Way to Go, Joe
“You think I’m funny?…Funny, ha-ha?...Like a clown?...Do I amuse you?” Actually, GoodFellas Academy Award® winner and Jersey boy Joe Pesci, turning 75 today, has been funny and scary and hapless and brutal in more than 30 movies across more than 40 years. He may be most noted for his menace-laden Raging Bull, GoodFellas and Casino Martin Scorsese troika, as well as his Home Alones and Lethal Weapons comic desperation, but indeed he has kept company with many choice filmmakers (Robert De Niro, Taylor Hackford, Sergio Leone, Jonathan Lynn, Oliver Stone) who bring out more than the streetwise paisano palooka or murder machine in his work. Twilight Time offers two diametrically different examples. Director Nicolas Roeg’s visually spellbinding thriller Eureka (1983), about the world’s richest man (Gene Hackman) and the sinister people in his orbit scheming to chip away at his wealth and burrow into his soul (Theresa Russell, Rutger Hauer, Jane Lapotaire, among others), finds Pesci in unusually subdued but intriguing form as a Miami-based mob kingpin with the Russian name of Mayakofsky (the same as the Soviet “poet of the revolution”) and fashioned on legendary Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky. He covets the magnate’s beautiful Caribbean island as a site for an offshore casino, and pursues his goal with cunning, capitalistic calculation and soft-spoken righteousness, just business and nothing more, far removed from the anguished intensity of his Joey LaMotta of three years prior. Fourteen years – and two indelible Scorsese portrayals and the comedy high of My Cousin Vinny – later, Pesci is back on welcome and familiar turf playing the Made Mob Man as frustrated working stiff in the goofily demented surroundings of Tom Schulman’s dark farce 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag (1997). His last-job-before-retirement is straightforward enough – transporting the eponymous proof of a gangland hit to the honchos who commissioned it, but the intervention of an airport baggage mixup and his intersection with a bunch of unsuspecting schmucks (Andy Comeau, David Spade, Kristy Swanson, Todd Louiso and elder generation icons George Hamilton and Dyan Cannon) turns it into sheer aggravation and grisly circumstantial improvisation. From slow burn to volcanic eruption, Pesci is the film’s gleeful comic center, as TT essayist Julie Kirgo observes: “Writer-director Schulman clearly understands the fatal charm of Pesci’s ferocity, and provides him with many opportunities to display it at magnum force. Schulman also has a taste (and a very peculiar brain) for the surreal: note particularly the nightmare sequence in which a slumbering Pesci dreams of the eight eponymous dismembered heads sweetly singing an unforgettable version of Mr. Sandman. This bit alone sends 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag soaring out of the stratosphere from gonzo to a bizarre kind of glory.” Yes, the birthday honoree is funny and chilling and always worth celebrating, especially as the TT hi-def Blu-rays of Eureka (67% off original list) and 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag (50% off list) are reduced in price this month as part of the label’s MGM limited-time sales promotion through February 28.