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From Under A Rock: Scarface

August 6, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Scarface  


If you’ve followed this column for awhile, you probably know that we sometimes pick movies more for the benefit of the other person. Michael picked Ghostbusters for my sake, for example. And on more than one occasion, I have used this column as an opportunity to see movies neither of us have seen: Rocky and Apocalypse Now are examples and I loved them both. Today we have another case of that; will we find another beloved classic?

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael had Aaron meet his maker was we watched Prometheus. This week both dudes are taken out from under the proverbial (crack) rock for Scarface.

Released: December 9th, 1983
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Oliver Stone
Al Pacino as Tony Montana
Michelle Pfeiffer as Elvira Hancock
Steven Bauer as Manny Ribera
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Gina Montana
Robert Loggia as Frank Lopez

Aaron Hubbard : This is probably the first time I have been genuinely surprised at my reaction to something we have picked for this column. While not bad, I do not care for Scarface at all, and doubt that I will be watching it again anytime soon.

Michael Ornelas : I had a less severe, but similar reaction. This was one of our rare picks where neither of us had seen it before. It wasn’t bad, and the cinematography really grabbed me a couple times but…the whole experience felt lacking and rather drawn out.
When Expectations Are Too High
Aaron: Scarface is a film that is both popular and iconic, with moments and lines that you probably know and reference even if you haven’t seen it. It also stars Al Pacino, who gave possibly my favorite performance of all-time in The Godfather, Part II. I think my expectations for this were a bit too high; I often found myself checking the clock and thinking of other movies I would rather be watching. This is frustrating to me, because I genuinely do not like reviewing films I don’t like. Especially when they are more “underwhelming” than bad. What were your expectations, and did the film meet them?

Michael: It did not. It’s definitely a film about machismo in many ways, and that doesn’t resonate with me as someone who’s not a misogynist. That’s not to say that fans of this film are; I was just rubbed the wrong way by it. The possessiveness Montana exhibits over his sister were relatable but uncomfortable, and maybe poorly executed? I’m not one to shy away from movies that make me feel “uncomfortable” so it’s not automatically going to ruin a film for me. Hell, one of my favorite genres is horror, and there are so many despicable people doing morally atrocious things…and I don’t mind it there. The only time I really saw Tony exhibit some humanity was when he killed Shadow because he didn’t want to kill a man if his wife and kids would be collateral damage. And, no surprise, that was the most invested I ever got into the film. The climax seemed both epic and unnecessary – as if it was there just for the sake of having an epic climax. I’m rambling, but the point is that this did not meet my expectations.

Aaron: I feel that film could definitely have used more scenes like that. I actually really love crime movies; I love The Godfather because it shows how even criminals can have humanity, and how Vito contrasts with Michael. I love The Departed because we have Leo’s unflinchingly heroic character. I felt like this was a macho dude bro version of those movies. And that can work, but I don’t think they had enough fun with it for that to be accomplished.
The Camera Eye
Michael: The one feature about this movie that really worked for me was the cinematography. John A. Alonzo constructed some truly beautiful shots at the instructed of Brian De Palma, and it made several scenes a visual treat. The landscapes, shot composition, and many of the artistic choices that accompanied these scenes really sucked me in. My favorite shot in the movie was very Kubrickesque: the closing shot. Tony falls off the balcony as he’s shot full of holes, lands in the pool a la Sunset Boulevard, and then the camera tracks up to show the globe with “The World Is Yours” on it, and keeps going to show the aftermath of Montana’s decision to pursue this life of crime. He was a doomed character from the start, and the camerawork supported that masterfully.

Aaron: That shot was definitely excellent, and there were quite a few that stood out. One of my favorites was the scene where the chief of police comes to Montana at the dance and there are a bunch of mirrors around. I also thought the set design and costuming really made this film stand out visually. It’s fun to look at, but doesn’t have a lot of substance. Maybe that’s intentional?

Michael: And with that, you blew my mind. That said, even if it is intentional, I don’t like that in movies. Lacking substance and then saying “that was the point” is a waste of money and a waste of time. I felt that way about this year’s Hail, Caesar! but that’s a different discussion for another time.
Long Lasting Influence
Aaron: If there’s one thing I can’t detract from this film, it’s that it is absolutely iconic. Many things I enjoy have direct ties to it; everything from Pulp Fiction and Fargo to wrestlers like Razor Ramon and Eddie Guerrero. But I also can’t help thinking that a lot of those things took what Scarface did and improved upon it.

Michael: Well the obvious one here is Breaking Bad. Even Vince Gilligan’s original pitch for Walter White was that he would turn him from “Mr. Chips to Scarface” and there were many points throughout this film where I felt like I was watching Walter White in action. White turns out to be a worse person than Montana (which is quite a feat), but that show also has much more elegance in its storytelling than this film did. I agree that we can’t deny the influence this movie has had on pop culture, and I wouldn’t want to. Sometimes, a great idea with middling execution is all you need to start a revolution, and this definitely did that in the realm of storytelling.

Aaron: I agree with that. And I think I probably should temper my review by stating that I don’t think this movie is awful. If other people really enjoy it and get inspired by it, that’s awesome. I think about Superman: The Movie and how that really plays for me, but I understand that it doesn’t work for everyone. It’s impossible to deny its importance though, and I think the same applies to this movie.

Aaron: For my money, Scarface is one great actor trying to squeeze entertainment out of a boring character for three hours. The story isn’t engaging, the characters are bland, and the climax isn’t exciting enough to wait for. I feel there are several better options to watch in this genre.


Michael: Outside of the cinematography and Pacino’s performance, this movie offered very little to me. It didn’t resonate thematically, and the plot seemed to drag on when it didn’t need to. I’m glad I saw it, and it wasn’t a bad movie, but I probably won’t choose to throw it on ever again unless a bunch of other people I’m with want to see it.


Aaron: I talked to some of my social circle after viewing this and got the idea that at might be best viewed as a pseudo-documentary, where life doesn’t really follow a coherent plot. Do you think that perspective might help?

Michael: Honestly, not really. I don’t think I should have to filter my viewing through any specific lens to “get” a movie. Film is film, story is story, and good or bad are good or bad. I feel like a grumpy old man now, and I’m still in my 20s. What has happened to me?

Which “classic” movies have underwhelmed you?

Next week:

Michael: I actually first saw this movie due to the podcast version of From Under A Rock, and now I’m picking it for you in this column.
Aaron: You’ve talked to me about your fondness for this film before and I am definitely looking forward to seeing something that flew under my radar.

Michael: Your choice of words there was incredibly relevant to the film for a couple reasons actually…and you don’t even realize it.

Did you save anything for the swim back?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface

I kind of ate in the middle of an intersection…

411 Comics Showcase already looked at DC’s Captain Marvel, but what about Marvel’s version? Carol Danvers (soon to be played by Brie Larson) gets her due coverage in this column.

The final score: review Average
The 411
Iconic as it may be, Scarface disappointingly failed to connect with us. Pacino's performance is great and there's some great filmmaking on display, but it’s all in service to a character and story that didn’t need three hours to tell. We don't hate it, but we were expecting to love it, and whatever affection we have towards it is lukewarm at best.