Saturday, November 29, 2008
Australia is a throwback to the WWII-era romantic melodramas from the hyperimaginative, and just plain hyper, Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet). It is clear that for the native Aussie, it is a labor of love. The movie is the most restrained effort in a series of progressively loopier films that culminated in the love-it-or-hate-it musical, Moulin Rouge! (2001). While still employing some of his trademark touches of magical realism, Luhrmann manages to incorporate it into the story organically. And much of the movie's charm lies in its casting of some beloved Aussie actors, both old and new.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Michael: You had a gun. They only had a knife. You could have talked them into surrendering. Turned them over to the police. Vincent: Hey, Uncle Mike, Zasa sent these guys I was just sending him a message that's all. Michael: Now he has to send you a message back. Vincent: Joey Zasa's gonna send me a message? Joey Zasa's gonna send me a message? Connie: Michael, he did the right thing. He got Zasa's name. Michael: What's Joey Zasa got to do this this? Joey Zasa's a patso. Joey Zasa. Alright, you are what you are. It's in your nature. From now on you stick close to me. You don't go anywhere, you don't do anything, you don't talk to anyone without checking with me first, understand? Vincent: Yeah. Michael: I've got problems with the commission, young man! Vincent: Yeah, I know. Michael: You don't make them any easier. Vincent: I know. Michael: Alright, go on. Get out of here. Connie: Michael. Michael: Yes. Connie: Now they'll fear you. Michael: Maybe they should fear you.Connie now resembles a black widow, always dressed darkly, while her thin frame belies the power she now wields as one of brother Michael's closest advisors. The evolution of Connie's character from hapless victim to this Lady Macbeth-like figure goes a long way towards rehabilitating the Godfather series' outlook towards its stereotypical female characters. A monumental liability that the film never really is able to overcome is the casting of director Francis Ford Coppola's daughter, Sofia, as Michael's daughter, Mary. Reportedly, at various times, everyone from Julia Roberts to Madonna to Winona Ryder had to drop out of the production after being cast as Mary. Ryder, dropped out so close to the start of shooting that Coppola felt no choice but to cast his own daughter (now a major director in her own right). While that may stretch credibility somewhat, it's easy to see why he might have felt compelled to commit such a rash act. Consciously or not, Coppola has always had a kinship with Michael, both sons of Italian immigrants navigating through their respective corporate surroundings, struggling to achieve power, control, and freedom to pursue the success that escaped their fathers. For Coppola it is artistic success, and for Michael it is legitimacy for his criminal family. Though Michael achieves it before the movie's start, he continues to try to pull the puppet strings as he later accuses an enemy, Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) of doing. In this film, unlike the others, Michael is confronted with his deterioration and mortality, finally feeling remorse for his actions: Here is the crux of the story. Michael, a vampiric shadow of the man he once was, constantly hiding his evil behind his dark tinted glasses, laments that he was never loved as his father or his patron, Don Tomassino, were. And Fate keeps destroying the ones he loves in order to exact a price for Michael's sins. After Tomassino is brutally assassinated, he sits at his coffin, and offers this soliloquy:
Goodbye my old friend. You could have lived a little longer, I could be closer to my dream. You were so loved, Don Tommasino. Why was I so feared, and you so loved? What was it? I was no less honorable. I wanted to do good. What betrayed me? My mind? My heart? Why do I condemn myself so? I swear, on the lives of my children: Give me a chance to redeem myself, and I will sin, no more.Sadly, Sofia Coppola is not cut out to hold the screen with an acting heavyweight like Pacino. Further damaging is a subplot involving a forbidden romance with her cousin Vincent. One never believes that a street tough like Vincent would find the valley girlish Mary so appealing, and definitely not enough to jeopardize his standing with Michael. But her character is integral to the film's denouement. The finale at Anthony's operatic debut is the setpiece that most evokes the grandness of the previous films. It also seems to blatantly frame the film as a grand opera. The melodrama certainly seems to be echoed in the opera being performed, Cavalleria Rusticana, and Coppola seems to be commenting on how these characters have moved away from the realism he had endowed them with in the seventies. Twenty years after Part II, Coppola is acknowledging not only how the Corleones have become American myths, as film critic Glenn Kenny writes on his blog, but caricatures in much the same way the cumulative experiences of Coppola and Pacino in particular have led them to become caricatures of their former selves. From a kinder perspective, the Corleones are now just as archetypal as the characters one usually finds in opera, with emotional dynamics writ just as large, their villains just as flamboyant, their "heroine", Mary, just as innocent, and their "heroes", Michael and Vincent, just as boorish. The Vatican roman-a-clef is also reminiscent of opera's similar use of real events as a backdrop. This all leads to an ending that is more than fitting for Michael, as his sins are visited on an innocent: The scream Pacino lets out when Mary dies is both cathartic and heartbreaking, the most expressive act of emotion we've ever seen from a previously pragmatic and cold individual. The film ends the trilogy powerfully, illustrating the sad retribution that Fate had in store for Michael, to live to see the death of his innocent daughter as a result of the life he lead. For more on the Godfather films, see: Seventies Cinema Revival: The Godfather Seventies Cinema Revival: The Godfather Part II Stills courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Monday, November 17, 2008
Michael's war medals also emphasize that given the right circumstances he is prepared to kill. After his father is gunned down, and with Sonny's hotheaded and ill-advised retaliations threatening the family's survival, Michael is forced to confront that he may be the last best hope for the family, and tangentially, the Family. Michael's life takes a turn when he commits to the execution of Sollozo (Al Lettieri), the man responsible for his father's attempted murder. This event leads to Michael's exile to Sicily, where fate intervenes in so many ways that he never expected. He falls in love with, and marries a local, Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli), who eventually falls victim to the Mafia war his execution of Solozzo precipitated. His brother Sonny is also executed in the States while Michael is away. The man that returns from exile is devoid of any warmth, a coldly calculating pragmatist, eager to eliminate any and all who stand in his family's way. This conversation with his father illustrates the divergent paths each patriarch has taken. Vito's motivation has been protecting his family. The death of his eldest, Sonny, coupled with Michael's increasing involvement with the Family business, drive Vito to the realization that attaining power does not afford control over his family's safety. In fact, it lays the seed for the ultimate destruction of the Corleones.
Kay Adams: Michael, you never told me you knew Johnny Fontane! Michael: Sure, you want to meet him? Kay Adams: Well, yeah! Sure. Michael: My father helped him with his career. Kay Adams: How did he do that? Michael: Let's listen to the song. Kay Adams: [after listening to Johnny for a while] Tell me, Michael. Please. Michael: Well when Johnny was first starting out, he was signed to a personal services contract with this big-band leader. And as his career got better and better he wanted to get out of it. But the band leader wouldn't let him. Now, Johnny is my father's godson. So my father went to see this bandleader and offered him $10,000 to let Johnny go, but the bandleader said no. So the next day, my father went back, only this time with Luca Brasi. Within an hour, he had a signed release for a certified check of $1000. Kay Adams: How did he do that? Michael: My father made him an offer he couldn't refuse. Kay Adams: What was that? Michael: Luca Brasi held a gun to the bandleader's head, and my father assured him that either his signature or his brains would be on the release. Kay Adams: ... Michael: That's a true story. [cut to Johnny singing again for about 10 more seconds before going back to Michael] Michael: That's my family Kay, that's not me.
Don Corleone: So, Barzini will move against you first. He'll set up a meeting with someone that you absolutely trust guaranteeing your safety and at that meeting you'll be assassinated. I like to drink wine more than I used to. Anyway, I'm drinking more. Michael: It's good for you, Pop. Don Corleone: Ah, I don't know. Your wife and your children, are you happy with them? Michael: Very happy. Don Corleone: That's good. I hope you don't mind the way I keep going over this Barzini business. Michael: No, not at all. Don Corleone: It's an old habit. I spent my life trying not to be careless. Women and children can be careless but not men. How's your boy? Michael: He's good. Don Corleone: You know, he looks more like you everyday. Michael: He's smarter than I am. Three years old and he can already read the funny papers. Don Corleone: [laughs] Read the funny papers... Oh, I want you to arrange to have a telephone man check all the calls going in and out of here because it could be anyone... Michael: I did that already, Pop. I took care of that. Don Corleone: Oh, that's right, I forgot. Michael: What's the matter? What's bothering you? I'll handle it. I told you I can handle it, I'll handle it. Don Corleone: I knew Santino was going to have to go through all this and Fredo... well, Fredo was... But I never wanted this for you. I live my life, I don't apologize to take care of my family. And I refused to be a fool dancing on the strings held by all of those big shots. That's my life I don't apologize for that. But I always thought that when it was your time that you would be the one to hold the strings. Senator Corleone. Governor Corleone. Something. Michael: I'm not a pezzonovante. Don Corleone: Well, there wasn't enough time, Michael. There just wasn't enough time. Michael: We'll get there, Pop. We'll get there.Michael's mistake is in modeling himself after his father in order to achieve the results Vito couldn't. Believing in the false notion that he has lost enough to stay detached in the grand chess game he is playing, Michael does not foresee how history will repeat itself, and may even exact a higher price from him than it did from his father. The climax of The Godfather has Michael consolidating his power after Vito's death facilitates his ascendancy to the Corleone throne. In the last line of Michael's earlier exchange with Kay lies the crux of Michael's identity. It is the question that hangs over all three films. Many have made the assumption that it is answered by the end of Part II, but I would offer that the first two films simply show us the similarities and differences between father and son, Vito and Michael. Part II finishes the first patriarch's story, emphasizing the final price that Vito's life of crime exacts on his family, and more specifically, his son Michael. Michael's story is not concluded until we see the retribution destiny has in store for him in Part III. For more on the Godfather films, see: Seventies Cinema Revival: The Godfather Part II DVD Review: The Godfather Part III - Operatic Film Deserving of Reappraisal Stills courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Friday, November 14, 2008
It's funny how when you see a lot of movies, you start seeing parallels in some of them. In the case of Quantum of Solace, directed by Marc Forster (Monster's Ball), the 007 series' first direct sequel, the film is designed much like a memory piece. In many respects, Quantum of Solace is about as close to surreal and stylized as I bet you'll ever see a Bond flick get. And when seen as a companion to it's predecessor, Casino Royale, it reminds me of what Soderbergh achieves with his Che films, The Argentine and Guerilla.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
The Rules 1. Pick one film to represent each letter of the alphabet. 2. The letter "A" and the word "The" do not count as the beginning of a film's title, unless the film is simply titled A or The, and I don't know of any films with those titles. 3. Return of the Jedi belongs under "R," not "S" as in Star Wars Episode IV: Return of the Jedi. This rule applies to all films in the original Star Wars trilogy; all that followed start with "S." Similarly, Raiders of the Lost Ark belongs under "R," not "I" as in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Conversely, all films in the LOTR series belong under "L" and all films in the Chronicles of Narnia series belong under "C," as that's what those filmmakers called their films from the start. In other words, movies are stuck with the titles their owners gave them at the time of their theatrical release. Use your better judgement to apply the above rule to any series/films not mentioned. 4. Films that start with a number are filed under the first letter of their number's word. 12 Monkeys would be filed under "T." 5. Link back to Blog Cabins in your post so that I can eventually type "alphabet meme" into Google and come up #1, then make a post where I declare that I am the King of Google. 6. If you're selected, you have to then select 5 more people.Here are mine: Apocalypse Now (1979), dir. Francis Ford Coppola Blue Velvet (1986), dir. David Lynch Conformista, Il (The Conformist) (1970), dir. Bernardo Bertolucci Days of Heaven (1978), dir. Terrence Malick Excalibur (1981), dir. John Boorman Falling Down (1993), dir. Joel Schumacher Godfather Part II, The (1974), dir. Francis Ford Coppola Hud (1963), dir. Martin Ritt Ice Storm, The (1997), dir. Ang Lee Jackie Brown (1997), dir. Quentin Tarantino Kiss Me Deadly (1955), dir. Robert Aldrich Long Goodbye, The (1973), dir. Robert Altman McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), dir. Robert Altman Night Porter, The (1974) dir. Liliana Cavani Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), dir. Sergio Leone Plein Soleil (Purple Noon) (1960), dir. René Clément Quills (2000), dir. Philip Kaufman Right Stuff, The (1983), dir. Philip Kaufman Superman: The Movie (1978), dir. Richard Donner Thief (1981), dir. Michael Mann Ultimo Tango A Parigi (The Last Tango in Paris) (1972), dir. Bernardo Bertolucci Visions of Light (1992), dirs. Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, and Stuart Samuels Walkabout (1971), dir. Nicolas Roeg X-Files: I Want to Believe, The (2008), dir. Chris Carter You Only Live Twice (1967), dir. Lewis Gilbert Zodiac (2007), dir. David Fincher Here are the folks I chose to tag: Campaspe at Self-Styled Siren Dan at ThetaTHX1138 Glenn Kenny at Some Came Running Jeremy Richey at Moon in the Gutter The Monster at Monster Scifi Show Blog