The Godfather: Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola)

Francis Ford Coppola created the modern film sequel with The Godfather: Part II. I wonder how people who’ve never seen the first one understand the second one. I was talking to a friend about it and he described it as the best filmic account of “the darkening of a man’s heart.” I hadn’t seen it in ten years and while that description is perfect, I found it interesting without knowledge of the original, it’d wouldn’t really work. One might figure out something was a little off, since Michael’s not exactly a person to spend 140 minutes with. Even the last scene moves away from giving any context to the character’s tragedy, instead going further–adding an unexpected layer to the character, reversing some of the viewer’s assumptions (ones the same scene had initially–and this scene is at most four minutes–reestablished).

In many ways, it’s a more depressing version of Citizen Kane, one where it never occurs to Kane to keep the snow globe (which is a good reason there’s no possible sequel, not one with Michael anyway). The juxtaposing of the two stories, father and son… I’m sure there’s been a lot said about how they work but I’m going for a more cynical approach. Robert De Niro’s story is in there as a reward for the viewer. The first film is not a tragedy, tragedy being a soft word for what goes on in this film, and it provides a release valve. Characters with known futures appear and there’s no need for actual concern for the characters. The scenes do offer a singular look at the Don’s marriage, giving Francesca De Sapio more to do as young Mama Corleone than Morgana King ever has.

The scenes also have action, something the Pacino parts of the film lack after the first half. While the opening Michael scenes resemble the first film–both in style and content–it quickly becomes about his relationships with his family. The first half of the last scene speaks directly to that focus, while the second half suggests something different, something more tragic, something about the relationship with Kay. That suggestion requires having seen the first film and it’s an example of this thing Coppola does in Part II. He gently forces the viewer into situations the viewer may not be looking for, but Coppola is interesting in exploring. When the film started, in Sicily, with the exposition text onscreen, I thought Coppola had some incredible affection for his characters, then quickly realized he didn’t… he was utilizing the viewer’s affection for the characters to create an atmosphere in which he could tell the story.

It’s a great film. It also has that moment Gene Siskel once wrote about, discussing The Bridges of Madison County, when the viewer knows something is going to happen, but believes his or her hope might change the characters’ minds. I’m paraphrasing. I’d never seen it in anything other than Madison County and thought about it, but watching Part II, I didn’t remember until halfway through the scene Michael closes the door and, for that second half, I kept hoping I was wrong.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by Mario Puzo and Coppola, based on the novel by Puzo; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Barry Malkin, Richard Marks and Peter Zinner; music by Nino Rota; production designer, Dean Tavoularis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Michael), Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen), Diane Keaton (Kay), Robert De Niro (Vito Corleone), John Cazale (Fredo Corleone), Talia Shire (Connie Corleone), Lee Strasberg (Hyman Roth), Michael V. Gazzo (Frankie Pentangeli), G.D. Spradlin (Senator Geary) and Richard Bright (Al Neri).


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The Dead Girl (2006, Karen Moncrieff)

I had assumed, just because of the large cast, a Nashville approach for this film. However, frighteningly, I think it might have been inspired by Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity (the film, not the short story collection). The stories are all independent, more about their central characters than about the event tying them together, in this case, a dead girl. The stories range in quality from terrible to mediocre. Even if they’re mediocre, they don’t have a decent conclusion. The most interesting part of these stories is what is going to happen next. In fact, in most cases, the only important thing is what is going to happen next and the film makes no assumptions. In some ways, it creates unsolvable cliffhangers for the characters… baiting the viewer with an ominous promise (the possible killer, the suicide attempt) then delivering on nothing.

There are five stories. The first two are traditional romances. The third is an awful, dumb thriller, which creates an impossible situation then cheats its way out with the end of the section. The fourth has the most promise but only in terms of what happens immediately after the story ends and then at some point in the future in those characters’ stories. The last story, which finally gets around to revealing the dead girl, is terrible, but not the worst. The way Karen Moncrieff ends it, syrupy, tragic sweet… is an offense to the good work a lot of her actors put in.

The most amazing performance in the film is easily James Franco, just because he not only doesn’t suck, he’s actually really good. He’s in the second story with Rose Byrne (Byrne being the whole reason I had any interest in the film in the first place). She’s good, but her role’s so simple, it’d be hard for her not to be good. Other good performances include Marcia Gay Harden, Josh Brolin, and Giovanni Ribisi. Terrible, unspeakable ones… well, just Mary Steenburgen, who plays a stereotypical role (just like everyone else in the film except maybe Brolin and Ribisi) and does a really bad job of it. Kerry Washington’s good when she’s not doing her Mexican accent. I guess her eyes emote well. Mary Beth Hurt and Nick Searcy have the dumbest roles in the film and there’s really nothing for them to do with them.

The Dead Girl offers absolutely nothing new to… anything. It’s a useless film, filled with decent and good performances. Moncrieff’s an adequate director in parts, but usually not. There’s nothing distinctive about her composition (something I realized in the first five minutes, never a good sign). I guess her dialogue’s okay, but the film’s a bunch of Oprah episodes strung together, which might be fine if there were some artistry or competence involved.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Karen Moncrieff; director of photography, Michael Grady; edited by Toby Yates; music by Adam Gorgoni; produced by Eric Karten, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Kevin Turen and Henry Winterstern; released by First Look International.

Starring Josh Brolin (Tarlow), Rose Byrne (Leah), Toni Collette (Arden), Bruce Davison (Bill), James Franco (Derek), Marcia Gay Harden (Melora), Mary Beth Hurt (Ruth), Piper Laurie (Arden’s Mother), Brittany Murphy (Krista), Giovanni Ribisi (Rudy), Nick Searcy (Carl), Mary Steenburgen (Beverly) and Kerry Washington (Rosetta).


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Larger Than Life (1996, Howard Franklin)

Larger Than Life is a different film today than it was ten years ago–back then, I remember, it was a big deal Matthew McConaughey starred in the film. There were reshoots to add more of him. Today, the film’s sold as a kid’s movie on DVD, which isn’t particularly appropriate, given a lot of the dialogue and some other aspects. The film was also one of Bill Murray’s last roles before he became “serious actor” Bill Murray. I remember, back then, it was of note because it reunited Murray with Howard Franklin and I really liked Quick Change back then.

I remember liking Larger Than Life well enough when it came out, but watching it again, I wish I could remember why–not because it’s terrible or something, but because I can’t believe I would have appreciated the developing affection between Murray and the elephant (it’s about Bill Murray and a giant elephant). I remember loving McConaughey, who turns in one of the great modern comedic performances in the film. McConaughey was on his way up, but whoever advertised the film couldn’t do anything with it (and, to be fair, it did take McConaughey a lot longer to catch on than anyone expected). But, overall, Larger Than Life is an advertising nightmare. It’s an unabashedly sentimental story about Bill Murray and an elephant. It’s also really, really short. It runs around ninety minutes and it probably needs only another ten or so (fifteen tops), but it does need something to make it gel. Most of the film is Murray and the elephant and various character actors showing up from time to time. It’s sort of a road movie, sort of an Americana travelogue, but also sort of not. There are all sorts of little things, which are supposed to be funny and kind of are funny, but they’re too fast to work. It’s like an experiment in humor or something–Murray, playing an up and coming motivational speaker, gets pissed when he sees Tony Robbins on TV. The scene lasts ten seconds and is the only thing regarding Murray’s character’s professional goals in the whole film.

Franklin sets up his comedic set pieces really well and an obvious complaint is the lack of them after the halfway mark. Larger Than Life‘s got a relatively long first act, short second, and long third. There’s not much funny in the first act, lots in the second, and heart-string pulling in the third (except McConaughey). It’s just too light and not in an unskilled way, but in a “something happened production-wise” way. Quick Change was short as well, but it was busier. Still, Larger Than Life does a lot more right than it does wrong–I just wish there were a decent DVD release.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Franklin; written by Roy Blount Jr.; director of photography, Elliot Davis; edited by Sidney Levin; music by Miles Goodman; production designer, Marcia Hinds-Johnson; produced by Richard B. Lewis, John Watson and Pen Densham; released by United Artists.

Starring Bill Murray (Jack Corcoran), Janeane Garofalo (Mo), Matthew McConaughey (Tip), Linda Fiorentino (Terry), Jeremy Piven (Walter), Harve Presnell (Bowers), Tracey Walter (Wee St. Francis), Pat Hingle (Vernon), Lois Smith (Luluna) and Keith David (Hurst).


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The Goodbye Kiss (2006, Michele Soavi)

As a rule, neo-noir tends to be crap. The Goodbye Kiss is no different, except in its protagonist. The male role here replaces the traditional deceptive female role. I had that observation near the end of the film, when I’d given up trying to figure out why I’d kept watching it instead of turning it off. Maybe because it is interesting. The protagonist, the lead, is a terrible human being. He’s not amoral or something. He’s a bad guy. The film does feature worse guys and it does present the character as haunted by some of his previous bad acts, but he’s bad guy and the viewer knows it the whole time. Unfortunately, this different approach does not a good film make.

Another problem is its obvious novel roots. The film’s very fat, with a lot developments and events in the first hour and twenty minutes. Enough for five movies probably. Three decent ones and two good ones. The film’s mostly told in summary with indeterminate time passing between each cut and it dehumanizes the supporting, which is probably a good idea because the protagonist might end up killing them. Actually, no. His cold-bloodness increases as time passes, probably to make the viewer think he might not end up doing what ends up doing in the end, but, really, it’s a foregone conclusion. Goodbye Kiss is a big believer of Chekov’s gun on the wall.

I watched it mostly because Michele Soavi directed it and he’s an Argento protégé and he has the same problems Argento has (the inability to make a good film because of its script) and there’s some cute homages. Otherwise he’s fifty-fifty. Half his shots, half don’t. The working ones do so because he’s in his element. The failing ones because he’s out of it. He’s as disconnected with the film as a viewer will be.

The acting’s generally good. Alessio Boni plays the lead and he does fine, having fun with playing someone totally unsympathetic but in every scene. Michele Placido is a corrupt cop who’s amusing. There are some romantic interests who are boring, not bad, but boring.

Like I said, there’s enough story here for five movies (more than the average neo-noir, which usually only has three). Terrible writing and–visual proficiency aside–the wrong director certainly hurt the film. But the container itself is flawed, if not broken completely.

Oh, jeez–I just looked up the credits on IMDb: a novel author, two story credits and four screenwriters. Nothing better than a film in a debilitated genre written by four people.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michele Soavi; screenplay by Soavi, Marco Colli, Franco Ferrini and Luigi Ventriglia, from a story by Soavi and Lorenzo Favella, based on a novel by Massimo Carlotto; director of photography, Giovanni Mammolotti; edited by Anna Rosa Napoli; music by Andrea Guerra; production designer, Andrea Crisanti; produced by Dino Di Dionisio; released by Mikado.

Starring Alessio Boni (Giorgio), Michele Placido (Anedda), Carlo Cecchi (Maître Brianese), Alina Nedelea (Roberta) and Isabella Ferrari (Flora).


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