being a playwright for a living. His best friends are line cooks and servers there, as is former friend Kenny (played by Simon Baker) for whom Chris holds a lot of contempt.

A new waitress, Janine (Elise Neal) catches Chris’ eye almost immediately, and the attraction appears to be quite mutual. His coworkers/friends tease him relentlessly about this crush being his “chocolate fantasy, part two,” as his former girlfriend was black, and so is this new young lady.

Chris grew up with a racist father who was perfectly comfortable dropping the N bomb during casual dinner conversation. Chris, in turn, hates the word and will not use it, even for the sake of quoting someone. You get the vibe that Chris’ attraction to black women is almost a form of protest or rebellion against his father’s memory, whether conscious or unconscious. When Chris’ best friend, Ray/”Reggae” (charmingly portrayed by David Moscow) comments his father would turn in his grave if he saw him with Janine. Chris quips that if his bigoted father turned in his grave every time he did something he didn’t approve of, “he’d be a f**king rotisserie.” Chris seems to take great joy in that thought.

Throughout the film, we see the process of a play Chris wrote being staged by a director named Kurt (Elon Gold). First, at the start of the movie, Chris sleeps through the play’s auditions, so he isn’t aware that his nemesis Kenny (Baker) has snagged the lead role (a character based on Chris himself). He finds out during an awkward and ultimately heated exchange at a party.

Then we see Kurt (Gold) tell Chris that “There Was Lightening” (the aforementioned play) lacks resolution. The reason for this is that the play is based on Chris’ relationship with ex-love Leslie (Lauryn Hill), and the relationship itself has had no resolution. Once he and Leslie make their peace with each other in real life, Chris writes it into the play to provide an ending with closure.

Restaurant‘s director, Eric Bross, did a great job combining the play and Chris’ real life into one sequence, to make it clearer that what we were seeing between Chris and Leslie was also being acted out in the play. It’s a beautifully and cleverly done sequence.

Chris’ life seems to be coming together nicely. His play is successful, Janine is in love with him (and he suspects he’s in love with her), he’s made some peace with Kenny, and he’s finally getting to quit his job at the restaurant.

However, two events that happen at roughly the same time in the story shatter this otherwise ideal slice of life Chris is building for himself. One is the death of a rather important character, the other is… well… a very poor word choice during a heated moment, which leaves Chris, Janine and his friends devastated and divided.

There is some resolution in the final scene of the film, but it is clear that things aren’t going to be exactly as they were. Some bells just can’t be un-rung.

 

 

 

Aside

Sweet Spot

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are now approaching a “sweet spot” in Adrien’s career, where several films in a row are really good (or at least his performances).

  • Restaurant
  • Oxygen
  • Summer of Sam
  • Liberty Heights
  • Bread & Roses
  • Harrison’s Flowers
  • Love the Hard Way

This will be a fun batch for me to write, so my pace should pick up some.

The Thin Red Line

Cast: Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Elias Koteas, Ben Chaplin, Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, Adrien Brody, Miranda Otto, John C. Reilly… it’s a very large cast, so I’ll just stop there.

Written by: James Jones (novel), Terrence Malick (screenplay)

Director: Terrence Malick

Released: January 15, 1999 (U.S.)

Summary: An adaptation of James Jones’ autobiographical novel of the same name, focusing on the battle at Guadalcanal during World War II.

Overall score: 7.5/10
Brody score: I can’t score him, because the editing chopped his performance to bits!

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The Undertaker’s Wedding

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Cast:
Adrien Brody, Jeff Wincott, Kari Wuhrer, Burt Young, Holly Gagnier, Ralph George

Writer: John Bradshaw
Director: John Bradshaw

Overall score: 4/10
Brody performance: 6/10

Release: February, 1998

The title alone should tell you this one is a comedy. The Undertaker’s Wedding is definitely just for laughs, there’s nothing overly deep or meaningful going on. If you’ve seen films like Mafia! and Corky Romano, you’ll have some idea of what to expect here. It’s a semi-slapstick comedy about an undertaker named Mario Bellini (Brody) who gets most of his work from mafia killings.

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The Last Time I Committed Suicide

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Starring: Thomas Jane, Keanu Reeves, Claire Forlani, Gretchen Mol, Adrien Brody, Cristine Rose, Marg Helgenberger, John Doe

Written by: Stephen Kay, based on a letter by Neal Cassady

Director: Stephen Kay

Overall score: 7/10
*Brody performance score: 7/10

*Adrien doesn’t have enough screen time in this one for me to fully analyze the role, but he’s delightful when he does appear.
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Six Ways to Sunday

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Arnie is basically half the guys I went to college with.

Cast: Norman Reedus, Deborah Harry, Elina Löwensohn, Peter Appel, Holter Graham, Adrien Brody, Jerry Adler, Issac Hayes, Clark Gregg

Writers: screenplay by Adam Bernstein and Marc Gerald; based on the novel “Portrait of a Young Man Drowning” by Charles Perry.

Producer: Jonathan Demme

Director: Adam Bernstein

Released: Made in 1997, released in the U.S. in 1999.

Rated: R

Overall score: 6/10
Brody score: 6/10

I’m going to level with you: this is a strange movie. Dark comedy mixed with gangster flick. Disturbing, violent, dark and somehow funny. If you’re a fan of films by the Cohen Brothers (such as Fargo), then you might dig this. In spite of the bloodshed and off-putting subject matter, this film is actually not bad.
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Solo


Writers: Screenplay by David Corley, based on the novel “Weapon” by Robert Mason.

Director: Norberto Barba

Starring: Mario Van Peebles, William Sadler, Barry Corbin, Adrien Brody, Seidy Lopez, Abraham Verduzco, Farnecio de Bernal…

Rated: R
Released: 1996

Overall score: 4/10
Brody performance: 7/10

I’m going to be straight with you, my dear readers: this movie is not great. It has its impressive moments, but overall… it’s kind of cheesy. As with Bullet, though, I think it may have impressed me more upon its release in 1996. 
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Bullet


Cast: Mickey Rourke, Tupac Shakur, Ted Levine, Adrien Brody, John Enos III, Jerry Grayson, Suzanne Shepherd… Donnie Wahlberg has a small role, also.

Written by: Mickey Rourke (as “Sir Eddie Cook”) and Bruce Rubenstein

Directed by: Julien Temple

Released: Film credits state 1995, IMDb states 1996. So I’m guessing there was a release delay.

Rated: R and “unrated” versions

Overall score: 5/10

Brody performance: 6/10

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