Film Review: JOKER (USA 2019) ****

Joker Poster

In Gotham City, mentally-troubled comedian Arthur Fleck is disregarded and mistreated by society. He then embarks on a downward spiral of revolution and bloody crime. This path brings him face-to-face with his alter-ego: “The Joker”.


Todd Phillips

It seems unlikely that the director of mostly comedies like WAR DOGS, THE HANGOVER movies and OLD SCHOOL be the one to create this odd but original DC comic Batman villain JOKER.  But is this really the JOKER villain that challenges Batman so many times, or is he the inspiration for the real villain.  The age difference between this joker and  Bruce Wayne appears so, but director Phillips leaves the answer ambiguous.  As such, JOKER is an intelligent enough alternative Marvel Universe movie that concentrates on a villain as the protagonist.  The graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) was the basis for the premise.

The joker is a real loser in life.  Born poor with a mental disability, this sorrowful soul (Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker) is a mentally ill, impoverished stand-up comedian disregarded by society, whose history of abuse causes him to become a nihilistic criminal.  The illness causes Arthur to occasionally break out into uncontrollable laughter.

Phoenix has starred before in movies with a similar character, a loser as in YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE and INHERENT VICE, films that did not make great money but with this character immersed in a Marvel Universe, JOKER has made Warner Bros. an unexpected amount of money.  Arthur’s inspiration is talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) who allows Arthur on his show though later berates him causing Arthur to take immense offence and revenge.  De Niro is superb here.  When De Niro and Phenix appear together, De Niro steals the scene from Phoenix ( as evident in the first scene together, showing him to be what can be classified as a great actor.  The script takes De Niro from an early character in Martin Scorcese’s THE KING OF COMEDY where De Niro plays an upcoming comedian stalking successful comedian star played by Jerry Lewis.

JOKER is not a pleasant watch, since the often disturbing film deals with mental illness, depression, violence and the underworld of Gotham City (the film is shot in New York).  But it is a superbly crafted film going deep into the recesses of Arthur’s demise.

The camera work is nothing short of stunning.  Arthur’s chase of the young hooligans who steal his sign down the streets of the city is expertly shot.  The segment where the ambulance carrying Arthur’s mother Penny (Frances Conroy) screeches through a tunnel with the shearing lights doubles up on the madness of the situation and Arthur’s mental state.

Director Phillips gets the audience on Arthur’s side when he kills three yuppie criminals who beat him up on the subway train.  The audience feels sorry for Arthur, a vigilante at this point, but his behaviour also prevents the audience to feel sorry any further.

JOKER won the Golden Lion when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival.  It is also the number 1 R-rated box-office champion of all time.  JOKER is a film that demands to be seen, especially for cineastes.  The film should come away with a few Academy Awards in 2020.



Film Review: THE IRISHMAN (USA 2019) ****

The Irishman Poster

A mob hitman recalls his possible involvement with the slaying of Jimmy Hoffa.


Martin Scorsese


Charles Brandt (book), Steven Zaillian (screenplay)

Arguably the most powerhouse of all films made this year, THE IRISHMAN features the film industry’s biggest names that include multiple Academy Award Winners in its cast and crew.  Director Martin Scorsese directs high profile stars seldom or never seen together in the same frame in a movie.  Robert De Niro stars alongside Al Pacino (both of whom shot to fame after Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER II films) with Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin and Harvey Keitel.  

But the full title of the film, as seen in the opening and closing credits is THE IRISHMAN, I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES, based on the book of that name by Charles Brandt.  The main protagonist of the film is the Irishman of the film title, Frank Sheeran played by De Niro who is obviously Irish by blood.  When the film opens he and pal, Russell Bufalino (Pesci) are having a road trip with their wives on way to attend a wedding.  As they stop their car for their wives to have s smoke, Frank realizes that it is the same spot he and Russ had first met. Through flashbacks it is revealed that the wedding is a disguise for them performing  a peace mission that ends up as a vicious killing.  How and why the situation had come to reach this stage is the film’s story.  And it is not a pretty story.

The Irishman is an epic saga of organized crime in postwar America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran, a hitman who worked alongside some of the most notorious underworld figures of the 20th century.  Spanning decades, the film chronicles the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) — which remains unsolved to this day — and journeys through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries, and connections to mainstream politics.

THE IRISHMAN clocks in 3 and a half hours.  Director Scorcese remarked that when he Scorcese has been quoted to say that the people at Netflix are excellent.  The rest is a film that Scorcese can indulge in.  Though the film is a long haul, Scorcese gets to tell the story his way, his style.  When one analyzes many of his set-ups, one can see his attention to detail and the brilliance of Scorcese’s craft.  He tells a story while impacting emotions in the larger realm of things, and told with dead pan humour with the added bonus of a great soundtrack, put together by Robbie Robertson.  Never mind that the film turns a bit difficult to follow at times – Scorcese doesn’t care, but continues his passion of telling his story.  The result is a crime story told from one person’s point of view – Frank Sheeran’s and one very effective one at that.  The effect of the man on his family particularly on his daughters notably Peggy (Paquin) who refuses to talk or see him is devastating and the only thing that makes him regret his life.  The final scenes showing him speaking candidly to a priest (shades of Scorcese’s SILENCE) trying to extol himself from the sins committed in his life.

Th film uses CGI to ‘youthify’ De Niro, Pesci and Pacino for their character in their younger days.  This de-ageing process looks effective enough to enable the 75 year-old actors to play their younger years.

De Niro and Pacino are superb playing off each other.  Pacino’s Hoffa is volatile, loud, insulting and gregarious compared as compared to De Niro’s Frank who is smart, cunning, silent but deadly.  It is pure pleasure to see both De Niro and Pacino together in a single scene and there are quite a few of these in the film.

THE IRISHMAN is a must-see crime drama, not because it is true or could be true, but for Scorcese’s craft with the Master is still at his peak.

THE IRISHMAN opens for a limited engagement at the TIFFBel Lightbox before streaming on Netflix.


1987 Movie Review: THE UNTOUCHABLES, 1987


Movie Reviews

Directed by Brian De Palma
Starring: Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro
Review by Mike Peters


Chicago-1930-Eliot Ness is an idealistic and ambitious Treasury officer new to the ranks of the corrupt Chicago Police Force. His goal of cleaning up the streets is thwarted by the presence of the larger than life gangster, Al Capone. Overcoming hardships and threats against his family, Eliot Ness rounds up a group of “Untouchables” (men who are unable to be corrupted) and decides to challenge the Mega Empire of Capone.


To some, The Untouchables may not be considered a “classic film”. I would disagree. Growing up, I became enamored by the visual sight of gangsters in film. They appealed to me for many reasons. The freedom and the power they achieved through their modes of conduct was always a road I wanted to travel on. Then I grew up. I realized that this would not be the life for me. The danger and violent nature needed to be a part of this sort of “group” was not who I was. I could never kill a man, nor beat a man to a bloody pulp for minimal reasons. No, the life of the gangster was not for me. But, it is still an entertaining world in which to inhabit for two hours.

The Untouchables arrived in 1987 and was directed by Brian De Palma. A director, well known for his controversial films, had been deemed violent, misogynistic and anti-social by many of his critics. Known for such films as Carrie (1976), Scarface (1983) and Body Double (1984), De Palma has never shied away from controversy. Arriving at a time when Hollywood was undergoing great change, De Palma rose through the ranks with other directors such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. Studios had lost control of their films for a brief period of time and it was the director who was allowed to have full control of his film. It was his vision, not a producers or studios, which gave the director an unbelievable sense of importance and power. This was good and bad in a sense. Some directors blew it through their egotistical ways while others managed to make a name for themselves and remain an important part of the industry. De Palma was the latter.

De Palma began making films that strived to push the limits of acceptable behavior deemed appropriate by society. Growing up the son of a surgeon, De Palma never shied away from the images of violence and blood. It was a natural part of life in his eyes and he strived to depict it in, as some would say, voyeuristic ways. However, many could not see that he was critiquing the images that he presented on screen. He understood that he had become a controversial figure and regularly poked fun at this classification.

Studios were afraid to work him. However, in 1986, he directed a film called Wise Guys. This film was not well received and quickly vanished from people’s minds. The film however proved that De Palma could be uncontroversial and as a result, he scored The Untouchables.

The Untouchables is an interesting film. It is largely a Hollywood manufactured production but it embodies so much more. Themes such as loyalty, corruption and perseverance are readily presented in a beautifully crafted film. The production design is immaculate in its recreation of 1930’s Chicago. The buildings and the streets are simplistic and very formal in their design which helps to create a sense of nostalgia of what it might have been like to live during this time.

The clothes, designed by Giorgio Armani, are perfect and help to define the characters in truly distinctive ways. Al Capone and his cronies all live an upper class life. Through their suits to Al Capone’s silk pajamas, these men are deemed with high regard because of their social and financial standings. In many De Palma films, he has been known to upend the iconographic modes of good and evil. For instance, Frank Nitti is always represented by his white suit. Typically white has been linked to wholesomeness and purity but here, it is defined as corrupt and a color to be avoided. The police force on the other hand is visualized through their extremely dark police uniforms. By wearing these, the corrupt officials blacken the very meaning of what these uniforms are supposed to represent. The fact that every color is deemed corrupt only helps the audience to understand that Chicago has very few straight arrow citizens. The fact that the four “untouchables”, Ness (Kevin Costner), Malone (Sean Connery), Stone (Andy Garcia) and Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) are all represented through individualistic clothing attire helps to represent their non-conformist (corrupt) ways. They do not wear a uniform but rather wear their street clothes which allow them to be characterized as a group that cannot be swayed by the corruptive nature of the city.

The story is very linear in its approach. The film moves along at a decent pace which helps to settle the audience into sort of a lull but then immediately, and out of the blue, explodes into extreme violence. Just because De Palma was deemed uncontroversial at this point did not mean that he would totally shed his old ways. When the violence strikes, it has an impact that is harsh and unrelenting. When a particular star of the film is murdered, the film is merciless in its depiction of brutality and anguish. De Palma sets the tone very early in the film through the use of violence. At the beginning of the film, one of Capone’s men attempts to force a bar/diner owner to buy alcohol from them. He refuses. The man leaves. Another man, dressed in white, leaves the bar as well but leaves his briefcase sitting on a stool. A little girl, who is in the diner, attempts to track down the man but as she reaches the door, the briefcase explodes, killing everyone in the diner. This scene emphasizes that during this time everyone was fair game to be killed, even children (this scene is also important to imply that everyone is capable of being murdered within this film). It attempts to identify the fact that this was a very dangerous time period in American society. If you didn’t comply, then you would have to face the penalties. This scene also helps to foreshadow a scene later on in the film involving a child.

There are some memorable scenes in this film. The first is a P.O.V. perspective shot through the eyes of a gangster breaking into Malone’s apartment. This P.O.V. shot also works as a long tracking shot which creates a sense of suspense and fear because the viewer has now taken on the identity of the assassin. As we track Malone through his apartment, tension increases causing a fear that this man, whom we have come to admire throughout the course of the film, is about to be killed. It is a brilliant use of camera work displayed by De Palma in this scene.

Perhaps the most famous part of the picture is the train station scene. Inspired by Sergei Eisenstein’s Soviet silent film classic, Battleship Potemkin (1925), this scene is long and dragged out but manages to create an unbelievable sense of unease within the audience. While Ness and Stone are awaiting the arrival of the bookkeeper (who they need to apprehend), whom is being escorted out of town, the pacing slows to a crawl. We wait as Ness and Stone wait. There is no immediate rush into the action. We know that there will most likely be a violent confrontation but we must wait and thus the tension rises to an all new high. To make matters worse, a woman struggles to drag her baby carriage (with baby inside) up the stairs where this confrontation is likely to take place. I will not ruin it for those who have not seen it but this is a scene that is perhaps one of the greatest suspense sequences in film history.

The script by David Mamet is filled with suspense and tension and the actors help to bring his story to life. Sean Connery, in an Oscar winning performance, is magnificent as the over the hill Malone who still has a hunger within him to fight the fight. As well, Andy Garcia and Charles Martin Smith are well cast as new recruits to the “untouchables” team. Robert De Niro provides an interesting performance as well. He provides little nuances to his portrayal of Al Capone, like a smile or nod, which adds flavor to the character but in some instances he glides, knowingly and flamboyantly, over the top. The one problem with the casting is in Kevin Costner. When he is surrounded by the likes of Connery and De Niro, it is hard to accept him for who he is trying to be. I understand that his character wants to embody a sense of innocence and that he must learn how to achieve victory, but I felt he was weak for the role. He didn’t instill a fear within me throughout the course of the film. I enjoy him as an actor, just not in this film.

The Untouchables is a well made and crafted film. There are some slight problems with the film however. For instance, the editing is abrupt and distracting at times. Some scenes that should have had a few seconds of pause prior to edit are cut prematurely. But, these are small problems. This film attempts to encapsulate a time period while placing its’ own spin on the genre. The gangster film had all but disappeared from cinemas but, in my mind, this film helped to reestablish its’ roots (and as well make it a commercially viable genre once again). The film was one of my favorites as a child and still holds a special place within my heart. If one wants to witness the blending of a controversial figure like De Palma with the mainstream ideas of Hollywood, watch this film. You won’t be disappointed.

 the untouchables.jpg

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1977 Movie Review: NEW YORK NEW YORK, 1977

Movie Reviews

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring: Liza Minnelli, Robert De Niro, Georgie Auld
Review by Jayvibha Vaidya


Jimmy Doyle and Francine Evans meet in New York as young, struggling musicians. They fall in love, get married and struggle with fame, career and marriage, all against the backdrop of the 40’s big band era.


“You do not leave me! I leave you!”

Part musical, part film-noir, Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York is an epic love story following the rise and fall of two struggling artists.

It’s V-J Day, 1945. The war has just ended and young Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro) is itching to have some fun. Enter Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli), classy, polished and utterly uninterested in Jimmy. A long fast-talking, insult-throwing scene sets their love story on course. The film follows their crazy, mismatched pairing as they struggle to make it in the music business in the city that never sleeps.

The look of the film shifts between gritty and stylized. The film showcases the busy, dirty bars in New York against the film noir rain-slicked streets. Some scenes are filmed in bright daylight or stark darkness with other scenes shot with gauzy filters re-creating the look of the 1940’s musical, with soft lighting and extreme close-ups. Utilizing these techniques, Scorsese creates a mood that is equally dark and exuberant; much like the relationship between the two lovers.

With many scenes largely improvised, the plot sometimes falters then gains momentum. The editing however, keeps most of the film consistently moving forward. Both actors bring amazing performances with De Niro more New York street-punk and Minnelli channeling the 40’s musical, film-noir dame. This slight mismatch works for the film as it slides between convention and satire; the characters are sometimes talented artists then raging egomaniacs.

As any epic love story, the couple endures difficulties and in this case it is Jimmy’s insecurity as Francine’s career catapults her into the limelight. The more Jimmy struggles to be a well-recognized saxophone player, the easier it seems for Francine to launch her singing career. The fights that ensue are painful, dark and violent. Apparently, Scorsese encouraged both actors toward more physical acting which escalated and ended up putting them all in the hospital! But the resulting scene is intimate and disturbing, giving brevity to the complexity of their marriage.

The film does not use the musical convention where actors suddenly burst into song. Instead, the singing and sax playing is all organic; as they’re rehearsing, auditioning or performing. De Niro learned to play the sax even though the sound was dubbed and in the film, he hardly sings. Minnelli however sings her heart out! She has the ability to convey a range of emotions through controlled, precise vocal performances. The “Happy Endings” sequence near the end of the film showcases her singing, dancing and comedic talent. It is at this moment that the film takes a break to highlight a musical convention: the performance within the performance. Utilizing large-scale sets, choreographed dancers and many costume changes, it is light, funny and entertaining. And of course, her performance of the title song written by John Kander and Fred Ebb went on to become one of the most famous songs sung in history.

New York, New York, is a love story between two people who are bonded through music. The last scene breaks the convention of the happy ending, allowing the viewer to come to their own conclusions about the fate of the troubled lovers. Sometimes adhering to the conventions of the musical and sometimes satirizing those very conventions, the film is an interesting, visually stunning piece of work.

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Film Review: The Comedian. Starring Robert DeNiro

the_comedian.jpgDirector: Taylor Hackford
Writers: Art Linson (screenplay), Jeffrey Ross (screenplay)
Stars: Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito

Review by Gilbert Seah

THE COMEDIAN is, as the title implies about the story of insult comedian Jackie (Robert De Niro) who once found fame as Eddie in the TV sitcom Eddie’s Home. Jackie is now surviving on low-paying gigs in New York City but his audience wants to remember the Eddie routines that Jackie hates to be remembered for.

The trouble starts when Jackie assaults a heckler at one of his performances resulting in him being sentenced to community service at a homeless food shelter. But Jackie meets a fellow community service server, Harmony (Leslie Mann) who he has a relationship with.

Director Taylor Hackord (AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, RAY, THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE) treats his star and the material with respect. It shows. THE COMEDIAN turns out to be a likeable, respectable film despite some very lewd humour.

As in movies about stand-up comedians that pays homage to stand-up comedians go, the film contains worthy cameos provided by the likes of Charles Grodin, Jimmie Walker and Oscar Winner Cloris Leachman. Danny DeVito and harvey Kietel also deliver memorable performances. The comic routines on film are also well written and funny – garnishing laugh-out loud laughs. The best of these is the banter carrying on between the Jewish lesbian comic on hand and De Niro.

De Niro, no stranger to comedy being in comedies like MEET THE PARENTS and THE FAMILY, proves in this film that he can also do stand-up and insult stand-up at that. He is winning in his performance and though unlikely to win him another Academy Award, it is a performance that invokes both sympathy and laughter. De Niro looks good (with his hair probably dyed) and fit, and believable as the late 60 year old that can still become a father.

Where the film (both script and direction) succeeds is the difficult yet successful blending of vulgarity and sincerity. This is witnessed for example, in the one wedding scene when Jackie’s performance both delights his niece and infuriates her mother, Flo (Patti LuPone).

The film is a drama comedy with more laughs than anything else. As one late critic said, a funny film will allow a multitude of faults to be overlooked. The script is smart enough not to include any messages or uncomfortable sex scenes, to include the effects of modern technology (like viral youTube videos) and hilarious stand-up routines in the film.
The best film about a comedian remains Martin Scorsese’s satirical THE KING OF COMEDY that happens also to star a younger Robert De Niro as a stalker of a famous comedian played by Jerry Lewis. THE COMEDIAN is a light drama, played for laughs rather than insight or satire. The film succeeds in its lesser aimed goal.


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Happy Birthday: Robert De Niro

robertdeniro.jpgRobert De Niro

Born: August 17, 1943 in New York City, New York, USA

Married to:
Grace Hightower (17 June 1997 – present) (2 children)
Diahnne Abbott (28 April 1976 – 1988) (divorced) (2 children)

Growing up in the Little Italy section of New York City, his nickname was “Bobby Milk” because he was so thin and as pale as milk.

dir. Brian DePalma
Robert De Niro
Jennifer Salt
Mean StreetsMean Streets
dir. Martin Scorsese
Also Starring
Harvey Keitel
David Proval
dir. Francis Ford Coppola
Al Pacino
De Niro
Taxi DriverTaxi Driver
dir. Martin Scorsese
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Harvey Keitel
Jodie Foster
dir. Michael Cimino
Meryl Streep
RagingBullRaging Bull
dir. Martin Scorsese
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Cathy Moriarty
Joe Pesci
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICAOnce Upon a Time in America
dir. Sergio Leone
James Woods
dir. Terry Gilliam
Robert DeNiro
Jonathan Pryce
Kim Greist
The MissionThe Mission
dir. by Roland Joff�
Also Starring
Jeremy Irons
The UntouchablesThe Untouchables
dir. by Brian De Palma
Also Starring
Kevin Costner
Sean Connery
Midnight RunMidnight Run
dir. by Martin Brest
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Joe Pantoliano
Charles Grodin
dir. Martin Scorsese
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Ray Liotta
Joe Pesci
dir. by Penny Marshall
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Robin Williams
dir. by Martin Scorsese
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Jessica Lange
Nick Nolte
dir. by Michael Mann
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Val Kilmer
Al Pacino
dir. Martin Scorsese
Robert De Niro
Joe Pesci
dir. Kenneth Branagh
Robert DeNiro
Kenneth Branagh
dir. Garry Marshall
Sarah Jessica Parker
Jessica Biel
dir. James Mangold
Sylvester Stallone
Harvey Keitel
15 MINUTES15 Minutes
dir. John Herzfeld
Robert DeNiro
Edward Burns
dir. Bary Levinson
Also Starring
Anne Heche
Dustin Hoffman
dir. Paul Weitz
Paul Dano
Robert DeNiro
dir. Matthew Vaughn
Also Starring
Ian McKellen
Bimbo Hart
What Just HappenedWhat Just Happened
dir. Barry Levinson
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Sean Penn
Bruce Willis
Righteous KillRighteous Kill
dir. Jon Avnet
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Al Pacino
EVERYBODY'S FINE Movie PosterEverybody’s Fine
dir. Kirk Jones
Robert De Niro
Kate Beckinsale
Sam Rockwell
Little Fockers Little Fockers
dir. Paul Weitz
Ben Stiller
Teri Polo
dir. Ethan Maniquis
Robert Rodriguez
Danny Trejo
Michelle Rodriguez
dir. Neil Burger
Bradley Cooper
Anna Friel
dir. Gary McKendry
Jason Statham
Clive Owen
dir. David O. Russell
Christian Bale
Amy Adams
dir. Mark Steven Johnson
Robert DeNiro
John Travolta
dir. Jon Turteltaub
Robert De Niro
Michael Douglas
dir. Luc Besson
Robert DeNiro
Michelle Pfeiffer
dir. Michael Caton-Jones
Leonardo DiCaprio
Robert DeNiro
dir. Jerry Zaks
Leonardo DiCaprio
Meryl Streep
dir. Peter Segal
Robert DeNiro
Sylvester Stallone
dir. Robert DeNiro
Matt Damon
Angelina Jolie
and Al Pacino
and Angela Basset
and Ben Stiller
and Bernie Madoff
and Bill Murray
and Billy Crystal
and Bradley Cooper
and Bridget Fonda
and Charles Grodin
and Charlize Theron
and Chazz Palminteri
and Children
and Christopher Walken
and Clive Owen
and Cybill Shepherd
and Dakota Fanning
and Diahnne Abbott
and Drew Barrymore
and Dustin Hoffman
and Edward Norton
and Gerard Depardieu
and Grace Hightower
and Harvey Keitel
and Jack Nicholson
and Jason Statham
and Jodie Foster
and Joe Pesci
and Kate Beckinsale
and Kermit the Frog
and Kevin Costner
and Leonardo DiCaprio
and Liza Minnelli
and Marlon Brando
and Martin Scorsese
and Meryl Streep
and Michelle Pfeiffer
and Mickey Rourke
and Monica Bellucci
and Naomi Campbell
and Philip Seymour Hoffman
and Ray Liotta
and Robert Duvall
and Robin Williams
and Sean Penn
and Sharon Stone
and Sylvester Stallone
and Uma Thurman
and Val Kilmer
and Wife
as a Priest
as Al Capone
as Frankenstein
as Jake LaMotta
as Jimmy Conway
as Leonard
as Rupert Pupkin
as The Devil
as The Godfather
as Travis Bickle
as Vince Lombardi
as Vito Corleone
in Analyze This
in Awakenings
in Being Flynn
in Brazil
in Cape Fear
in Casino
in Frankenstein
in Godfather 2
in Goodfellas
in Great Expectations
in Heat
in Jackie Brown
in Killer Elite
in Limitless
in Mean Streets
in Meet the Parents
in Men of Honor
in Midnight Run
in New Year’s Eve
in Raging Bull
in Ronin
in Stardust
in Stone
in Taxi Driver
in The Deer Hunter
in The Mission
in Untouchables
On Set
On the Street
Red Carpet
with Oscar