The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (2020)

Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in. As Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) ages and has a place of respect in society having divested himself of his casinos, he finds that being the head of the Corleone crime family isn’t getting any easier. He wants out of the Mafia and buys his way into the Vatican Bank but NYC mob kingpin Altobello (Eli Wallach) isn’t eager to let one of the most powerful and wealthy families go legit. Making matters even worse is Michael’s nephew, Vincent (Andy Garcia) the illegitimate son of his late brother, hothead Sonny. Not only does Vincent want out from under smalltime mobster Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) who’s now got the Corleones’ New York business, he wants a piece of the Corleone family’s criminal empire, as well as Michael’s teenage daughter, Mary (Sofia Coppola) who’s crushing on him. Ex-wife Kay (Diane Keaton) appeals to Michael to allow their son Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio) quit law school to pursue a career as an opera singer.  A trip to Sicily looms as all the threads of the Corleone family start to be pieced together after a massacre in Atlantic City and scores need to be settled … Why did they fear me so much and love you so much? Francis Ford Coppola revisited the scene of arguably his greatest triumph, The Godfather Saga, with writer Mario Puzo and yet he viewed it as a separate entity to that two-headed masterpiece. That was thirty years ago. Now he’s felt the need to re-edit it and it holds together better than the original release. The beginning is altered and it’s all the better to direct the material towards the theme of faith. Pacino is doing it all for his children and it’s his legacy he cares about more than money or respect: the symbolism writ large in the concluding sequence, a performance of Cavalleria Rusticana in which the weakness of our own central Christ figure is punished with the greatest violence – the death of close family.  This story then mutates from a pastiche of its previous triumphs to a a pastiche of an opera. The shocking and intentional contrast with the Cuban sex show in Part II couldn’t be starker yet it’s there for the comparison as Michael does penance for the death of Fredo, his dumb older brother who betrayed the family. He is physically weak from diabetes and the accompanying stroke;  his efforts to go totally legitimate have angered his Mafia rivals from whose ties he cannot fully break and they want in on the deal with the Vatican where Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly) is the contact with Lucchesi (Enzo Robutti) who has a strange way of getting to everyone in the manner of old school Sicilians.  The Christ analogy is also about family sacrifice as his brother Sonny’s bastard son Vincent is nipping at his heels while sleeping with his own besotted daughter; he finds he is still in love with a remarried Kay, whom he finally introduces to Sicily when Tony is set to make his opera debut;  he is in bed with God’s own gangsters and the one good man Lamberto (Raf Vallone) is revealed as the short-lived Pope John Paul I. The references to the cinema of Luchino Visconti (and The Leopard) are rendered ever clearer while Carmine Coppola’s musical phrasing even drops in a bit of a spaghetti western music. It’s a sweeping canvas which gradually reveals itself even if the setup is awkward:  we no longer open on the windows at the Lake Tahoe house with their inlaid spider webs, instead we’re straight into the Vatican deal. It takes us out of the world of Godfather II. But we still see that sister Connie (Talia Shire) is the wicked crone behind the throne in her widow’s weeds, her flightiness long behind her but her song at the family celebration echoes her mother’s song at the wedding in the earlier film. The same acting problems remain in this cut. Like Wallach, her performance is cut from the finest prosciutto as she encourages Vincent in his ruthless ride to the top of the crime world. Mantegna isn’t a lot better as Joey Zasa. The Atlantic City massacre at the Trump Casino isn’t particularly well done – we’re reminded of a cut price Scarface. Wrapped into real life events at the Vatican in the late 70s/early 80s which give Donnelly, Raf Vallone and Helmut Berger (another nod to Visconti) some fine supporting roles, with an almost wordless John Savage as Tom Hagen’s priest son Andrew, this has the ring of truth but not quite the touch of classicism even with that marvellous cast reunited, something of a miracle in itself:  it feels like the gang’s almost all here. I cheered when I saw Richard Bright back as Al Neri! So sue me! And good grief Enzo the Baker is back too! Duvall’s salary wouldn’t be met by Paramount sadly and he is replaced by George Hamilton as consigliere. Even Martin Scorsese’s mother shows up! That’s Little Italy for ya! Pacino is filled with regret in this unspooling tragedy. And there we have it: the coda to a form of Italian American storytelling, the parallels with the earlier films expressed in flashbacks, as if to say, This was a life. Scorsese’s work is acknowledged but the narrative is forced forward to the inevitable tragedy. Life as opera – filled with crazy melodrama, betrayals, love, violence and murderous death. Garcia’s role makes far more sense in this version – we meet him quicker, his relationship clearly cultivated by Connie to ensure a passing of the guard. Yet what this cut also reinforces is that Coppola’s filmmaking wasn’t as confident, there are too many close ups – where is that surefooted widescreen composition? There are some awkward transitions and frankly bad writing. It’s long but it’s a farewell to a kind of cinema. And the death of Sofia Coppola as Mary was the price she had to pay for being her father’s daughter, non e vero? Now she’s the film world’s godmother. Gangster wrap. Finance is the gun, politics is the trigger.

The Godfather Part III (1990)

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Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in. As Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) ages and has a place of respect in society having divested himself of his casinos, he finds that being the head of the Corleone crime family isn’t getting any easier. He wants out of the Mafia and buys his way into the Vatican Bank but NYC mob kingpin Altobello (Eli Wallach) isn’t eager to let one of the most powerful and wealthy families go legit. Making matters even worse is Michael’s nephew, Vincent (Andy Garcia) the illegitimate son of Sonny. Not only does Vincent want out from under smalltime mobster Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) who’s now got the Corleones’ New York business, he wants a piece of the Corleone family’s criminal empire, as well as Michael’s teenage daughter, Mary (Sofia Coppola) who’s crushing on him. Ex-wife Kay (Diane Keaton) appeals to Michael to allow their son Anthony (Franc D’Ambrosio) quit law school to pursue a career as an opera singer.  A trip to Sicily looms as all the threads of the Corleone family start to be pieced together after a massacre in Atlantic City and scores need to be settled Why did they fear me so much and love you so much? Francis Ford Coppola revisits the scene of arguably his greatest triumph, The Godfather Saga, with writer Mario Puzo and yet he viewed it as a separate entity to that two-headed masterpiece. Perhaps it’s a riff on the material or a tribute act. The transition is tricky with a brusque crewcut Pacino boasting a different boo-ya voice at the beginning when the Catholic Church honours him following a $100 million donation; and the symbolism writ large in the concluding sequence, a performance of Cavalleria Rusticana in which the weakness of our own central Christ figure is punished with the greatest violence – the death of close family.  This story then mutates from a pastiche of its previous triumphs to a a pastiche of an opera. Michael is doing penance for the death of Fredo, his dumb older brother who betrayed the family. He is physically weak from diabetes and the accompanying stroke;  his efforts to go totally legitimate have angered his Mafia rivals from whose ties he cannot fully break and they want in on the deal with the Vatican;  his brother Sonny’s bastard son Vincent is nipping at his heels while sleeping with his own daughter; he is still in love with a remarried Kay, whom he finally introduces to Sicily;  he is in bed with God’s own gangsters. It’s a sweeping canvas which gradually reveals itself even if the setup is awkward:  we open on the windows at the Lake Tahoe house and see they are decorated with inlaid spider webs:  we soon see that sister Connie (Talia Shire) is the wicked crone behind the throne in her widow’s weeds, her flightiness long behind her. Like Wallach, her performance is cut from the finest prosciutto as she encourages Vincent in his ruthless ride to the top of the crime world. Mantegna isn’t a lot better as Joey Zasa. Wrapped into real life events at the Vatican in the late 70s/early 80s which gives Donal Donnelly, Raf Vallone and Helmut Berger some fine supporting roles, with an almost wordless John Savage as Tom Hagen’s priest son, this has the ring of truth but not the class of classicism even with that marvellous cast reunited, something of a miracle in itself:  it feels like the gang’s almost all here. I cheered when I saw Richard Bright back as Al Neri! So sue me! And good grief Enzo the Baker is back too! Duvall is replaced by George Hamilton as consigliere, not Coppola’s doing, but because he wasn’t going to be paid a decent salary. What were they thinking?! Even Martin Scorsese’s mother shows up! That’s Little Italy for ya! There are some witty exchanges amid the setpieces when everything beds in and the tragedy is set to violently unwind. The death of Sofia Coppola was the price she had to pay for being her father’s daughter, non e veroFinance is the gun, politics is the trigger.

 

 

 

Hudson Hawk (1990)

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I’m being blackmailed into robbing a bank by a psychotic American corporation and the CIA. Thief extraordinaire Hudson Hawk (Bruce Willis) has just been released from prison and all he wants is a nice cappuccino which his partner in crime Tommy Five-Tone (Danny Aiello) is happy to provide en route to their co-owned bar which has been yuppified beyond recognition. However, before he can enjoy his favorite beverage, the highly eccentric and wealthy Darwin Mayflower (Richard E. Grant) and his equally odd wife, Minerva (Sandra Bernhard), rope Hawk into an ambitious series of heists involving the local Mafia, the Mario Brothers. Into the fray enters CIA honcho George Kaplan (James Coburn) and before he knows it, Hawk is transported to Rome where he encounters the beautiful Anna Baragli (Andie McDowell) at an art auction.  Soon Hawk is stealing major works by Leonardo Da Vinci, priceless pieces that the Mayflowers plan to use in an exceedingly nefarious way but behind the conspiracy is there another conspiracy?You cease to amaze me, convict.  You are a terrible cat burglar. What one character calls glib repartee is what sustains this breezy exercise in the ridiculous, or what might have been called a vanity project for Willis, who devised the story. It’s a daft, beautifully shot (grazie a Dante Spinotti!) heist caper, with the wisecracking smart aleck Willis repeatedly conned into stealing great works of art. At the conclusion da Vinci’s theory that man would fly is proven. McDowell is cute as the undercover nun, the charismatic Coburn does a witty nostalgic twist on his Our Man Flint character and Grant and Bernhard are reliably ridiculous as the insanely villainous Mayflower Industries husband and wife team. Taken the right way, as a comic book (and part-musical with Willis and Aiello warbling big tunes during their artful burglaries) you won’t worry too much about logic. I have fond memories of it because back in the day, when director Michael Lehmann was a name (Heathers! Meet the Applegates!) I won all of his work on VHS from either Empire or Q. Sigh. The Nineties. Truly another (better) time. Written by Stephen E. de Souza and Daniel (Heathers) Waters.  I’ll torture you so slowly you’ll think it’s a career

Foul Play (1978)

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Beware the dwarf! I just love Goldie Hawn. And I love pretty much every single thing she’s ever done: now how many actors or actresses can you say that about? Seeing her puts a smile on my face. And this Hitchcockian farce from the pen of Colin Higgins is screamingly funny. She’s quiet divorced librarian Gloria Mundy who picks up Scotty (Bruce Solomon), a hitchhiker with a roll of film concealed in his cigarette packet, and gets embroiled in a plot to assassinate the Pope in San Francisco. There’s an albino killer, a dangerous dwarf, a snake owned by resourceful neighbour Mr Hennessy (Burgess Meredith), a sexy cop Tony Carlson (Chevy Chase) and a most unseemly setup at the Catholic bishopric with the Archbishop (Eugene Roche) and Miss Casswell (Rachel Roberts). There’s a brilliant sidebar relationship with sex addict Stanley (Dudley Moore), regular interludes with a fellow librarian Stella (Marilyn Sokol) who’s convinced every man is after her for sex; and all the while Goldie is trying not to get killed for something she knows nothing about. It’s laugh-a-minute hilarity from the get-go with Barry Manilow’s songs to soothe the fevered brow as the antics proceed at breathtaking pace performed with gusto by a wonderful cast. A must-see.