Film of the Week: The Godfather (1972)

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Francis Ford Coppola directs Al Pacino, James Caan and Marlon Brando in this tale of a 1940s mafia family being torn apart by outside rivalries.

The Godfather is a sumptuous experience to just get lost in. Classical in pace, calmly inventive in shot composition, perfectly cast. Like deliberately dense HBO shows The Wire or Deadwood repeat viewings allow you to immerse yourself in hidden subplots and character arcs – this time I noticed what eventual payback is asked of everyone who is granted a favour in the iconic opening sequence – but you could equally concentrate on the background wives or  unrelated goons and see that no part has been left without some shift over the year and events of this epic. That deeply layered approach, full of an artisan’s care and craft, is what makes The Godfather one of the true greats. You get the feeling, more than any other entertainment, that every fibre, edit and word has been deliberated over by Coppola to perfection. It is a timeless masterpiece of cinematic art with not one hair out of place. Tremendous stuff.

10

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Cover Girl (1944)

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Charles Vidor directs Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly and Phil Silvers in this tale of a showgirl who becomes the toast of the town but loses touch with the club owner who fell for her.

A very bitty musical, where a hundred bright and daft ideas seem strung together haphazardly. Luckily old fashioned starpower carries you through the bumpiness of it all. Hayworth is gorgeous, Kelly gets to have a dance with his reflection and we glimpse the treat of Silver’s finding laughs in his only significant pre-Bilko role. So the plot is all over the shop and there’s only one memorable song, this still pleasantly kills an afternoon whenever the premium cast’s chemistry is allowed to fizz and pop together.

6

Barb Wire (1996)

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David Hogan directs Pamela Anderson, Temuera Morrison and Xander Berkeley in this sci fi actioner about bar owner / assassin / stripper who rubs some future Nazis the wrong way.

Just awful. After getting all the latex, nudity and presenting out of the way really early, we somehow slip into a remake of Casablanca with all that classic’s seduction, nuance and drama scraped out from it. What were they thinking? The vision of the dystopia is remarkably sunny and well lit and this exposes just how artificial and unpleasantly shiny the vacuous mess all is, fittingly like Pamela Anderson herself… but let’s assume that is an unintentional coincidence and not a howl of discontent from the creative team who put their names on this dreck. The humour clunks, the action has all the excitement of one man playing lasertag against himself. No redeeming features.

1

Child’s Play 2 (1990)

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John Lafia directs Jenny Agutter, Christine Elise and the voice of Brad Dourif in this sequel to the possessed doll goes on murderous rampage horror.

A soulless cash-in on an OK first film that occasionally has pleasurable spikes in quality. The deaths are just about closer to inventive than routine and the factory set finale blends the better elements of The Terminator and The Shining’s closers to pleasing effect. But the human cast often phone-in their thinly sketched roles, the foster home setting reeks of cheap artifice and, as with nearly every franchise slasher in the early 90s, Chucky’s “humorous zingers” mainly boil down to him snarling a repetitive and misogynistic “BITCH!” at yet another unfortunate middle aged woman for nil reward.

4

Mean Streets (1973)

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Martin Scorsese directs Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro and Amy Robinson in this drama following a small time hood juggling internal crisis with his fuck up friend. 

There’s plenty to feast on through Mean Streets; a director developing his house style of narration, pop soundtrack and virtuoso camera moves, eye catching early performances from two of New Hollywood’s greats (Keitel is particularly outstanding) and when we get out on the New York streets some real documentary snapshots of a time and a place surrounding the foreground fiction. But it is palpably an early work by a master and not perfect. A certain scrappiness pervades and there always feels like there’s an air of no consequences, for all rumbles and posturing threats, these characters are safe in their bubbles until the end. Perhaps that is intentional, making the final tragedy more of a shock… but the movie is at its most effective when we descend into the red lit basement bar and we feel like we are trapped in a wood panelled hellhole. These scenes have an almost mythical quality, with the deals being made and relationships torn asunder in that crimson light becoming intriguingly ambiguous.

7

American Pastoral (2016)

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Ewan McGregor direct himself, Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning in this adaptation of Philip Roth’s masterpiece about a family’s American dream being torn apart by Sixties radicalism. 

Opening to toxic reviews and little public interest, I think McGregor’s directorial debut is actually the work of a fine new craftsman filled with neat performances and masterful touches. Sure at times the dialogue can feel didactic and stilted but no more than say Mamet or Sorkin often can, the actors throw themselves into the vast narrative and theatrical exchanges with confidence and aplomb. The recreation of the era has a melancholy sheen that echoes Fincher at his best, the grimy tragedy uncovered recalls McGregor’s earlier acting working in the sexually aggressive worlds of Shallow Grave and Young Adam. Certain scenes are charged with an affecting explicitness that seem at odds with the prestige costumes and set dressing, but this demonstrates that McGregor the director understand Roth’s meta novel is a lusty, confused, repressed and desolate work. He plays these challenging chords together with an impressive smoothness. A depressing ride, for sure… but one engrossing enough and finely made enough that I feel confident in recommending it.

7

Arrival (2016)

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Denis Villeneuve directs Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker in this tale of a linguistics genius trying to communicate with aliens making first contact. 

A hauntingly beautiful film anchored by a strong central performance by the ever excellent Adams and likeable support from Renner (his best position). Villeneuve keeps the background out of focus making everything seem hazy and alien. As always with these films worked around an inevitable twist there is that clunky scene that feels unnatural for the sake of the plot gymnastics working. But even this moment, involving unlikely phone calls, is handled as gracefully as possible. A finely crafted piece of cerebral sci-fi which doesn’t quite hit the emotionally grounded notes of the similar but broader Contact.

8

 

Super Troopers (2001)

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Jay Chandrasekhar directs himself, Kevin Heffernan and Brian Cox in this throwaway comedy about highway patrolmen more interested in pranks than arrests .

Super Troopers only redeeming feature above countless frat boy-ish comedies is it makes meoww laugh a lot. It is no better (or worse) than an Animal House, Police Academy or a Harold and Kumar and that sometimes is exactly what you want. Unsophisticated fun.

8

Gang Related (1997)

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Jim Kouf directs James Belushi, Tupac Shakur and Dennis Quaid in this thriller about dirty cops pinning a murder on a homeless drunk but struggling to make their frame stay in place.

An involving if uninspired cop thriller from the writer behind Stakeout. There is nothing outstanding about it but you can get lost in its dense plot and enjoy its stock characters with ease overlooking the tears when certain twists prove reality defying.

6

Looper (2012)

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Rian Johnson directs Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt in this time travel sci-fi thriller about a hitman who has to kill his older self.

Looper certainly has a lot going for it to mark itself out as a modern classic. Gordon-Levitt pulling a Face/Off and out Bruce Willis-ing Bruce Willis, the ageing star himself in what feels like it might be his last committed performance in a film his fan base might enjoy, the well realised dystopia and logistical thoroughness of the time crimes syndicate, the narrative flourishes (our mad dash through Joe’s intervening years is a masterful stroke) and some solid yet stylish action. But, just as on my virgin trip to see this at the multiplex, this home viewing cannot hide a certain disappointment. We are sold on young Willis hunting an old Willis cat and mouse actioner but the second half delivered instead shifts into something more akin to the western Shane. And while what happens on Emily Blunt’s farmstead is by no means weak, you cannot help but feel the initial premise has been somewhat overlooked, that you’ve been served a dish you did not order as the last 40 minutes play out. All that occurs if far too strong to dismiss but on each viewing I couldn’t help but imagine a Looper where, after the Heat style diner tête-à-tête between opposing generations, the movie returned to that sci-fi crime district we started at and all satisfying hell truly broke loose.

8