Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Godfather (1972)

Well, you see, there’s this family. And they are in business. No, not the Mafia. We don’t use the M word here. Let’s just say they take care of their friends and take care of their enemies. It doesn’t make sense for me to summarize the story as I was the last person on earth past 30 to have seen The Godfather. Goomba mobsters whacking each other? Didn’t interest me.

The Godfather takes place over many years, from the end of World War II into the 1950’s. It covers many events and does not have a consistent central character. It illustrates how characters change over time, and sometimes fail to change. It launched (or solidified) the careers of a great many actors like James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, and of course Al Pacino. Even 50 year old and victim of 2016 Abe Vigoda. But mostly it turned director Francis Ford Coppola into a directorial force to be reckoned with. He would go on to direct Part II, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, then a whole pile of shit.

Simonetta Stefanelli plays Michael’s first wife and has a delightful nude scene, if you’re into that sort of thing. If IMDb is to be believed, she was 17 when the film was released. If her scenes were done four months prior, she wouldn’t have been that. Ah, the benefits of shooting in Italy. Hey, look, there's old friend Sterling Hayden! Once again proving he's not afraid to take acting chances. The baby being baptized at the end was director daughter Sofia Coppola, who would prove to be a far better director than actress.

Make no mistake: these are not good people. They are not heroes by any measure, even if some will see them as such. But neither are their victims. It's bad on bad and one cannot feel sorry for any of the deaths. There is no pristine protagonist to rally around and you shouldn't try to find one.

At just under three hours with no singular storyline, The Godfather does not lag, never fails to keep you enthralled. I was totally wrong to ignore it for so long. It is one of those films that everyone says is great, and that is because it is great. Solid cast, great acting, great script, great cinematography, and incredible storytelling. It has crept into popular culture in so many ways, and it forever changed the genre and film making as a whole. I will never doubt a film recommendation from my wife ever again. AMRU 5.
"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

American Graffiti (1973)

While cruising around their town, a young couple (Opie Cunningham and Shirley Feeney) come to terms with college and the direction of their relationship, a geek tries to be cool and score with a hot blond, a dork (Matt Hooper) becomes a criminal while searching for the perfect girl (Chrissy Snow), a thug tries to score with an under-aged girl (Julie Cooper), and an out-of-towner (Han Solo) wants to be top dog, set to a classic soundtrack hosted by Wolfman Jack.

I would go further into the details of the story, but really there isn’t much. This is simply a story of young people doing what young people so often do, and because of that it has a very authentic feel that is not often found. In this way alone it reminds me of Clerks (1994).

Happy Days, which premiered the following year, was not based on or directly inspired by American Graffiti as many people think. A year and a half earlier there was an episode of Love, American Style with a segment called “Love and Happy Days” which featured the Cunningham family and included Ron Howard, Marion Ross, and Anson Williams (Potsie). Fonzie didn’t exist yet. It was a failed TV pilot that nobody wanted to take a chance on, until this nostalgic piece of yesteryear became a box office smash. I remember seeing that rerun of that Love, American Style while Happy Days was still on the air (I’m very old, but you should have known that) and was completely confused by what I was watching.

Likely because of the Happy Days link this film was associated with the 1950’s but it was in fact set in 1962, ten years (or so) before it was released. The Wolfman got a huge career boost from his appearance and I have a memory of hearing his syndicated radio show circa 1980. My dad said it sounded like Wolfman Jack. I said it was, and he replied it couldn’t be. He was on the radio when he was a kid. In fact both my dad and he were born in the same year.

American Graffiti succeeds because it didn’t try to do, or to be too much. It was what it was, and the chord it struck was pitch perfect. It was a moment in time and comes across very sincere. That sounds easy to do, but it is not. The ash bins of Hollywood are filled with cliched and contrived teen comedies. Very watchable, very enjoyable, and worthwhile, even if you weren’t around in the 1960’s. Or 1990’s. AMRU 4.

I leave not with a quote but a YouTube video. It's creator later dismissed it as little more than the rantings of a fanboy, but I felt it summed up the film and it's success very well. Besides, that's more than I even aspire to do.