Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Episode 36 - The Godfather Triple Threat Review

The Godfather - Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is the head of a New York crime family. People in the city come to him for assistance in solving their various problems and in return they offer their loyalty and services to the man whom they refer to as The Godfather. Unlike the common conception of a criminal, Don Vito has a very high and strict set of standards. He yearns to continue the ways of the old country (Sicily). The times are changing, however, and some of the city's other crime families don't have the same visions for the future that he does. Virgil 'The Turk' Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), the head of another family, wants to work the distribution of drugs into the collective business of the New York families, but Don Vito is strongly opposed to this move. As such, Sollozzo orders a hit on The Godfather which results in him being badly wounded by several gunshots to the back. While Don Vito recovers in a hospital bed, his family scrambles to decide what to do. His hot-headed son Santino 'Sonny' Corleone (James Caan), and his recently married daughter Connie (Talia Shire) are quick to go to war with the other families despite the family lawyer, Tom Hagen's (Robert Duvall) advice. Meanwhile, Vito's more level-headed son Michael (Al Pacino) has recently returned from the war. Despite his reluctance to get involved with his family's life of crime, he cannot let those responsible for the act of violence perpetrated upon his father go unpunished. He offers to meet with Sollozzo and his attorney to attempt to settle the conflict while secretly planning to kill them both. After the deed is done, the Corleone family sends Michael off to hide in Sicily, cutting him off from everyone including his girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton). In Michael's absence things begin to go back to normal, but there is still an uneasiness among the New York families. Something must be done to make things right again and with Don Vito's health waning, the question of what will happen to the Corleone family hangs over each of it's members heads. The Godfather is yet another movie that seems as though it should not have taken me so long to finally see it. It is widely regarded as one of, if not the best movie ever made. For proof of this you can check out it's place on IMDb's Top 250 Films list. While it is certainly a good movie, The Godfather wouldn't make it anywhere near my personal top ten. In general I'm not the biggest fan of mafia/mob films, however The Godfather definitely made me rethink this generalization. The film is much more about the characters involved than some kind of plot filled to the brim with murders and deception. Don't get me wrong, it has it's fair share of those things too, but in my mind The Godfather is about the Corleone family itself more than anything. Each character is thoroughly and perfectly fleshed out and feels like a completely real person. While I honestly couldn't point out anything outstanding about the direction of the film, the writing and acting are, dare I say, perfect. I didn't even recognize half of the actors in the film because they were so much younger than I'm used to them looking, but watching the movie it becomes obvious why they've all had such long and noteworthy careers. Al Pacino, James Caan, and Robert Duvall play wonderfully off of each other and their scenes together are some of the best of the film. However, holding it all together is Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone. People rave about this performance, and there's a reason for it. Brando manages to make Don Vito imposing and demanding of respect and fear one moment and loving or helpless the next, all the while completely convincing the viewer that he is a real person. It is because of the acting, I believe, that such a slow film manages to be entertaining through the entirety of it's two hour and fifty five minute running time. Yet while the acting and writing are great and the pacing is very good, The Godfather is not a film that I am desperately looking forward to seeing again. Nor did it change the way I look at film or have an incredible impact on me personally. I guess that's where I differ from most people. It's certainly a great movie worthy of anyone's time for at least one viewing, but I don't hold it in such a high regard that I'd place it among the list of my favorite films of all time. I'm sure that most people who love The Godfather and/or it's two sequels would scoff at said list of my favorite films, but that's for a later post, I suppose.

The Godfather Part II - Picking up where The Godfather left off, The Godfather Part II begins with Michael Corleone serving as the new head of the Corleone family. He has relocated the family headquarters from New York to Las Vegas in an attempt to expand his business. When an attempt is made on his life and the two men responsible are found dead, Michael begins a search for the truth behind who attacked him. Simultaneously the story of how Michael's father Vito became the original Godfather is told via a series of flashbacks to the 1920's. In these scenes, the young Vito Corleone is played by Robert DeNiro. After his parents were both killed in Sicily, Vito was smuggled into America by some people from his town before the man responsible for their deaths could get to him as well. After arriving, Vito gets a job, however before long he is let go. With no money to support his new wife and child, Vito assists an acquaintance in robbing a rich person's home. Afterward, a man named Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin) tells them that he wants some of their money in exchange for his protection. Unhappy with this threat, Vito sets out to kill Fanucci and unwittingly becomes the man whom people go to when they need help. As time passes Vito comes to be known as The Godfather and is loved by much of the community because of the fair way that he treats them as opposed to Fanucci's reign of terror. Meanwhile, doing business in Cuba, Michael has discovered that his brother Fredo (John Cazale) had a hand in the attempt on his life. Also, the head of one of the other crime families has agreed to testify to the government against Michael, and his wife Kay has announced that she wishes to leave him. As tensions rise, what lengths will Michael Corleone go to in order to save his family? As mentioned in the review above, The Godfather is viewed by some as the best movie of all time. As such, it comes as no surprise that there are also those who view The Godfather Part II in the same light. It resides a mere two spots below the first film on IMDb's Top 250 Films list at #3 (#2 being The Shawshank Redemption). It is rare that a sequel exceeds the quality of the original, and I don't personally feel that The Godfather Part II is an exception to this rule. Whereas The Godfather felt well-paced despite it's length, The Godfather Part II dragged at some points for me. Of course, it does clock in at a whopping three hours and twenty minutes, topping the previous film by almost half an hour. The acting isn't as noteworthy as that of The Godfather, and the story isn't as interesting. I believe that part of the reason for this is that Al Pacino's Michael Corleone isn't as likable of a character as Marlon Brando's Don Vito. This makes for a very interesting bit of character development when we see how Michael reacts to his empire beginning to crumble around him in the wake of his father's death, but I just wasn't as interested in Michael's plight as I was with Vito's. As a matter of fact, my favorite parts of The Godfather Part II were the flashback sequences starring DeNiro as a young Vito Corleone in 1920's New York. Even portrayed by a different actor, Vito remained a much more likable character than Michael. John Cazale was a good addition to the cast as Fredo, although I couldn't help but wonder why he hadn't played a part in the previous film. His sudden inclusion in the sequel felt a bit odd to me. Another thing that I disliked about the film was the fact that it was set primarily in Las Vegas and Cuba. It didn't feel right to take the Corleones out of New York. The Godfather Part II is not a bad film, but for me it just didn't stand up to the original. I would almost recommend not seeing it if you've seen the first film because I liked the ending of the original so much. However, if you listen to the majority vote you'd be crazy not to see both. Call me crazy, I guess.

The Godfather Part III - The Godfather Part III takes place many years after The Godfather Part II, which makes sense as it was made fifteen years after it's predecessor. Michael Corleone is now in his fifties and his children are grown. The family business is finally on the verge of becoming legitimate, but this doesn't stop Michael from wishing his son Anthony (Franc D'Ambrosio) to be a lawyer. However, despite many years of school in preparation to become an attorney, Anthony wants to become a singer. After some convincing by his son and angry ex-wife Kay, Michael gives Anthony his blessing, and before long he gets a part in an opera in Sicily. Meanwhile, Michael's daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola) has fallen in love with her first cousin Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), the illegitimate son of Michael's deceased brother Sonny. The two of them continue to have a not-so-secret relationship despite Michael's disapproval. As part of Michael's plans to legitimize the Corleone family business, he holds a meeting of heads of the New York families to tell them that he's "out" and gives each of them a monetary parting gift to keep them in his good graces. Insulted by Michael's refusal to pay him off, Vincent's former boss Joey Zasa (Joe Montegna) orders a hit that results in the deaths of almost all of the family heads and causes Michael to suffer from a diabetic stroke. With the end obviously nearing for Michael Corleone, he wants merely to see his family continue on. However, with his son's refusal to be a part of the family business, legitimate or not, Michael is left with the decision of who to name the new Godfather. The Godfather Part III doesn't receive the same amount of fanfare that it's two predecessors do, and there's a reason for it. Simply put, The Godfather Part III doesn't hold a candle to the previous two. Michael Corleone has gone from a strong young man to a bitter mafia boss and, in this film, settles into a role as a useless, uninteresting personality. While I wasn't very fond of Al Pacino's character in The Godfather Part II, I found him to be essentially incapable of keeping my interest in this film. More interesting was the character of Vincent as played by Joe Montegna, but he didn't achieve the level of worth that any of the former Corleones had. Not to mention, the subplot of his romance with his cousin was a bit distracting. I'm not sure if their attempt to overcome adversity and be together was supposed to be heartwarming or something, but I just found it odd. Michael's wife Kay was always a bit bitchy, but came off as overly so in The Godfather Part III. Every line she spoke was like nails on a chalk board. Diane Keaton really overdid it in this performance. Really what this film was lacking was exactly what made the first one so good: character. By this point The Godfather series was no longer about showing audiences great characters and the trials and tribulations they endure, but more about stories of revenge and crime. Of course I realize that they've all been mafia films, but this particular mafia film stood out as being more of a cheap grab for appreciation based on the popularity of it's previous installments than a story worthy of being told. If you're going to go to the trouble of sitting through the six hours and fifteen minutes that it will take you to watch The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, you may as well tack on another two hours and forty five minutes by watching the conclusion to the series, but don't expect much from this final chapter.

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