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.

 

 

 

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Scott Walker 9th January 1943 – 25th March 2019

Child actor. Guitarist. Singer. Walker Brother. Teen idol. Avant garde performer. Soundtrack composer. One of the great voices of the twentieth century (although he was 30 Century Man.) Noah Scott Engel aka Scott Walker was born in the United States but chose to make the UK his base from the mid-Sixties where the Walker Brothers group had their biggest success. He made a radical turnaround in his performing and songwriting style, once described as though Andy Williams had turned into Stockhausen. Eclectic, driven, singular, endlessly influential. Genius. RIP.

Score – A Film Music Documentary (2016)

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We can make you feel anything we want you to feel. Matt Schrader’s documentary about film composers is a compelling and immersive odyssey which tracks the evolution of the music score from its heyday in classical Hollywood through the present day. Alex North’s debut score for A Streetcar Named Desire featuring jazz stylings is named as the first truly modern score, marking a break from the nineteenth century symphonic style that had dominated to that point. It’s actually revolutionary, say this assemblage of composers, film directors and critics. Then John Barry is cited, the James Bond theme (which he adapted from Monty Norman’s signature) inextricably linked with the spy genre. An array of composers describe and exhibit their collections of instruments, with Mark Mothersbaugh wondering what happened to the toy piano he picked up in the Beverly Center for sixty bucks – he used it to compose the Rugrats theme then returned it and got his money back. Bernard Herrmann was an original, demonstrating that anything was possible:  as the shower scene from Psycho is shown without music, you suddenly see the edits. The emotional effects of film composition are discussed through physiology and eye movement – that’s the science. Jerry Goldsmith’s work is the next signpost to modernity – his work on Planet of the Apes even used kitchen utensils to achieve its particular affect. When writing a new score for Chinatown (after the original had been written, recorded and dumped) he demanded four harps, four pianos, strings, percussion and a solo trumpet:  instant film classic. John Williams dominates because he was chosen by Steven Spielberg, who thought after seeing The Reivers with its pastoral theme he was an old guy:  far from it, he was a hep young jazz cat. When he presented the filmmaker with two notes for Jaws, Spielberg thought it was a joke. Of course those notes triggered a major work, but he was nervous. Then came Star Wars. And E.T., where the gaps are left to ultimately bring the story to a fanfare that is oriented to Elliott’s point of view in an epic story of unique intimacy. Some iconic London recording studios are visited – Air (discovered by George Martin, who converted it from a church building) and where David Arnold has worked for a quarter of a century;  and Abbey Road, also inhabited by Martin with the Beatles but latterly better known as a soundtrack centre with some intriguing engineering and choral setups explored. Danny Elfman was picked to compose for Tim Burton’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure because he liked his work with synth band Oingo Boingo and a new, dark universe of music was begun from scratch. With Thomas Newman, son of the great Hollywood composer Alfred, the emotive solo piano comes to the fore:  inimitable, as we recognise in Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty. Hans Zimmer, also part of an Eighties synth group, Buggles, is practically a genre unto himself, Led Zeppelin with an orchestra. As he sits in his Santa Monica studio saying his music exposes him, he reminds us that if it weren’t for film composers a lot of orchestras would be going out of business. And suddenly we swerve into contemporary composition:  experimental work by rock musicians starting with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross on The Social Network. Thus is a new era born, constantly reinventing itself with technology and innovations. The poignant conclusion is a loop back to the ideas presented at the start of the film – that directors generally cannot articulate what they want from a score. James Cameron misunderstood a recording sent to him by the late James Horner for Titanic: Horner described it as ‘a sketch’. It was a musical sketch, for piano, but Cameron thought it was literally for the actual sketching scene when Di Caprio draws Winslet, posing nude. He edited the scene to the music and called Horner. Horner protested it was a sketch. Cameron said it was perfect, he should see it. Horner said he could get the best pianist in the world to play it. Cameron kept it as it was. It’s perfect. All your other work in a film could come to nothing if you don’t get the music right

Peter Tork 13th February 1942 – 21st February 2019

Peter Halsten Thorkelson aka Peter Tork, one of the Monkees, has died aged 77. The folk and blues singer was the goofy one in a made-for-TV band that was more popular than the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined in 1967. An accomplished musician, he was appalled to find their first album had already been recorded by session musicians and while keen to contribute to their songs – like the piano intro on Daydream Believer – was also the first one of the gang to crack under the pressures of fame. Rest in peace.  There were no duds among us – except me. But I wasn’t really a dud. I played one on television.

Green Book (2018)

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Travelling while black.  Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is a world-class African-American pianist, who lives above Carnegie Hall in NYC and is about to embark on a concert tour starting in Pittsburgh and then taking a hard left to the Deep South in 1962. In need of a driver and protection, Shirley recruits Tony Vallelonga aka Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) a tough-talking bouncer from an Italian-American neighbourhood in the Bronx who needs work while the Copacabana nightclub is closed for renovations. This is the best offer of a job otherwise he’ll be cornered into working for local hoodlums. Despite the stark differences in their origins and outlook, the two men soon develop an unexpected bond while confronting danger in an era of segregation, with Don helping Tony write letters home to his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and Tony displaying a unique approach to the threats and racism they encounter en route … The world’s full of lonely people afraid to make the first move.  Inspired by the real-life experience of Copacabana maître’d Tony Vallelonga and renowned pianist Don Shirley and based on personal letters from Tony to his wife and the Negro Motorist Green Book a guide book for midcentury black people needing safe places to stay, this is a bullet-proof comedy drama. It isn’t just a black and white film:  it takes a half hour for the odd couple to hit the road and Shirley plays with a trio, one of whom is Russian and whom Tony repeatedly mistakes for German – not his favourite nationality after serving in WW2. The opening section principally introduces Tony and his background as a bouncer with a BS radar that irritates people and gets him fired a lot. When we first meet him he’s beating bloody a hood with Mafia connections. The point is that this also examines perceptions of Italian America too, and not just racist attitudes – his are perfectly evident when he trashes two water glasses after black workmen have fixed the kitchen sink for his wife in their rented home.  It’s about how they live and talk and do business and look after each other when they’re out of work and the pressure to take and do favours for gangsters and it’s about what they eat – because this is also a film concerned with food: an array of the stuff that will have you gnawing your hand when you see platefuls of spaghetti and clams and meatballs and pizza. This has a nice corollary when Tony introduces Shirley to the joys of fried chicken. Perhaps there’s an issue for a black audience having this dignified, gifted multi-lingual virtuoso being educated in blackness through take out KFC and music stations on the car radio (he doesn’t recognise Aretha Franklin or any black popular singer – maybe) but it’s done with such warmth and with such a magnificent payoff in the final sequence after Don has taken enough from the Southern racists that only a condescending curmudgeon could get angry. So if I’m not black enough and if I’m not white enough, then tell me, Tony, what am I?  What flips the dramatic situation is when Tony is asked about the origins of his name after they’re pulled over by the police in Alabama.  When he says he’s Italian he’s accused of being a nigger – a common epithet used against Italians – and he reacts by punching out a cop landing both men in the slammer. This is how he reacts to being accused of being black – with violence. It’s the lesson of the film because he urges Don to stand up for himself like he does, but in a nice touch (with the metaphor of their mutual imprisonment in their attitudes intact) it’s Shirley’s connection with Attorney General Bobby Kennedy that proves to be their Get Out of Jail Free card. Sometimes playing for rich white people in Park Avenue apartments and keeping schtum works.  Sometimes. When Don is caught with his pants down in the YMCA with another man, Tony pays off the cops and shrugs it off, because he’s seen it all before in his job at that showbiz mecca, the Copa:  things get complicated, he says and fuhgeddsaboutit. Indeed for a film that wears its heart on its sleeve and declaratively hits hot-button topics about representation of race, sex and class without becoming mired in anything other than common live-and-let-live humanity, it’s an unobjectionable, balanced, remarkable and rather generous piece of work, a prism into the Sixties that throws today’s experiences into relief. Being genius is not enough, it takes courage to change people’s hearts.  The two leads are note-perfect in performances of great scope from a screenplay by director Peter Farrelly, Vallelonga’s son Nick and Brian Hayes Currie. Beautifully shot by Sean Porter, this is scored by Kris Bowers and has some wonderful interpretations of work by jazz greats. Has Mortensen ever been better in this heartwarming story that’s so well told? No wonder it’s awards catnip. Geography isn’t really important

The Mule (2018)

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For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for everything. Broke, alone and facing foreclosure on his business, 90-year-old horticulturist and Korean War veteran Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) takes a job as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel and transports huge loads to Chicago in the trunk of his pick-up truck. His immediate success leads to easy money and the opportunity to help other folks in trouble. A larger shipment soon draws the attention of hard-charging DEA agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) who has to work hard to convince his boss (Laurence Fishburne) to track the culprit. When Earl’s past mistakes start to weigh heavily on his conscience, and his guilt over the way he treated his ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and his estranged daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood) plunges him into grief, he must decide whether to right those wrongs before law enforcement and cartel thugs catch up to him but his drug lord amigo Laton (Andy Garcia) is no longer in charge Next time you see me, I’ll be texting my brains out!  Adroitly positioned between comedy and drama and boasting an amiable performance by star/director Eastwood, this manages to be both droll and horrifying with a raft of racial references that frankly could be taken either way except they’re made by a white man of a wholly different world and he happens to be very sympathetic: there are thematic connections with Gran Torino (also written by Nick Schenk)to completely different effect. Garcia has fun as Laton the  kingpin (until he’s not) and Cooper is probably paying his dues in a by-the-numbers role in exchange for having been directed to greatness in American Sniper albeit they have a nicely ironic meeting in a diner which improves upon the non-event that was Heat‘s encounter between De Niro and Pacino.  Mostly shot with a great feel for landscape, there are surprising lapses in the cinematography (focus pull, anyone?) that like a lot of Eastwood’s output indicate there’s been some slapdash shooting. Nonetheless, even with the predictable subject matter and the silly sentimentality (Wiest is like a latterday saint) Eastwood plays with his star persona in absurdly engaging fashion (even casting his own daughter Alison as his screen daughter) so much so that you’ll be looking for an orangutan in that truck. This has things to say about ageing, family, friendship, community, the generation gap(s!) and regrets. His unique lyrical interpretation of those radio songs just rocks practically turning this into a musical. Adapted from the true life story of Leo Sharp, an octogenarian mule for the Sinaloa cartel, this was inspired by a New York Times article by Sam Dolnick although all character names have been changed. As an exercise in self-critical auteurist filmmaking, this is rather amazing. Roll on, Rowdy! At least I’ll know where to find you

 

The French Connection (1971)

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You still picking your feet in Poughkeepsie? When wealthy Marseilles heroin smuggler Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) has an undercover cop murdered by hitman Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzuffi) he reveals his plans to smuggle $32 million worth of pure heroin into the United States by hiding it in the car of his friend, French TV personality Henri Devereaux, who is traveling to New York by ship. In NYC narcotics detectives Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy ‘Cloudy’ Russo (Roy Scheider) are on undercover stakeout in Brooklyn. After seeing a drug transaction take place in a bar, Cloudy goes in to make an arrest. After a short pursuit, the detectives interrogate the man, who reveals his drug connection and the biggest drug bust in American history looms … All right, Popeye’s here! Get your hands on your heads, get off the bar, and get on the wall!  What an extraordinary film this is:  a display of a singular, muscular, arresting, narrative vision with masterful control and seemingly effortless storytelling. It’s a version of a true early 1960s crime but bears none of the burdens of historicism. The shifting camerawork, changing locales, tone-perfect performances and the obsessive pursuit of an imperturbable French crime kingpin chime perfectly with director William Friedkin’s realistic style. The chase involving the 1971 Pontiac Le Mans and the elevated train is one of the most famous action scenes in film history, undercranked by the ingenious cinematographer Owen Roizman to make everything look faster. Apparently, Friedkin was goaded into doing it by Howard Hawks, who said, Make a good chase. Make one better than anyone’s done.  Hackman is peerless as the alcoholic bigot with a bee in his bonnet but Rey and Scheider are fantastic too and Tony Lo Bianco as Sal, the NYC connection, gets a great, physical showcase. The jagged jazz score by the preternaturally gifted Don Ellis is one of the great film soundtracks and Jimmy Webb wrote an original song performed by The Three Degrees at the Copacabana. A breathtaking film, complex, violent and well-managed, a specific articulation of the urban landscape told in an economical 99 minutes, it won a slew of Oscars – for editor Gerald B. Greenberg, Hackman’s performance, Best Film, Best Director and writer Ernest Tidyman who adapted the book by Robin Moore. Stunning. That son of a bitch is here. I saw him. I’m gonna get him

 

The Last Movie Star (2017)

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I should have stayed a stunt man. Ageing film star Vic Edwards (Burt Reynolds) has to put down his ailing dog. His spirits appear to be lifted by an invitation to the International Nashville Film Festival but he’s only persuaded to go by his friend Sonny (Chevy Chase) who points out that previous recipients of the Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award were Nicholson, De Niro, Pacino. When Vic boards the plane he’s in coach; his limo is a BMW driven by angry tattooed Goth girl Lil (Ariel Winter); and his first class hotel is a crappy motel. He wants out, especially when the Festival is in a bar with projection on a sheet and Shane (Ellar Coltrane) irritates him by asking on-the-nose questions about his choice of roles which tees off Festival organiser Doug (Clark Duke). After hitting the bottle, then hitting his head, Vic persuades Lil to take him three hours out of town to Knoxville where he goes on a trip through his past … What a shit hole. A riff on the career of Burt Reynolds himself, as the well chosen film inserts illustrate, in which his avatar Edwards appears and comments (as his older incarnation) on the presumptions of youth and the lessons he has learned as age and illness have beset his life, his stardom a thing of the past. An explicitly nostalgic work, in which the trials of ageing are confronted head-on by the only actor who was top of the box office six years straight, with Reynolds’ character (aided by the walking stick he used in real life) taking a tour of his hometown in Tennessee including visiting the house where he grew up and seeing his first wife Claudia (Kathleen Nolan) in an old folks’ home where she’s suffering from Alzheimer’s.  The buddy-road movie genre was something Reynolds helped pioneer and he and Winter wind up being an amusing odd couple, both eventually thawing out and seeing the good in each other as they learn a little about themselves. Adam Rifkin’s film is an unexpected delight, a charming excursion into the problems for a man faced with life after fame and it concludes on something Reynolds himself must have approved for what transpired to be his final screen role – his shit eating grin. Bravo. An audience will forgive a shitty second act if you wow them in Act Three  #MM2200

Carol Channing 01/31/1921 -01/15/2019

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The death has taken place of the delightful, husky-voiced, unique comedienne and musical star Carol Elaine Channing, who originated the stage role of the apparently ditzy blonde gold digger Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Marilyn Monroe went to see it every night two weeks straight. Wouldn’t you? An effervescent, witty actress who made her bones in theatre where she created the indelible Hello, Dolly but also impressed on the big screen.  Rest in peace. Laughter is much more important than applause. Applause is almost a duty. Laughter is a reward.

I Got Life! (2017)

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Aka Aurore. Fifty-year old Aurore (Agnès Jaoui) is newly divorced from her husband Nanar (Philippe Rebot), has lost her job and finds out that she is going to be a grandmother. She is slowly being pushed to the outskirts of society then accidentally runs into the great love of her youth Christophe whom she nicknamed Totoche (Thibault de Montalembert).  Her daughters’ lives run amok with pregnancy and lovers moving abroad. Her best friend Mano (Pascale Arbillot) is a realtor who hires her to make her properties sound more attractive but she now starts to realise how much she lost twenty-five years earlier when she betrayed Totoche and married his best friend Nanar but she has to find some way to make a living when she loses work at the dreadful cafe where her employer insists on calling her Samantha… A mid-life crisis from the woman’s perspective, rooted in the maternal and the reality of difficult working conditions isn’t normal multiplex fare. Blandine Lenoir’s film is funny and irritating all at once, mainly because it hits so many recognisable notes, even if they’re not especially revelatory. The always watchable Jaoui (yes! in two languages!) is rearing two daughters seemingly intent on making all the mistakes despite her wise counsel that have led her to this very spot – broke and alone, forced to take even more menial work as an industrial cleaner. where she meets a foreign woman who’s a qualified engineer:  This is the only way you white women understand the oppression of blacks, she tells her. Ageism is rife in white society! And she then proceeds to introduce Aurore to the notion of intersectionality. Aurore finds her mojo when a French philosopher’s interview on TV stops her in her tracks as she’s cleaning for a community of elderly women who have pooled their pensions and resources to live together – Françoise Héritier explains about the hierarchy of age in which men are supported throughout their lives and approach middle age with power, while women are only alone at 10 and 20, looking after everyone else until they drop. The women are aghast at self-recognition at this logical history of servitude. Aurore is mopping a floor when she hears this. This is her turning point and it galvanises her to alter her circumstances. At a university reunion an old classmate simply cannot accept she rejected Totoche for Nanar. It’s funny. And she realises that the mistake she made as a young woman can indeed be repaired if she’s prepared to take that step towards making up.  A film that says, Divorce is no picnic; turning fifty without a husband and any visible means of financial support is degrading and demeaning; and a life untethered takes a village to mend while you’re falling apart. The fourth stage of life is not for the fainthearted and sometimes only music gets you through the day. Not your conventional romcom, then. But it is very French. This is a great tribute to the power of mix tapes. And I just love Mano’s coat! Co-written by Lenoir with Jean Gaget and O-Shen, with collaboration from Anne-Françoise Brillot and Benjamin Dupas.