Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Movie List: 40-36

40. “You broke my heart.”

The Godfather II (1974)

Plenty of people prefer this sequel to the original. I don’t, though I obviously like it quite a bit. Among other things, it has maybe the best moment in the two movies. (I say two movies, because even though I haven’t seen the third, I’ve come to accept the conventional wisdom that it was a total disaster and should be kept apart from the first two. I still remember my parents and older sister going to see it in Dallas. When the three of them got back, I could hear them in the garage, still laughing.) I suppose I could save what follows for my analysis of the first movie, but here goes: There are so many obvious strengths to both installments, but the one thing that always bothers me is the transition of Michael from innocent son to Godfather. Pacino is tremendous in both movies, don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming him. But there’s a tendon missing—for me, at least. And while you might think this is more damning of the original movie than the sequel, since the original is when the transition happens, there’s something about Michael being at the top for the whole running time that bugs me in a way the first didn’t. Even I’m not sure if that makes any sense. Let’s revisit it when the time comes, shall we?

39. “It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms.”

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Adapted from my post about this movie back when I first saw it, in September 2008:

The most often repeated fact about Kind Hearts and Coronets is that Alec Guinness plays eight parts, and he's amazing. But that gimmick is not what makes the movie so great. In this black comedy from Britain’s legendary Ealing Studios, Dennis Price plays Louis Mazzini, who is in line to be a duke. But it's a long line. In front of him stand eight members of the D'Ascoyne family (all played by Guinness), including Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne. Louis narrates the story of how he methodically picks off family members in order to inherit the dukedom. It's beautifully written, and funny in ways both morbid and goofy. I'm a big critic of voiceover narration in movies, but this is mostly when it's done in the third person—Little Children and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, to name two fairly recent examples. First person can be more successful (see also: recently listed Badlands). In any event, the level of writing here makes the narration more like a novel than a movie. On the commentary for another DVD, Guinness said of Kind Hearts, “I read [the screenplay] on a beach in France, collapsed with laughter on the first page, and didn't even bother to get to the end of the script. I went straight back to the hotel and sent a telegram saying, ‘Why four parts? Why not eight!?’ ”

38. “Ghosts don’t cry.”
“Nothing is simple.”

Volver (2006)
Talk to Her (2002)

I put these two movies by Pedro Almodóvar together because I can remember Volver well and Talk to Her less well, but I loved them both. My cloudy memory of Talk to Her makes it impossible to decide which of these is my favorite of his, but I think they would be the two finalists. They both feature Almodóvar’s typically beautiful compositions and saturated colors and strong ensemble acting. In Talk to Her, two women, one a dancer and one a matador, are comatose in a hospital. The movie follows the men who love them. In Volver, three sisters deal with the death of their mother, one of them believing that her ghost is living with her. The entire cast is terrific, but Penelope Cruz carries the most weight, and as always in Almodóvar’s movies, she’s brilliant and seems even more gorgeous than usual.

37. “We'll be listening to you.”

The Conversation (1974)

Given that this movie and The Godfather Part II both came out in 1974, I’d say it was a pretty impressive year for Francis Ford Coppola. (And for me; I was born.) The Godfather sequel won Best Picture, but I think you could make a case that this is the better movie. Less epic, for sure, but that might be the very reason this tightly crafted story wins out. It’s got a great 1970s flavor and a wonderful ensemble cast, starting with the leading man. Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul, who specializes in audio surveillance. He becomes obsessed with accurately transcribing one conversation that he taped between a couple in a San Francisco park, and concerned about the couple’s possible fate. In the last scene, one of my favorites in any movie, Harry’s paranoia is turned on himself as he searches/destroys his apartment looking for possible bugs. According to Wikipedia: “On the DVD commentary, Coppola says he was shocked to learn that the film utilized the very same surveillance and wire-tapping equipment that members of the Nixon Administration used to spy on political opponents prior to the Watergate scandal. Coppola has said this is the reason the film gained part of the recognition it has received, but that this is entirely coincidental. Not only was the script for The Conversation completed in the mid-1960s (before the Nixon Administration came to power), but the spying equipment used in the film was discovered through research and the use of technical advisers and not, as many believed, by revelatory newspaper stories about the Watergate break-in.”

36. “Nothing that happens is ever forgotten, even if you can't remember it.”

Spirited Away (2001)

Roger Ebert called this movie “a visual feast,” and that’s an understatement. Another critic, Scott Tobias, very accurately and concisely said, “much of what is great about Spirited Away defies description and simply must be experienced.” The story, by renowned Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, revolves around Chihiro, a young girl whose family is moving. On the way to their new home, they take a wrong turn, go through a tunnel, and end up in a strange, fantastical world. The movie gets compared to Alice in Wonderland for obvious reasons, but aside from that broad similarity Spirited Away is unique. Separated from her parents, Chihiro gets a job working at a bathhouse for spirits. Miyazaki introduces a dizzying progression of wildly imaginative creatures and characters. To try and summarize them (or the movie’s more subtle themes) in a post this size would be ridiculous. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Dezmond said...

My favorite moment in either 'Godfather' film also appears in 'II', but it is a more subtle scene. Near the end, when Tom Hagan visits Frank Pantangelli who is in Federal Prison, and they are walking the grounds smoking cigars, talking of the old days. (I guess being a mob prisoner has its privileges). Without ever coming out and saying it, Hagan promises Pantangelli that if he commits suicide (and therefore not testify), his family will be taken care of. This "agreement" is reached through remembering the old days and talking about how things were done in the old Roman Empire. ("You're a student of history, Frank...") That is one of my favorite scenes in any movie.

I watched the Alec Guiness movie based on your other post and enjoyed it very much.

'The Conversation' is outstanding.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Riles said...

You've never seen Godfather III ?

I used to hate it, but upon multiple viewings I've come to realize that it's a really good movie with one major flaw: the incestuous relationship between Michael's daughter and her cousin (Andy Garcia's character). If you drop that aspect it becomes a great movie.

There are other flaws for sure, such as not getting Robert Duvall to return as Hagen, Sofia Coppola's performance, Pacino's gruffness and odd flat-top haircut. But take out the romance and part III is a worthy continuation of the story.

Also, I watched a great doc on John Cazale a week ago and heard about "The Conversation" for the first time. It was called "I Know It Was You," on HBO. It immediately went onto my Netflix Queue, but after your mention I'm moving it it. Coppola, Cazale, Hackman and a 70's vibe? You could hardly ask for more.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

I saw the same documentary on John Cazale last week. It was fascinating.

8:01 PM  
Blogger ANCIANT said...

I saw the same Cazale doc. AND added Conversation to my queue. That is really...something.

Loved Volver. My favorite of Almodovar's work. I actually fall in the camp of people who put GFII ahead of GFI, though I think your criticisms are just. I agree that Michael's transformation is perhaps not adequately addressed, but I find the portrayal of that transformation's very final stages tremendously affecting. The moment when he shuts the door on Diane K--the real climax of the movie in a way--it gets me. Michael is put on trial in the film and he is imprisoned, within himself. He suffers for what he has become. Cut off from family, alone, empty.... he is a hollow man. The contrast with the young Don Corleone, meshing with a new community (in his way), making new friends, enjoying his family, in a bustling and lively Italian neighborhood makes Michael's isolation all the more powerful.

12:06 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

Wow. I just clicked on comment for the specific purpose of mentioning the Cazale documentary. I saw it as I was flipping through the channels, didn't expect to stay on it for long, and ended up watching the entire thing. Highly recommended.

Godfather 3 isn't necessarily a terrible movie, but it's not good. The real problem is that it's such a departure from the prior 2 movies. The first 2 movies glorified the machismo, pride, and honor in the mafia, and only subverted those concepts through subtext. Part 3 does the exact opposite. It's overtly about how terrible the mafia is, with Michael trying to escape this life of opulence. And instead of watching the good guy Michael become the embodiment of everything bad (but being oh, so good at it), we see the embodiment of bad (foolish, hot-headed Andy Garcia) become better at being bad by being more refined. Also, the wonderful, understated performances of the first 2 movies are simply not there. It kind of reminds me of the Star Wars prequels in that the director seems to have entirely missed what was great about the initial movies.

6:29 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Godfather III was horrendous. It does not even exist in my mind.

11:18 AM  

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