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Five of Sidney Lumet’s Lesser-Known Films Worth Seeking Out

Five of Sidney Lumet’s Lesser-Known Films Worth Seeking Out (photo)

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Only days ago “The Deadly Affair” arrived at my doorstep, yet another of Sidney Lumet’s films I had never seen before since having been born two-thirds of the way into the director’s legendary career, it’s always been a game of catch-up. Then again, it was that way for most in his field, even if they were contemporaries.

After passing away far too soon at the age of 86, Lumet leaves behind a half-century-long career that will no doubt be scrutinized for being inconsistent, a richly ironic assessment given that in person and on film, he was known as a straight shooter, and perhaps one of the only filmmakers who could say their final film (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”) was as vital and strong as their first (“12 Angry Men”). However, that certainly isn’t the only reason why Lumet was a rarity.

In a world full of auteurs, Lumet was a collaborator, bringing out the best in some of the finest screenwriters and actors of the day, whether it was protecting Paddy Chayefsky’s visionary media satire “Network” or guiding the likes of Al Pacino to two of his finest performances in “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Serpico.” And yet he was also fiercely independent, unusually minimalist in his approach to storytelling and willing to fail, which made his successes all the more triumphant and many of his less commercially successful films intriguing if not as downright compelling for a specific audience as many of his hits are.

Of course, in recent days, there have been plenty of great remembrances of the director, from Salon‘s Matt Zoller Seitz and The New York Times‘ A.O. Scott, not to mention Mubi‘s excellent roundup of them all, as well as Film School Rejects‘ list of the seven Lumet films you can watch right now and Matt Singer’s YouTube primer. But the director’s body of work is so vast that even after one gorges through the accepted classics, there are far more treasures to be found, especially since quite a few of them haven’t been released on DVD or sometimes home video in general until the last year. Here are a few that are well worth checking out:

“Prince of the City” Amongst Lumet’s biggest fans, the director’s nearly three-hour adaptation of Robert Daley’s book about real-life NYPD detective Robert Leuci (Treat Williams) who uncovers corruption in the department and methodically weeds them out is perhaps his greatest achievement. After long being unavailable on DVD, Warner Brothers released the film in a two-disc set in 2007 that not only leaves the tense, labyrinthine thriller uncompromised, but includes a half-hour documentary about the making of the film that details the film’s difficult shoot and serves as a testament to Lumet’s adherence to accuracy with the participation of the real Leuci.

04142011_FindMeGuilty.jpg“Find Me Guilty” Despite an unfortunate wig, Vin Diesel gave the performance of his career as mafioso Jack DiNorscio in Lumet’s 2006 courtroom comedy and unfortunately, with a nascent distributor in the now-defunct Yari Film Group, the film was similarly hidden in plain sight with audiences. But after directing very few comedies with a limited amount of success (the often budget-bin-bound 1997 hospital comedy “Critical Care” adroitly uses an excellent ensemble including Helen Mirren and an unrecognizable Albert Brooks), “Find Me Guilty” finds Lumet in his most comfortable setting — the courtroom – and at his most relaxed, which gives Diesel the chance to turn on the charm as the real-life mobster who, already having been sentenced to a 30-year prison stretch, represents himself to avoid having to testify against his pals in what became the longest mob-related trial in history.


“Bye Bye Braverman”
It was actually a lament from MSN Movies‘ Glenn Kenny upon the Warner Archive release of this bittersweet 1968 dramedy about a gathering of four liberal Jewish pals at the funeral of their friend that both he and the film’s director (whom he quoted from his essential memoir “Making Movies”) felt “should’ve been a soufflé, but it turned out a pancake” that led me to check the film out. As it happens, Warner Archive is one of the best sources for Lumet’s wilder works, having also made available to the public the 1968 adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Sea Gull” with James Mason and Vanessa Redgrave, the 1970 Tennessee Williams adaptation “Last of the Mobile Hot Shots” with James Coburn, and the 1980 Ali McGraw comedy “Just Tell Me What You Want.” And like those films, “Bye Bye Braverman” was never likely to catch fire with mass audiences, but one will admire Lumet’s craftsmanship, particularly in regard to what he brings out of his actors, and the film’s nerve, reveling in its Brooklyn setting and Judaica in a way that will make it foreign to some, but instantly beloved by others if it hits them in the right way, as it did Andrew Grant of Like Anna Karina’s Sweater.

“The Offence” Thanks to MGM’s Limited Edition Collection, a manufacture-to-order DVD service in the vein of Warner Archive, three of Lumet’s lesser-known films are available to own including “The Group,” the 1966 drama that tracks Shirley Knight and Candice Bergen amongst others in a group of graduates from Vassar as they pass through the rites of adulthood during the 1930s (which can also be watched on Netflix), and “Garbo Talks,” the lighthearted 1984 drama featuring Anne Bancroft as an indefatigable Greta Garbo fan who decides she’ll meet her screen idol when she learns she has an inoperable brain tumor. But perhaps the strongest of the trio is Lumet’s second collaboration with Sean Connery, following 1965’s war drama “The Hill,” which touched on the director’s longtime fascination with abuse of power with Connery as a veteran detective pushed beyond the brink of self-control by a suspected child rapist. It’s available both on DVD and Amazon on Demand, a blessing since it never saw the light of day in more than a few countries after it proved to be a disappointment at the box office, though it was a passion project of Connery’s that is evident from the end result.

04142011_FugitiveKind.jpg“The Fugitive Kind” Ordinarily, inclusion in the Criterion Collection might preclude being on a list such as this, but we’ll make an exception since Lumet and star Marlon Brando’s considerable résumés often overshadow this 1959 Tennessee Williams adaptation about a drifter (Brando) who attracts the interest of three women (Joanne Woodward, Anna Magnani, and Maureen Stapleton) while trying to escape his criminal past in a small Mississippi town. At the time of its release, critics believed the East Coast-bred Lumet was out of his element in the Deep South, but later reception has been far kinder as the evocative black-and-white portrait of a decaying culture and Brando’s lonesome lothario. If nothing else, the film allowed Criterion to include a collection of Lumet-directed one-act plays of Williams on their two-disc set and eventually, The New Yorker‘s John Lahr to tell a wonderful anecdote about its occasionally difficult production.

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Scarface Movie Al Pacino

Wanna Play?

Say Hello to Our Scarface Quiz

Play along with movie trivia during "Scarface" tonight at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Tony Montana is all about money, power and respect. And while we can’t promise you’ll get money or power by taking our Scarface quiz below, you will get respect if you get a perfect score. One out of three ain’t bad. Click below to take the quiz, and catch Scarface this month on IFC.

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Hank Azaria Commencement

Best Speech Ever

Hank Azaria’s Simpsons Advice For Grads, Questionable Shark Facts and More of This Week’s Funniest Videos

This week we're laughing at Hank's Tufts commencement speech, Jason Alexander's shark facts and more.

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Photo Credit: YouTube/Tufts University

We’ve made it! Memorial Day weekend! But before we can complain that it’s over too quickly, take a moment to bask in the pre-break lack of productivity and enjoy some lighthearted videos.

From Hank Azaria channeling Chief Wiggum and other Simpsons characters while talking to college grads to “Shark-spert” Jason Alexander sharing questionable shark facts, here are five funny things from this week you need to watch.

1. Kermit Informs Fozzie Bear That They’ve Been Canceled

It’s never easy to see someone receive bad news, much less a Muppet. But if anything, Kermit’s poise and acceptance during a time of crisis is impressive, admirable even. Fozzie Bear, on the other hand, reacts with greater similarity to how we would: with baseless anger and utter despair.


2. Jason Alexander Offers Shark “Fin Facts”

Memorial Day weekend means the start of beach season, aka Shark Feeding Season. As part of IFC’s Shark Half-A-Day Memorial Day marathon, “sharks-pert” Jason Alexander offers up some interesting “fin facts” about our sharp-toothed friends from the deep. You can also check out Jason’s beach tips, and catch the Jaws movies with more “fin facts” from Jason this Memorial Day on IFC.


3. Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke Confirms Dothraki Is a Real Language

With eyes still dewy from the climax of this past Sunday’s Game of Thrones (Hold the door!), the Mother of Dragons herself Emilia Clarke dropped by Late Night with Seth Meyers to throw the diehard fans a reason to smile: Yes, Dothraki is a real language. Watch Clarke discuss the phonetics and grammar involved with vying for Westeros rule.


4. Hank Azaria Gives Advice Through Simpsons Characters

Hank Azaria — star of The Simpsons, The Birdcage, and Brockmire, premiering in 2017 on IFC — gave the commencement speech at his alma mater Tufts University. In the hilarious speech, Azaria discusses how he got through college, recounts his early career struggles, and offers up life advice via fan favorite Simpsons characters like Chief Wiggum and Comic Book Guy.


5. X-Men: The Animated Series Gets Honest

Screen Junkies are back this week with another round of Honest Trailers. This entry focuses on the cartoon mutants that comprise X-Men: The Animated Series — an ultra-’90s Marvel property that predates the comic book adaptation boom of the 21st Century. But looking back at the decade of Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane, this video finds much to mock.

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Weird Al Comedy Bang Bang Season 5

Call Him Al

“Weird Al” Talks Comedy Bang! Bang!, His Upcoming Tour, Favorite Videos and More

Weird Al comes to Comedy Bang! Bang! starting June 3rd at 11P on IFC.

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With a career spanning five decades, “Weird Al” Yankovic has defined the song parody genre and become a beloved pop culture icon. Starting June 3rd, you’ll be able to catch him as the brand new Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader Fridays at 11P on IFC.

We recently chatted with Al about joining Scott Aukerman on the new season, his upcoming tour, favorite CB!B! characters and his future dream projects. (Hint: it might involve actors spontaneously breaking into song.)

The Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader gig seems like a natural fit for you. Did it take any time to get acclimated?

Weird Al: Yeah. It’s a slightly different skill set. The accordion is my main act, but I don’t use it on the show at all. It’s a keyboard setup. The actual setup is a little bit of a combination of what Reggie [Watts] had and [Kid] Cudi had. And a few extra things thrown in. So I’m trying to do my own version of what they brought to the show.

You’ve been on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast and the show many times. Do you have a favorite CB!B! character?

Weird Al: I’d probably have to say Doctor Time. Every time Scott wants me to do an evil character, he’s always got a bad English accent. [Laughs] Any time my character goes evil, he becomes sort of British.

Any favorite guests you’ve worked with?

Weird Al: Gosh, I love them all. Paul F. Tompkins is always fun. His Andrew Lloyd Webber character, Cake Boss, everything he does. And Andy Daly as well. They’re so versatile and so amazing at improv. That’s the one thing I was a little nervous about because I’ve never been super confident with my improv skills. But Comedy Bang! Bang!, particularly the TV version, is good for that because it’s all heavily edited. So it kind of gives me permission to try out whatever comes to my mind, so if it really sucks, they’re not gonna use it. [Laughs]

Scott Aukerman Weird Al

Your upcoming tour is a continuation of your Mandatory Fun tour from last year. Any new elements to the show?

Weird Al: Well, it is the same tour, so it’s not that much different. I might freshen some video a little bit. I’m hoping to use a bit or two from the current season of Comedy Bang! Bang! and slip that into the show somewhere.

The tour starts June 3rd in St. Petersburg, Florida and ends September 24th at Radio City Music Hall. How do you keep up the pace? 

Weird Al: It’s just a mindset. I’m really only working for two hours a day, so I basically just save up my energy for the show. I relax, surf online, watch satellite TV, read a book, rest my voice, and then give it all I got when I’m onstage.

Looking back at your vast song catalog, was there ever a parody that came to you immediately upon hearing the song?

Weird Al: Yeah, that’s happened a few times. More often than not, I have to think about it and analytically work out all the variations on a theme that I can and pick out the one with the most potential. But there’s been a few times where the idea came to me spontaneously. I think the first time I saw Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video, before it was even over, I thought, “Oh! I gotta do ‘Fat’! Super-plus-sized actors trying to get through a turnstile on a subway! I gotta do that!”

Do you have a favorite of your many hilarious videos?

Weird Al: Oh boy, it’s hard to say. “White and Nerdy” has been my biggest hit and that was a really fun video to do. But in terms of making a video, “Tacky” was really fun to do because it was so easy and I got to work with amazing people like Jack Black, Margaret Cho, Kristen Schaal, Eric Stonestreet, and Aisha Tyler. And we knocked it out in a couple of hours. We were having so much fun while making it, I kinda wish we weren’t so efficient and professional. [Laughs] I could’ve done that all night.

Was it filmed all in one take or was it stitched together?

Weird Al: That was all one take. Some people say, “Oh, I see where the edit is,” but it was all one shot. We did a total of six takes, and I think four of those takes were usable, but the last one was the best.

And you were directing while performing?

Weird Al: I directed that one, yeah. We location scouted and found a building in downtown LA that I thought was good for the shoot. I’ve since seen that building in a lot of other movies and TV shows — I think it was used in The Big Lebowski and a few others. It was difficult because I start the video in one set of clothes and I also end the video in a completely different set of clothes. So while the cameras were off me, because there’s only one elevator in the building, I had to run down five flights of stairs, quickly change my clothes, and hit my mark for the end. And after the take, we’d all just watch what we did, and say, “OK, let’s do it again.”

Is there a director you’d love to work with in the future?

Weird Al: Oh gosh, yeah, but I mean, music videos are notoriously low-budget so that’s why I end up directing them myself. [Laughs] But I’d love to be in a movie codirected by Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino.

Do you have a particular genre of music that you love parodying the most? Or is it more of the moment and different for each song?

Weird Al: It doesn’t necessarily revolve around personal taste so much. It really depends more on the song than the genre. But I found rap songs tend to lend themselves to parody, mostly because there’s a lot of words to play with. A lot of pop songs are repetitive, and that’s sometimes been an issue. With rap, there’s no shortage of syllables to mess around with.

Given that you’ve been so prolific and done so much, is there any type of art left that you’d like to dip your toe in? Dramatic acting, perhaps?

Weird Al: Well, if Spielberg and Tarantino want me for their film, I wouldn’t want to turn them down. But there’s no burning desire to do drama. I love doing comedy and feel comfortable doing that. Writing a musical might be something I do down the line. I don’t know when but I might take a shot at something in that area. Other than that, I’ve done pretty much all I wanted to do in my life so far. A lot of it not successfully. [Laughs] But I took a stab at it and feel gratified by that.

You’ve had such a eclectic career in music and comedy. What do you attribute your longevity to?

Weird Al: [Laughs] I don’t know what I’d attribute the longevity to. There’s a modicum of talent, but it’s mostly because I surround myself with very talented people. I’ve got a great support group, I’ve got the same band since the early ’80s, and I’ve worked with the same people for decades. And I got a very loyal fan base and I love what I do. And somehow I’ve been very lucky and it’s worked out so far.

Watch “Weird Al” in an episode from the new season of Comedy Bang! Bang! right now, before the season premiere on Friday June 3rd at 11P.

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