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Thursday, July 30, 2009
MORE DE PALMA REFERENCES
A GANGSTER, AN ORPHAN, AND... HARRY POTTER?
The poster image at left is for a two-part film series by Jean-Francois Richet that tells the story of real-life French gangster Jacques Mesrine. The first film is called Mesrine: Killer Instinct, and stars Vincent Cassel. According to Paul Dale at The List, Richet's two-part saga reflects the influence of a number of filmmakers:

Richet’s enterprising handle on the material Killer Instinct is a work of veneration and compulsion comparable to the better films of Brian De Palma (Scarface, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Carlito’s Way). Like a French Tarantino, Richet is clearly a filmmaker who loves movies and moviemakers. Over the course of these two films, he pays considerable respect to, among others, William Friedkin, Peter Yates, Michael Mann, Luc Besson and Michael Bay.

Dale goes on to suggest that the film's comparisons to The Godfather and GoodFellas are perhaps overstated:

Such comparisons actually do the film a bit of a disservice. Though driven by a euphoric narrative that undeniably belongs to mainstream English language cinema, Killer Instinct and to a lesser extent its sequel is actually awash with homegrown influences. The sequences set in late-50s Paris could have been lifted from Henri Georges-Clouzot’s brilliant 1947 dockside thriller Quai des Oefevres and the spirit of Jean Gabin, most notably in Michael Carné’s moody 1938 deserter-on-the-loose drama Le Quai des Brumes which shadows every frame and crooked turn of Cassel’s ratty mouth.

COZZALIO: ORPHAN'S BEGINNING AND ENDING RECALL DE PALMA
Meanwhile, Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule was reminded of De Palma twice while reviewing Jaume Collet-Serra's Orphan, currently in U.S. theaters. Cozzalio was jolted during the opening of the film, writing, "I had to fight the urge to bolt from the theater during this opening sequence. And had Collet-Serra continued to operate in this weirdly dissociative style of De Palma-tinged surgical theater of horror, who knows how much I could have/would have taken?" Cozzalio also hints that the surprises in store in the final stretch of Orphan place "the movie in the vicinity of one of Brian De Palma’s great sick jokes," as the audience most likely will not see what's coming.

NEW HARRY POTTER FILM PAYS HOMAGE TO CARRIE
Finally, in a review of the new Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, Kevin Maher at the Times Online states that the final act contains "a fantastically cheeky homage to Brian De Palma’s Carrie." Guess now I'll have to go check it out...


Posted by Geoff at 1:35 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, July 31, 2009 12:03 AM CDT
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009
OIFF BEST DIRECTOR INSPIRED BY DE PALMA
GOLDBERGER'S DON MCKAY EVOKES COENS' BLOOD SIMPLE
31-year-old Jake Goldberger's feature debut, Don McKay, won him the Best Director award at Cincinnati's Oxford International Film Festival this week. The film stars Thomas Haden Church (who also coproduced), Elisabeth Shue, and Melissa Leo. According to CityBeat's Jason Gargano, Goldberger told the audience at the OIFF postscreening Q&A that his inspirations for the film are Joel and Ethan Coen's Blood Simple (that film's M. Emmet Walsh has a part in Don McKay) and early Brian De Palma films. Gargano calls those name checks curious, but The Envelope's Scott Feinberg, writing about the film after it played at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, said that Don McKay "is a mind-twister that fails to fall neatly under any traditional genre label -- it blends horror, romance, drama, comedy and even film noir in a way that is somewhat evocative of early Coen Brothers films such as Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing, if not nearly as polished." Sounds intriguing, to say the least. Gargano writes that the film should see a theatrical release later this year. Below is a clip, courtesy of Variety blogger Anne Thompson, who describes the film as a "twisty thriller."

SPEAKING OF BLOOD SIMPLE
According to Screen Daily, Zhang Yimou will direct a remake of Blood Simple, which "will be set in a Chinese noodle shop in desert, rather than in a Texas bar."


Posted by Geoff at 1:33 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 2:58 PM CDT
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009
LOSO'S WAY MOVIE
INCLUDED IN DELUXE VERSION OF FABOLOUS CD, OUT TODAY

P.S. Just found out that Fabolous and Street Family put out a collection in 2006 titled Loso's Way: Rise To Power. So they did the prequel before the sequel-- go figure.


Posted by Geoff at 9:51 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 10:12 AM CDT
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Monday, July 27, 2009
STERRITT ON HURT LOCKER:
"UNCRITICAL CRITICS" PRAISE THE APOLITICAL TO A FAULT
"Nobody benefits when critics are as apolitical as the films they criticize," writes critic David Sterritt in regards to the critical praise heaped on Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, currently making its way in theaters throughout the U.S. The critical consensus does seem to be that Bigelow's film lacks any political viewpoint (is this even truly possible?), and that it is all the better for it. There have been a couple of negative reviews of The Hurt Locker posted at Andrew Breitbart's conservative-minded Big Hollywood, where John Nolte sees "unnecessary" political messages throughout, and Alexander Marlow calls it "a left-wing film."

"While the film is excellent in some respects," Sterritt writes of The Hurt Locker, "its politics are worrisome – not because they’re wrong, but because there are no politics in a film about the most politically fraught conflict in recent memory. And the eagerness of critics to overlook or excuse this bothers me just as much." Sterritt agrees that Bigelow's film has more "hair-raising action" than either Brian De Palma's Redacted or Paul Haggis' In The Valley Of Elah (the latter written, like The Hurt Locker, by Mark Boal). But, Sterritt states, the Hurt Locker "comes up extremely short in the politics department." Sterritt doesn't just criticize the filmmakers for being shortsighted in failing to address the politics involved in the war in Iraq-- he also chastises critics for praising the film's apparent lack of ideology:

Dana Stevens of Slate wraps up a rave by saying The Hurt Locker is “without question the most exciting and least ideological movie yet made” about the Iraq war, as if excitement sans ideology – any ideology – were the formula for top-grade cinema. Numerous reviewers find the film’s vagueness about geopolitics, and even geography, a plus rather than a minus. “It so happens that The Hurt Locker takes place in Iraq,” writes Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly. “But geography is almost beside the point.” Kenneth Turan says in the Los Angeles Times that “it’s unfair to burden The Hurt Locker with the Iraq label” since there’s “no sense of winning or losing a war here, no notion of making a difference or achieving lofty geopolitical aims,” echoing Boal’s dubious distinction between movies that actually think and movies that just move. Politics don’t even occur to Roger Ebert, who calls The Hurt Locker “a great film, an intelligent film, a film shot clearly so that we know exactly who everybody is and where they are and what they're doing and why.” Has the bar for great, intelligent films slipped so low that a movie qualifies by being comprehensible?

And so it goes. David Edelstein recognizes the political shallowness of The Hurt Locker near the end of his New York review, then promptly endorses it. “Last but maybe foremost are the politics—or lack of them,” he writes, commendably bringing up the problem. “The question of what the hell these good men are doing,” he continues, “in a culture they don’t understand with a language they don’t speak surrounded by people they can’t read hangs in the air but is never actually called.” So far, so good, until he asks the rhetorical question, “Or is that why this movie rises above its preachy counterparts?” This raises two non-rhetorical questions in my mind: What qualities make those counterparts preachy, as opposed to informative or provocative? And what counterparts are we talking about, anyway? The critic gives no clue. Over at the Village Voice, meanwhile, Scott Foundas rightly notes that some film-festival viewers tagged The Hurt Locker “apolitical,” and then he executes the same maneuver as Edelstein, saying those comments only show that the film “is mercifully free of ham-fisted polemics” and is content to “immerse us in an environment.” I’m as anti-ham-fist as the next moviegoer, but there would have been plenty of room in that environment for some progressive polemics.

In another mostly perceptive article, New York Times critic A.O. Scott calls Bigelow “one of the few directors for whom action-movie-making and the cinema of ideas are synonymous,” saying you may “emerge from The Hurt Locker shaken, exhilarated and drained, but you will also be thinking.” Thinking about what, however? “Not necessarily about the causes and consequences of the Iraq war,” Scott hastens to add. Scott’s conclusion is a let-down, but at least he explicitly faults the movie’s political limitations, saying that the filmmakers’ concentration on moment-to-moment experience is “a little evasive.” Take out the “little” and the point would be better made.

David Denby’s review in The New Yorker is also both insightful and problematic. The Hurt Locker is not political, he writes, “except by implication—a mutual distrust between American occupiers and Iraqi citizens is there in every scene.” Again the film’s political shortfall – its politics are only implicit, and they encompass nothing more profound or sweeping than distrust – is nothing to fret about. “The specialized nature of the subject is part of what makes [the film] so powerful,” Denby continues, “and perhaps American audiences worn out by the mixed emotions of frustration and repugnance inspired by the war can enjoy this film without ambivalence or guilt.” I’m not sure “enjoy” is exactly what Denby meant to say in this context, but I am sure that movie-movie pleasure is not the best contribution a war-themed film can make to a culture that’s politically challenged to begin with.

BIGELOW: "IT'S NOT MY POSITION TO JUDGE"
Bigelow told the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips that The Hurt Locker "seems to have touched a nerve, no matter which side of the aisle you're on." She further stated, "My job is to communicate; it's not my position to judge or dictate policy. I find it annoying when a film takes a superior attitude and doesn't provide the information in order for me to make my own decision. I don't want to be told what to think."


Posted by Geoff at 10:54 PM CDT
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Saturday, July 25, 2009
'A FILMED DARE'
CRITIC GOES IN DEPTH ON DRESSED TO KILL

John Kenneth Muir, author of Horror Films Of The 1970s and Horror Films Of The 1980s, has posted an in-depth look at Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill, which opened in theaters on this day in 1980. Muir considers Dressed To Kill "a filmed 'dare' of sorts; one that nastily, brazenly, grotesquely 'creeps up' to the edge of social responsibility and acceptability, but then — finally — backs away with a tease and a knowing wink." Muir breaks down the themes running through Dressed To Kill, and in the following excerpt, also delves into its intertextual associations (although he does not mention the film's allusions to Bunuel):

Again, De Palma finds ways to honor his cherished source material. The film opens in a shower (since Psycho’s most famous sequence occurred there…) but then builds to a fever pitch in another distinctive enclosure: an elevator. By starting with Angie Dickinson in the shower, however, Dressed to Kill essentially states that it is beginning where Psycho left off. It’s the next step. (And Fincher’s Fight Club [1999] is the next iteration of the schizoid, but that’s a post for another day…)

Dressed to Kill not only quotes from Psycho, but also the Italian giallo tradition. Here we have a film with a mystery component, an operatic score, excessive blood letting, and flamboyant camera movements. Where have you seen that alchemical equation before, Bava or Argento fans? Hitchcock wasn’t able to produce Psycho in color, but De Palma makes the most of this advance in movie technology. He uses garish, bright colors in symbolic, effective fashion here. In the elevator death scene, for instance, Angie Dickinson is garbed head-to-toe in immaculate white, a color which is soon spoiled by her spilled blood during the razor attack. The red-against-white image is powerful in almost a primal way, and it works thematically (as in giallo tradition); suggesting the loss of Kate Miller’s “purity” after the marriage-wrecking affair.


Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, July 27, 2009 1:22 PM CDT
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009
SAKAMOTO RECEIVES FRENCH HONOR
CITES DEBUSSY AND GODARD AS INFLUENCES
Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto received the Ordre national de la Legion d’honneur (the National Order of the Legion of Honor) last Thursday, according to reports from Japan Zone and Japan Today. During the ceremony at the French Embassy in Tokyo, where he was awarded an officer medal, Sakamoto cited the influence of French composer Claude Debussy and of filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard on his work, saying, "Through my music, I hope to repay the debt I owe." Sakamoto, 57, won an Academy Award in 1988 for his soundtrack to Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor. He later went on to score two films for Brian De Palma: Snake Eyes (1998), and Femme Fatale, which was filmed in France in 2001.

Posted by Geoff at 12:54 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 1:09 PM CDT
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Sunday, July 19, 2009
OBSESSION A 'CURIO OF CINEMA'
BUT VERTIGO FAN FINDS MUCH TO APPRECIATE

Jamie from London wrote about Brian De Palma's Obsession as compared with its inspiration, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, today at the Rituals and Dreams "towards the front, please" blog. Here is a notable excerpt:

The most crucial allusion, however, is the brilliant soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann that envelops the film and contributes so much to its atmosphere. He reprises chunks of the unforgettable Vertigo score; the Wagnerian Tristan chords, low, sombre organs, swirling strings and swishing harps. A recurring choral part is a little like Debussy’s Sirenes. The music brings you back to Vertigo like Robertson’s fixation brings him back to his wife’s death, always mulling things over and wanting to retrace his steps.

The camera movements have their motifs too; very slow tracking shots where the camera approaches locations of import, as if nervously, until the buildings loom over you; particularly in the opening credits as we ascend steps to the facade of San Miniato, the church atop Piazzale Michaelangelo in Florence. The famous 360-degree rotation from that chilling scene in Vertigo, where Kim Novak bleaches her hair and pins it up to “be Madeleine again”, is employed at key moments- when Bujold breaks into her predecessor’s bedroom, kept up like a shrine; when the pair have their reconciliation at the end. One nice scene has Robertson and John Lithgow eat breakfast in a café looking onto Piazza della Signorina; as each speaks the camera moves as a pendulum, Neptune and the other statues moving into focus, then out, the camera sent back and forth like a tennis ball.


Posted by Geoff at 9:43 PM CDT
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009
LITHGOW & GORDON JOINED BY DEXTER
"ALL THAT JAZZ AND LOTS OF BRIAN DE PALMA IN COMMON"
John Lithgow, pictured here from Bob Fosse's All That Jazz, appeared in that film along with Keith Gordon in 1979, right around the time Brian De Palma was working with Gordon on Home Movies and Dressed To Kill. Lithgow had already had his first big role in De Palma's Obsession (1976), and would soon appear in De Palma's Blow Out (1981), and later on, in De Palma's Raising Cain (1992). Lithgow, who is currently filming the fourth season of Showtime's Dexter, tweeted today that Gordon is directing the episode they're filming this week (Gordon has filmed several episodes of the series throughout its first three seasons). "Small world: Keith Gordon directs this week. We have ALL THAT JAZZ and lots of Brian De Palma in common," Lithgow states on his Twitter page. Shades of his work with De Palma, Lithgow portrays a serial killer on the upcoming fourth season of Dexter.

Posted by Geoff at 6:34 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, July 16, 2009 11:18 PM CDT
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Saturday, July 11, 2009
FABOLOUS FINDS CARLITO'S WAY
UPCOMING LOSO'S WAY INSPIRED BY DE PALMA FILM
In the shadow of Brian De Palma's Scarface, the director's other collaboration with Al Pacino, Carlito's Way, has its own cult growing. That cult will get a boost this summer when Fabolous releases his new album, Loso's Way, July 28, which features a heavy lineup of guest stars, including Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, and Ne-Yo. Fabolous told Billboard in March of 2008 that he wanted to make a concept album that would be similar to what Jay-Z did with his tie-in to Ridley Scott's American Gangster. Without naming the film at the time (keeping it a secret), Fabolous explained his idea to Billboard:

I always wanted to touch on this particular movie musically because I felt some of the things in the movie related to me and to lots of other people. A lot of scenarios and situations in the movie are relatable. Plus, I always wanted to use a theme for my album, like how Jay[-Z] used American Gangster because he saw a character that was relatable to him. I want to take scenarios and turn them into records, and vice versa.

STANDOUT TRACK IS "PACHANGA"
With the final product finally being released more than a year later, Fabolous now tells Billboard about how his own personal stories link with Carlito's Way:

To help tell his story, Fabolous looked for inspiration in Carlito's Way, the 1993 movie in which an ex-con pledges to shun drugs and violence despite the pressure around him.

"The concept of the album came from me watching Carlito's Way and seeing how he was a guy who came from jail and wanted to do something bigger and better," he says. "I didn't come from jail, but I came from the hood, and in many ways I felt just like Carlito, because even though I'm still connected to the streets, I wanted to do bigger and better things too. There were a lot of parallels between his story and mine."

Fabolous says the lead single, "Throw It in the Bag," produced by Tricky Stewart and featuring his labelmate the-Dream, doesn't fit in with the theme, but he explains that "it was so contagious and catchy that we just had to go for it." The motivational "It's My Time," featuring Def Jam newcomer Jeremih and produced by the Runners, which was released in conjunction with "Bag" and appears in a TV ad for the NBA draft, is an example of how Fabolous' and Carlito's stories coincide.

"This song is about how I generally feel about my life and my career, and it's relatable to people because it's the type of song that motivates you to do whatever it is you have to do, just like Carlito," Fabolous says. "Throw It in the Bag" and "It's My Time" recently entered Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Pop 100 charts at Nos. 94 and 99, respectively.

Created with help from producers like Jermaine Dupri and DJ Toomp, other tracks on the album include "Stay," featuring Marsha Ambrosius from Floetry, about a son asking his father not to go. "It's a personal record for me because in between the last album and this album I had a son, and so on this track I talk about my relationship with my son and with my father," says Fabolous.

"Last Time," finds collaborator Trey Songz singing, "'this is the last time but I gotta see my baby,' but it is a metaphor for him having to see the streets one last time, just like Carlito on his last run," says Fabolous.

But the record that plays off the movie the most is the stand-out track "Pachanga," named after Carlito's right-hand man, who betrays him at the end of the film. "A thug changes and love changes, friends become strangers, pachanga," Fabolous rhymes, sampling Nas' "The Message."


Posted by Geoff at 3:52 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, July 11, 2009 4:00 PM CDT
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Tuesday, July 7, 2009
THOMSON & TUCKER ON SCARFACE
AND SCARFACE MONTAGE MAKES BLOGGER'S TOP TEN LIST

The Untouchables isn't the only Brian De Palma film feeling the love from critics amidst the heat of Michael Mann's Public Enemies. Pauline Kael stated that Scarface was "a De Palma movie for people who don't like De Palma movies." David Thomson fits that bill perfectly, as he hates most De Palma films, but loves De Palma's Scarface. Thomson, generally unimpressed with Mann's Public Enemies, offers his list of ten great gangster films, courtesy of the Irish Times. Listed chronologically, De Palma's film is number nine, right before Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas. Here's what Thomson wrote about Scarface:

Howard Hawks’s Scarface (1932), in which Paul Muni played a version of Al Capone, is a deserved classic, but the 1983 remake, written by Oliver Stone and directed by Brian De Palma, is even better. For a start, shifting the action to Miami and making Tony Montana an outlaw from Castro’s Cuba is very clever, and it allows Al Pacino to play with a Cuban accent the way a cat teases a dying bird. It was as if all the restraints Pacino had respected to play Michael Corleone were tossed aside. Beyond that, this Scarface is a modern opera (with music by Giorgio Moroder) that builds from the first bloody job on Miami Beach to the assault on Tony’s cocaine palace by Colombian thugs. Along the way, we get deliciously sleazy performances from F Murray Abraham, Harris Yulin and Robert Loggia as low-lifes for whom Tony finds appropriate executions. Then there is the young Michelle Pfeiffer as the bad-tempered prize Tony craves, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as the sister he can share with no one.

TUCKER: DE PALMA GAVE PFEIFFER ONE OF THE MOST SPECTACULAR ENTRANCES
Meanwhile, sparked by Mann's latest, Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker (author of Scarface Nation) is offering an "EW University" gangster movie class all week long. In today's lesson, Tucker discusses the role of women in gangster movies, with a focus on Pfeiffer's Elvira:

Who’s the most famous, most recognizable female character in the gangster-film genre? I’d have to say Elvira Hancock, wife of Tony Montana in the 1983 Scarface. Since a lot of gangster movies are period pieces set during the Prohibition Era, it’s not surprising that women have been largely relegated to being gold digger girlfriends – “molls” -- or innocent companions or mothers of the male protagonists. It wasn't until the World War II era, when there were more women sitting in movie-theater audiences, that the female roles were made more substantial. There are enough exceptions to this rule, however, to make women in gangster films an intriguing area of EW University study. Most immediately, Marion Cotillard, as John Dillinger’s famous real-life moll Billie Frechette, is more of a presence than your average gangster accompaniment in the new Public Enemies; director Michael Mann didn’t cast this excellent actress (La Vie en Rose) to have her stand around and simper.

But let’s go back to Elvira in Scarface. This was Michelle Pfeiffer’s star-making role. Director Brian De Palma gave her one of the most spectacular entrances in movie history: dressed in a slinky dress that hugged every curve, Elvira descends slowly from a glass elevator, with Pacino’s Tony momentarily speechless, in awe. Wearing a blonde pageboy hairdo and talking tough, Elvira ends up matching Tony curse for curse and, as their cocaine consumption increases, toot for toot. This is a far cry from the original 1932 Scarface’s femme fatale, Poppy, played by Karen Morley. She’s little more than a pretty trinket Paul Muni’s Scarface Tony Camonte wears on his arm; the real woman in this movie is Scarface’s sister, Cesca, portrayed by Ann Dvorak. She’s so loyal, she grabs a gun and stays by her brother’s side for the film’s final shoot-out. The clear implication throughout the film, although this could never be stated outright, of course, is that Scarface’s sister loves him more — is more like a faithful lover or wife — than his girlfriend is.

SCARFACE MONTAGE TAKES IT TO THE LIMIT
Warren J. Cantrell's top ten list of movie montages, posted at Scene Stealers, is not specifically related to gangster films, but it does feature Scarface up there in the top five. Here is what Cantrell says about the montage:

Money. That’s not only a description of this montage, but the image that kicks it off and sweet-Christ, is there a lot of it! After solidifying his position as the go-to man for cocaine imports and distribution in Miami, Tony Montana (Al Pacino) goes to work maximizing his power base in the vacuum left in Frank’s absence. Wisely moving through what looks to be as many as six months of expansion and growth, director Brian De Palma gives the audience not-so-subtle hints regarding the extent of Tony’s ascension. We watch the spread of the protagonist’s influence through multiple business ventures, a chic wedding (that showcases a fucking domesticated tiger), lines of men marching into a bank with duffel bags full of money, and a good-for-nothing junkie wife that is in it for the gravy. The montage has been parodied before, and for good reason, as it is absolutely dripping with cheese (the background track rivals Bloodsport’s in sheer awesome-per-square inch), yet isn’t that the point? The film is a salute to the possibilities of life in the United States for any person with balls solid enough to take what is there. In Tony Montana, America found a willing taker, a victim of this country’s lop-sided promise who, while tough as nails and quite willing, did not understand the basic necessity of freedom: restraint. A microcosm of the thematic elements of the film at large, the montage represents both Tony at the peak of his power, yet in the midst of what will ultimately ruin him. It is Tony’s blind embrace of the American dream (and the idea that one must keep reaching for more) that will doom him, for he doesn’t understand (nor will he ever) that balls might be what it takes to get to the top, but that brains are needed to stay there. The song here is “Take It To the Limit,” and for good reason, as the montage demonstrates Tony doing what he does best, mainly chewing through everything and everyone to get higher up the social ladder (the tragic inevitability, of course, is that once to the top, to keep trying to climb will mean a terrible fall).


Posted by Geoff at 1:29 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, July 11, 2009 1:42 PM CDT
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