Thursday, May 24, 2012

"I'm a Businessman. Blood Is a Big Expense.": Godfather Analysis Part VIII

Go to Part VII: "And don't lose that famous temper of yours, huh, Sonny?"

The scene in which Sollozzo presents his proposition to Tom takes place in what appears to be an abandoned ‘railroad car’ diner – a long, narrow freestanding building. The only lighting in the scene is a source light, a small lantern on the table near Tom and Sollozzo. There are two close shots on Tom and Sollozzo, only their faces lit, everything else very dark before the cut showing us the room and the light. The shot is almost completely black. We can see the outlines of the characters in the far background and a silhouette of a guard in the foreground, but there is not enough light to give much indication as to where they are. For the Corleone family this is the low point of the film. Luca Brasi has been killed, the Don is near death, Tom has been taken and Sollozzo is about to put the screws to the family. The darkness of this scene is a reflection of that despair.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"And Don't Lose That Famous Temper of Yours, huh, Sonny?": Godfather Analysis Part VII

After the violent events of the previous sequence we go first to an establishing shot of the exterior of Radio City Music Hall and then to Michael and Kay coming out from a show. This is another example of how Michael is separate from the business dealings of his family. Immediately after his father is gunned down, there is a cut to some time later (the sun was still out when Vito was shot and here it is night). Their conversation is completely inconsequential until Kay notices the newspapers proclaiming the shooting of Vito Corleone. After Michael rushes across the street to the phone booth to call Sonny, he closes the phone booth door, leaving Kay standing outside. This is shot deliberately to illustrate how Kay is left on the outside. It is the first of many times Michael will close Kay out of his dealings, not only in this film, but continuing into The Godfather Part II as well. Later he will leave her in the hotel when he goes to the hospital to visit his father. When he returns from Sicily and finds Kay he won’t tell her anything about his business other than that he intends to be legitimate in five years’ time. Finally, the closing shot of the film will be the door shutting Kay out of Michael’s office. Michael enters the booth, Kay remains outside. There is a cut to a close up of Kay looking in before the cut to the interior of the phone booth. The conversation Michael has with Sonny lasts 26 seconds and Kay is visible outside the phone booth the whole time, an outsider looking in.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Incredible Hulk Movie Review

The Incredible Hulk has the distinction of being not only the best teaser for The Avengers, but perhaps the most capable of standing alone, the most brisk in its storytelling. It falls somewhat short of Iron Man, which elevated the bar slightly by having a charismatic actor and hero in Robert Downey, Jr., who really kept those films light on their feet. Edward Norton in the Bruce Banner role is more sullen and brooding, as anyone with a Hulk affliction likely would be. He can’t risk being around anything stressful or anger-inducing lest he transform into a huge green rage monster, tearing up everything in sight and then waking up nude in another country (his first incident in the film takes him from Brazil to Guatemala).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Captain America: The First Avenger Movie Review

When Steve Rogers is brought in to a super secret military lab via a secret passage in a Brooklyn shop, you have to ask yourself how efficacious it is to have a super secret military lab replete with doctors, scientists, senators and military police who all had to enter via a secret passage in a Brooklyn shop. Aren’t they at all concerned that anyone spying on them might wonder why none of these several dozen people ever exit this magical retail establishment? All I ask of action movies besides being exciting and fun and written in a way that suggest the screenwriters didn’t sleep walk their way through it, is that the story makes some logical sense on its own terms. For the most part Captain America: The First Avenger passes the last test. The first ones could use a bit of work.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Thor Movie Review

The Marvel Comics movie Thor is more than just a commercial for The Avengers, it’s also a movie where characters behave in ways that are necessitated by the plot and some adherence to the comic lore. It’s a movie that spent so much time and energy creating two different planets (one inspired by Flash Gordon and the other by The Lord of the Rings) that they forget to apply some production design to a New Mexico town that abruptly ends at the end of Main St. That Kenneth Branagh stooped to direct this mess does not speak highly of Kenneth Branagh. Has he become the latest in a series of unique directorial talents to become a slave to a large paycheck? How does a man whose screen representations of Shakespeare are rivaled only by Olivier come to work with such hackneyed writing and wooden acting?

Serenity Movie Review

Seven years ago I went into the cinema to watch Serenity not knowing anything about it. I didn’t know anything about its writer and director Joss Whedon, who already had a cult following for his “Buffy” TV series and its spinoff “Angel.” I had also never heard of his short-lived series “Firefly,” canceled after a mere 13 episodes, which served as a precursor to the film. All I knew was that I was totally enthralled by the universe presented on screen.

Serenity’s amalgamation of the science fiction and western genres was unlike anything I’d seen to that point and in retrospect it’s almost an obvious combination to make. The premise is that 500 years in the future, the earth has become uninhabitable and the population has been relocated to another system of planets terraformed for habitability. There is an alliance that controls the central planets but at the edges of the system life is governed by a kind of Wild West code of justice.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Avengers Movie Review

A funny thing started happening in my mind a few days after seeing The Avengers – I actually began feeling like I wanted to see it again. This after coming out of it with the usual lackluster feelings I have after another superhero movie. The bar has been set so low for our expectations when it comes to the latest incarnation of some colorful but troubled person with special powers that we think of films as uninteresting as Spider Man 2 and Iron Man as great works of art. I enjoyed those films almost as much as anyone I suppose and I agree they are among the best the genre has to offer, but as far as I can tell the only thing that sets them apart from junk like The Fantastic Four is a slightly better screenplay and at least an attempt at something deeper and richer beyond blowing stuff up real big and loud.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Five-Year Engagement Movie Review

SPOILER WARNING: I can’t completely discuss my main criticisms of this film without revealing how the story plays out through the end. Read ahead at your own peril.

Emily Blunt is such a charming actress and has such a light breezy quality to her performances that it’s easy to watch her in just about anything. She has generally been the best aspect of bad and mediocre movies like The Devil Wears Prada, The Wolfman and The Adjustment Bureau. Jason Segel is a charming actor of a different sort. He’s funny, but doesn’t force it. Wisecracking comedy comes naturally to him and his big and goofy demeanor is a valuable asset for likability. They make a fine on screen couple in The Five-Year Engagement and initially I found myself, in spite of all inner protestations toward rom-coms, hoping for the best of a lovely little romance. We know going into any romantic comedy that at the end of the movie, no matter what happens as it runs its course, the couple will be together. The trick to be overcome is in making the journey surprising or at least interesting. The Five-Year Engagement gets about twenty-five percent of that formula by being somewhat interesting and almost never surprising.

Friday, May 11, 2012

From My Collection: The Outsiders Movie Review

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders, based on the novel by S.E. Hinton, is one of those iconic movies from my childhood. It was slightly before my time, but I watched it any time I caught it on TV. The boys in the film were old enough that to me they were grown up. Still, something in the story connected with me in a strong way so that I lived and breathed with their actions and, in some cases, their tragic ends. Of course it didn’t hurt that it’s a story about boys being boys without any real authority to direct their rambunctious energy and it all ends with an epic rumble in the rain and mud.

From My Collection: Network Movie Review (Special 300th Review Classic)

I sat simply stunned at how good a screenplay Network has. The opening titles read “Network – by Paddy Chayefsky,” as if it’s a novel. Rarely has there been a more apt use of a byline in movies than with this film that has one of the most literate screenplays ever produced in the history of the movies. Chayefsky was not afraid to use words that some audience members might not understand. More impressive than that is that a major Hollywood studio was willing to take a chance on it. Network didn’t break the bank at the domestic box office, but for its budget it was stupendous.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

River's Edge Movie Review: 25 Years Ago This Month

A 14-year-old girl was strangled by a 16-year old boy, possibly after he raped her. He left her nude body in a wooded area and then bragged to other students at school and even went so far as to drive them in his truck to have a look at the body. Word spread around school about the presence of a body in the hills outside town and other students went to see for themselves. For two days this went on without anyone reporting it to the police. Screenwriter Neal Jimenez took this very real news story out of Milpitas, CA, and turned it into a screenplay. The resulting film, directed by Tim Hunter, was an atmospheric and lunatic study of disaffected youth before that even became a 1990s moniker attached to a particular type of songwriting and filmmaking.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

25 Years Ago This Month: May 1987

Everything that makes tons of money at the box office is ripe for sequel production. Beverly Hills Cop II didn't live up to the promise of the first one, which is a smartly written and well-made action film. The sequel finished at number three for the year with $153 million in domestic box office receipts.