Category Archives: Epic

“Mary Queen of Scots” Movie Review

I mean, I guess. There were a ton of other routes they could have taken with this story, but this one seemed like it was already on autopilot. This historical drama initially premiered as the closing night selection for the 2018 AFI Fest in mid-November of 2018. It was then released in U.S. theaters by Focus Features on December 7th, 2018, and has struggled to gross much more than $7.2 million at the box office against a budget of $25 million. It has also received mixed critical reviews along with numerous critiques for its apparent historical inaccuracies. The film marks the feature directorial debut of Josie Rourke, a highly prolific stage director with an extensive background in British theatre. Written by Beau Willimon, creator and longtime showrunner of the Netflix drama House of Cards, the film is loosely based on the book Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy. It had originally been in production with Scarlett Johannson attached to star as far back as 2007 but soon languished in development hell. It then achingly started gearing up for commencement once more over the last, very slow 6 years. Set in Scotland circa 1569, Saoirse Ronan stars as the titular Mary Stuart, a young woman claiming to have legitimacy not only to the Scottish throne but to the whole of the United Kingdom. She challenges her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England, played by Margot Robbie, a virgin who cannot have any children or heirs. However, their mutual steadfast refusal to marry politically or heed word from their male-dominated councils puts them into a tricky position for their respective peoples, who begin to see both Queens as unfit to rule. This is a film that feels like something right out of Miramax’s awards season playbook from the late 1990s. Take from that what you will, but to me, large budget costume dramas like these haven’t had a major hit in a long time. I can’t really say that I’m a fan of House of Cards, but I do love the two main actresses and will seek out whatever they’re in. And this is a sect of history that I’m really not that familiar with, so I was curious to see what this sort of conflict would look like for these people. Unfortunately, Mary Queen of Scots succumbs to many of the same problems historical movies have always had. When it comes down to it, this is ultimately a case of a great burgeoning director fighting against a weak screenplay. Based on the few episodes I’ve seen from House of Cards, I can tell that Beau Willimon is definitely interested in politics and their machinations. But, also like that Netflix show, it seems like he doesn’t have a clear understanding of how politics works, no matter what era. To him, it’s just a bunch of cruel and selfish people destroying anyone in their way in their quest to the top of the throne room; the lack of any further nuance or insight makes this angle and the characters one-dimensional and uninteresting. This stands in contrast to Josie Rourke’s direction, which highlights an excellent knack for staging. She does her best working with the material she’s given, and it makes me interested in what she does for the future. But there are some things in it that she simply doesn’t seem equipped to overcome, as there are a number of instances that stretch both its historical accuracy and believability. For what it’s worth, though, Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie do good work in their respective roles. Although it feels cliché and unbelievable to position Mary as an underdog, Ronan is uncompromising and fierce as the Scottish Queen. Robbie also manages to be strong-willed and determined, despite her sad circumstances with no hope of reprieve. Interestingly, there’s only one scene in the entire film where they share the screen together, but their chemistry in that one moment was dynamite and empathetic. In comparison to these two, most of the other actors fall short. Gemma Chan and Guy Pearce look a tad uncomfortable in their roles as two of Elizabeth’s advisors, while Jack Lowden and James McArdle portray Mary’s second husband and traitorous brother, respectively. They all remain confined to their archetypal roles, and in a few instances change their attitudes or traits in such a fast and unbelievable manner. The only other player here who leaves something of an impression is former Doctor Who David Tennant as John Knox, a thick-bearded Protestant cleric. Proclaiming that a woman sitting on the throne is an affront to God’s will, he is frequently seen delivering fiery sermons to the Scottish people in an effort to turn them against their Queen. He acts and speaks like a 16th Century version of Fred Phelps, which in some instances pulled me out of the movie, and in others kept me engaged. The technical aspects of Mary Queen of Scots, are very inconsistent, being great in parts but never as a whole. Ridley Scott’s frequent cinematographer John Mathieson captures both kingdoms in gloomy, washed out colors primarily. While the beautiful Scottish countryside is used for great background, both it and the almost-solely castle-set England feel a little too monochromatic. Thankfully, the controlled and focused movements and angles capture good lighting throughout the councils’ various quarrels. Chris Dickens edits the film in an intriguing way, albeit one that’s occasionally choppy or unbalanced. During verbal arguments, it frequently intercuts with other scenes to add more momentum to whatever is going on on-screen. The film runs at 2 hours and 5 minutes, but it often feels like it was originally a 3 hour-long epic cut down for commercial purposes. The best aspects of the film are undoubtedly Alexandra Byrnes’ elegant costumes, Jenny Shircore’s wide-ranging makeup and hairstyling, and James Merifield’s excellent production design. Without these 3 elements, late Medieval Great Britain would have felt far more staid and lifeless. The highly prolific and talented composer Max Richter provides the instrumental film score. In some ways, it feels similar to much of his regular work, and in other instances, it doesn’t. With his traditional backing of string instruments, there are a handful of melancholy tracks for some of the characters and their fates. There are also some rather rousing and exciting tracks using booming percussion instruments and occasionally something like subtle flutes and oboes. I can’t say that I’d necessarily pick it up on Apple Music, but it definitely fit for the context of the film. Neither remarkably awful nor astoundingly great, Mary Queen of Scots is a deeply conflicted portrait of two strong women wrestling with royalty and privilege. Again, Josie Rourke shows some considerable talent behind the camera and the two leading ladies are quite appealing in their roles. The bummer is that the supporting cast and script surrounding them just don’t really ever measure up to them.

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Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2019

Welcome to to the year 2019, readers! Every year brings a new crop of movies that get my blood pumping for one reason or another. This year is no different, as there are a number of high-profile (And smaller indie) releases that have been holding my attention for months on end now. As per usual, there are so many coming out within the next 12 months that it was kind of hard to narrow down into a ranked list. I could only include 10 on this list, though, so here are several honorable mentions that are also on my watchlist for the year.

Honorable Mentions:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Shazam!, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, It Chapter Two, Artemis Fowl, The Kid Who Would Be King, Missing Link, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Captive State, Aladdin, The Lion King, Alita: Battle Angel, High Life, Velvet Buzzsaw

Let’s see what’s coming out, now.

#10: “The Irishman” (TBA 2019)

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If the last few years have proven anything, it’s that Netflix really wants to be taken seriously in the filmmaking industry. While there are still several directors and producers who are cynical about the streaming service’s merits, they have managed to attract numerous high-profile auteurs due to their emphasis on creative and artistic freedom. One of those auteurs is Martin Scorsese, whose long-gestating project The Irishman was finally given the green light once it got to Netflix. While it technically doesn’t have an official release date yet, most sources seem to indicate that it’s going to be released sometime in 2019. And with the recent theatrical success of Roma, I can easily see this as a window for them to open more of their films in theaters. If for nothing else, I just want to see Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci (In his first role in nearly a decade) work together on-screen.

#9: “Joker” (Opens October 4th)

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I can’t quite explain why, but Todd Phillips’ Joker movie has my interest piqued more than any other comic book adaptation coming out next year. Obviously, I’m looking forward to Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, and Shazam!, but this just seems really different from those other films in so many aspects. Based on many accounts I’ve read, Warner Bros. is gunning for a more character-driven, smaller-scale film. Rumor has it that they’ll let get an R-rating, and may even put it into a fall festival next year! Joaquin Phoenix seems like a natural fit for the titular part, reportedly having been terrified by the script he read. And if the set videos prove anything, it’s definitely going to be fast-paced.

#8: “Glass” (Opens January 18th)

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19 years it’s been since Unbreakable first came onto the scene as a brand new superhero movie, but the world was sadly not ready. Now, with a surprise twist at the end of Split, M. Night Shyamalan is officially bringing the story to a conclusion, albeit in a drastically different world than the one it was when it began. Superheroes have absolutely flooded the market in the last 10 years, and it’s both great that Glass is coming out at the genre’s peak, and sad that it took this long. Regardless, it looks like a really cool and intense showdown between the three super-powered beings we’ve come to know, all while wearing its love of comic books proudly on its sleeves. And its use of color looks genius.

#7: “Midsommar” (Opens August 9th)

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It’s honestly kind of problematic for me to say that I’m “excited” for a new movie by the same guy who made Hereditary. I honestly couldn’t blame anyone who still hasn’t recovered from that feverish nightmare, but writer-director Ari Aster already has another film coming down the pipe. This time, it involves a violent pagan cult in Amsterdam. Described as an “apocalyptic breakup movie,” A24 has reportedly constructed a 15-building village to bring his twisted vision to life, so it’s definitely worth keeping tabs on for the end of the summer.

#6: “John Wick 3: Parabellum” (Opens May 17th)

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The set photo above is easily enough to have me already pumped to the max about the supposed trilogy capper for Lionsgate’s surprise action franchise. I’ve absolutely loved these movies not just for their incredibly well-choreographed and shot action scenes but also for the unique world that has been built. John Wick 3: Parabellum seemingly promises to further blossom that world as we getting to see not only more assassins, but also introduces a society of NINJAS. Need I say more?

#5: “Us” (Opens March 15th)

It’s safe to say that after the phenomenal success of Get Out, including an Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay, Jordan Peele knows exactly what he wants to do and how to do it. He’s lined up quite a few projects as a producer with power that it’s somewhat easy to forget he’s stepping behind the camera once more next year for a new horror movie. The trailer for Us looks incredibly enticing, as it sees him tackling more high-concept material with a larger budget this time around, along with some impressive casting choices. I’m curious to see what sociopolitical topic Peele will be satirizing this time, but based on the imagery shown thus far, he’s cooked up yet another original triumph.

#4: “Ad Astra” (Opens May 24th)

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Having seen We Own the Night, The Immigrant, and The Lost City of Z, I’m now convinced that James Gray is one of the most underrated filmmakers working in America. He has a certain classical touch that seems to permeate across multiple genres. I’m incredibly curious to see what he has cooked up for Ad Astra, an original sci-fi epic apparently inspired by the novel Heart of Darkness. It centers on a slightly autistic Army engineer who goes on a space voyage to find his father, who was last heard heading for Neptune about 25 years earlier. Not only does boast stars like Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones, but also Christopher Nolan’s recent muse Hoyte Van Hoytema is handling the cinematography.

#3: “Knives Out” (Opens November 27th)

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With nary a poster, trailer, first-look image, or even proper synopsis in sight, it says a lot that I’m putting Knives Out this high on the list. It has been described by several sources as writer-director Rian Johnson’s modern-day take on a classic Agatha Christie whodunit murder mystery. It’s far too rare that we can get a movie as simple as that these days. Not to mention, it has a stacked cast including Daniel Craig, Lakeith Stanfield, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, and even Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s really intriguing to see what Johnson has in store for a smaller-scale story like this after helming a huge blockbuster like The Last Jedi. Speaking of which…

#2: “Star Wars Episode IX” (Opens December 20th)

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It feels super lazy for me to include a Star Wars movie on a list like this, but I just can’t help it. As per usual, any and all details of what might be going on in this sequel trilogy capper are being kept under lock and key. We do know that newcomers include Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell have joined the cast, Billy Dee Williams is reprising his role as Lando Calrissian, and the plot will take place one year after The Last Jedi, perhaps one of the most divisive films of the decade. What makes it all the more enticing is that it is planned to be the final installment of the Skywalker Saga, which has spanned decades now. Of course, Disney has more Star Wars material planned to come down the pipe, but to see the story finally reaching a real conclusion is kind of like taking one last trip to your old hometown before saying goodbye.

#1: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Opens July 26th)

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You’re going to have to work extremely hard to make me not feel excited for a new movie written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. While he has gone through some pretty rough patches recently- severing ties with Harvey Weinstein, the Roman Polanski audio, Uma Thurman’s revelatory Kill Bill story -the auteur still has plans and has no intention of slowing them down. His 9th feature film- and supposedly his penultimate one, if what he says is true -legitimately sounds like a passion project he’s been working towards his whole career. It’s going to be set in Hollywood 1969 as a Western T.V. actor and his longtime stunt double struggle to make it in a changing film landscape, and also happens to involve the infamous Manson Murders. Featuring an absolutely sprawling ensemble cast packed with movie stars and said to be close in style to Pulp Fiction, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood sounds like an epic in the making.

Do you agree with my picks? What are your most anticipated films coming out later this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comment section, and as always, if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Following my Blog for similar content. Happy New Year, everybody!

“Outlaw King” Movie Review

I have some bad news for anyone who wants to watch this movie because they heard Chris Pine shows his full-frontal genitalia; it’s a very quick shot, practically blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. Most people will stay for the movie itself. This epic historical action drama premiered as the opening night feature for the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. After a mixed-to negative reception from critics and industry insiders, two weeks later the director announced he was shaving nearly 23 minutes off the picture. It was then released in a condensed format in select theaters and on the streaming service Netflix on November 9th, 2018, finished on a budget of $120 million. Directed and co-written by David Mackenzie, who also helmed the 2016 neo-Western Hell of High Water, the film was a passion project of his that took over five years to develop. Initially undertaken with extensive research and a couple of playwrights by his side, the completed screenplay was credited to as many as five different writers. He was apparently dismayed by the reaction at TIFF, but felt relieved when the distributor gave him a chance to fix his errors. Set in Scotland in 1304, Chris Pine stars as Robert the Bruce, a well-regarded man with a legitimate claim to his country’s throne. Following the near-crushing defeat of their Rebellion a few years prior led by William Wallace, the remaining Scottish nobility reluctantly swear fealty to King Edward I of England, played by Stephen Dillane, in order to keep their lands intact. Civil unrest and terrible circumstances force Robert to be crowned King of Scotland, triggering an all-out guerilla war against the much larger English army. I absolutely adored Mackenzie’s previous directorial effort, Hell or High Water, released back in 2016. Although I haven’t yet seen any of his other works, that one was such a smart, understated, and beautifully simple character piece with incredible performances out its three main leads. Hearing the director was developing a Medieval epic with one of those leads returning (Pine) for Netflix was enticing, especially after hearing about its emphasis on historical accuracy. Because while I really love Braveheart, it’s really hard for me to overlook the laughable inaccuracies shown throughout. And honestly, even after all of the critical hullabaloo that this film has been through, I found Outlaw King to be a surprisingly entertaining and engaging film. Now, I’m not saying that it’s an amazing movie by any means. While I’ve heard that the cut on Netflix is a major improvement over its TIFF screening, the pacing felt a bit uneven. Even though its runtime now only clocks in right at 2 hours and 1 minute, it feels like it drags in some of the more dramatic moments, as it’s clearly meant to be more of an action-oriented film. Plus, it still feels as though most of the supporting characters from either side of the conflict weren’t fleshed out enough to bring the stakes up higher. Chris Pine does a surprisingly good job as Robert the Bruce, a proud man left with an intensely unhappy country to tend to. His Scottish accent was a bit dodgy at first, but it seemed like he got more into it as it went along. Despite the brutal violence he and his followers commit, he still shows a tenderness towards his people and his family. Game of Thrones alum Stephen Dillane plays King Edward I, and he seems quite comfortable in the role. Channeling bits of Stannis Baratheon, he does a great job internalizing his frustration with trying to control Scotland consistently and is unafraid to kill hundreds to get to Robert. Despite this, he’s not completely heartless and would much rather negotiate peace, telling Robert early on, “You had the courage to stand up to me, and the wisdom to step down.” And while other actors do great such as Aaron Johnson as the unpredictable Black Douglas, Billy Howle as the deranged Prince of Wales, Tony Curran as a feisty loyalist to Robert, and more, the only one who really leaves an impression is Florence Pugh as Elizabeth de Burgh, the Bruce’s English wife. Her journey from meek observer to staunch supporting of Scottish independence is a tad jarring at first, but she never loses sight of her strength and compassion. She does her best making decisions based on SHE wants- not her powerful parents, not her outlaw husband, no one. I’m genuinely eager to see her in more films, and her slate this upcoming year will hopefully satisfy that palette. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Outlaw King make it pretty clear where that massive budget went to. Shot by Barry Ackroyd, a regular Ken Loach and Paul Greengrass collaborator, he surprisingly restrains his documentarian, cinéma vérité style in favor of something more controlled. The film opens with a stunning, 8 minute-long take that follows the Scottish nobility at their surrender to King Edward I with amazing fluidity. Even during the impressively staged action scenes, the camera remains steady and focused on its subjects. There are also, of course, obligatory swooping shots, which reveal the gorgeous landscape of Scotland. It goes nicely with the editing by Jake Roberts, who cuts each scene together without losing sight of what’s important. It doesn’t particularly feel choppy, despite the near-last-minute trimming of the film, and allows the audience to see the action, especially the glorious, muddy final battle, in full form. Bringing home the historical accuracy is the fantastic sets and the costume designs by Jane Petrie. With rough chainmail, dirty armor patches, and nary a kilt or drop of blue face paint in sight, it feels incredibly lived-in and realistic. The musical score is composed by Tony Doogan and Lucie Treacher, and it’s more or less what I expected to hear. There are a number of tracks filled with sorrowful strings and ghostly hymnal choirs, almost prophesizing the death toll this war will take on Scotland. While it’s great to listen to, it’s not very memorable. There is an original song called “Land O the Leal” by Grey Dogs that plays over the end credits. Featuring the fair voice of Kathryn Joseph, it’s a melancholy piano ballad lamenting on the bloodied homeland of Robert the Bruce. It’s a nice song, but hardly one worth listening to more than a few times. Well-meaning but often misguided in its vision, Outlaw King is a flawed epic celebrating both spectacle and a truly noble man. Maybe I’m a bit fickle and old, but I’d be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t entertained throughout this movie. David Mackenzie gets to show off his Scottish pride with great commitment while Chris Pine plays a classical Medieval hero and Florence Pugh emerges as a talent to watch. Hopefully, it will find a new appreciation and audience, in spite of what happened behind the scenes.

 

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” Movie Review

Alright, so I had originally planned on reviewing this film last year as part of Red Dead Redemption 2‘s release. However, since that video game had been delayed by virtually a whole year, I postponed it. Now that it’s officially out on the shelves and as part of my New Year’s Resolution, now’s as good a time as any to review. This epic Spaghetti Western was originally released in Italy on December 23rd, 1966. It reached cinemas in the United States about a full year later, mere months after its two predecessors hit theaters there as well. While it managed to gross over $25 million at the box office against a $1.2 million budget, surprisingly, the film was initially received negatively by American critics, primarily for its exaggerated depiction of violence. Today, it is rightfully considered one of the great films of its decade and genre. Directed and co-written by Sergio Leone, the film was originally pitched by screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni, which received backing by the Hollywood studio United Artists. Its star initially was hesitant to return out of fear that a supporting player would steal the spotlight from him. Based on the timeline and events of the film, it’s actually a prequel to the previous two film, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Clint Eastwood returns for the 3rd time as The Man With No Name, nicknamed “Blondie,” a morally ambiguous gunslinger drifting through the New Mexican desert. In 1862, at the height of the American Civil War, he and two other rogues- bandit Tuco and mercenary Angel Eyes -learn of a cache containing $200,000 of Confederate gold. Each man, some having a little more knowledge than others, set off to find it, all while trying to avoid the ongoing carnage from the Union and Confederacy. If you guys read any of my reviews from spring of last year, you might have noticed that I’m a pretty big fan of Western movies. While I had only seen one other Spaghetti Western at that point, Once Upon a Time in the West also directed by Sergio Leone, watching (and reviewing) them had made me find a new appreciation for the genre in certain areas. I got the chance to watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for the first time a few years ago, but it was very late at night. After watching the first two in the Man With No Name Trilogy last year, I decided to revisit it and see if it was as brilliant as I thought it was. Spoiler alert: it completely succeeded my expectations. It’s a bit unfair, though, because after watching The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, it becomes incredibly hard to watch or enjoy other Western movies. The genre used to be a hotbed for Hollywood for about 30 to 40 years, mostly ones that were starring John Wayne or Yul Brenner. While the vast majority of them played a straight story of good riders and bad, cowboys and Indians, there emerged a huge subgenre in Italy that was low-budget but highly profitable. Leone was one of those leaders, crafting a morality play that satirizes the absurdity of war and the lengths some men go to just for a cache of gold. The main star would later address this Frontier issue in his own film Unforgiven, this is simply on a more epic scale. Speaking of its star, this film launched Clint Eastwood’s huge career for a good reason. While he doesn’t speak much and is almost always scowling, his is the type of cool masculinity that illustrates why you should never cross them. He also displays some great sarcastic wit, saying “I’ve never seen so many men wasted so badly” after witnessing a bloody Civil War battle. Lee Van Cleef is also excellent as Angel Eyes, the “bad” gunslinger of the trio, playing a cold-hearted mercenary willing to kill innocent people to get the job done. His stoic demeanor and sociopathic behavior towards others demonstrates a violent ruthlessness on the level of Anton Chigurh or The Terminator. Finally, there’s Eli Wallach as Tuco, the more comical and irresponsible of the bunch. His delivery of some deadpan lines provides a great and unexpected sense of humor as he virtually bumbles from point to point in the desert. In a way, it’s more of Tuco’s journey with the amount of focus the story puts on him. Meanwhile, with the technical aspects, we get to revel in a truly wonderous motion picture with some revolutionary techniques. Tonino Delli Colli’s cinematography is extremely precise in how it can really draw out a violent confrontation between characters. Along with some gorgeous wide shots of the Italian and Spanish plateaus, there are an abundance of close ups on the subjects. It uses these shots to build the anticipation of the conflict, moving between extreme close ups of faces and sweeping longs to highlight the space between the characters. Thanks to the immaculate editing of Nino Baragli and Eugenio Alabiso, the flow between these shots is perfect. Whether it’s like a bird’s eye view of a massive Civil War set piece or a more intimate shootout between outlaws, we’re always present where the violence occurs. Ennio Morricone may have finally won the Oscar for The Hateful Eight a couple years ago, but he deserve more recognition for his iconic film score in this film. Utilizing a wide arrangement of different instruments, we truly get to feel the scope and scale of this story. Some of the characters have more specific leitmotifs, such as wood flutes, whistling or yodeling. But other pieces make brilliant use of percussion, an actual coyote howl, and trumpet solos to create gun-like sound effects. Sure, the main theme is one that everyone knows, and plays over the memorable opening credit sequence. Yet it’s because of tracks like “The Ecstasy of Gold” and “The Trio” that hep truly mark its place in history. All of these elements come together for the immortal final showdown, a Mexican standoff between the three titular gunslingers. Without any dialogue spoken at all, a beautiful score, and fantastic camerawork, it keeps me on the edge of my seat each time I watch it. If ever there were a moment in cinema that defined why I loved movies, that scene would certainly be up near the top. While its deliberately slow pace and lack of verbal exposition may make it seem like a chore to some, to cinephiles, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a stunningly beautiful and captivating Western defiant to age. You literally don’t need to have seen either A Fistful of Dollars or For a Few Dollars More in order to watch this classic. It defined a genre, it defined an era, and it defined the career one of the biggest movie stars ever to appear on the silver screen.

“The Godfather Part II” Movie Review

Ladies and gentlemen, I now present to you the first great franchise of Hollywood. Well, at least it was for a little while, but that’s besides the point. This epic crime drama was released during Christmas time of 1974, a full two years after the original. Although it ultimately made less than its predecessor, with a box office intake of around $55 million against a budget of $13 million, it received virtually the same praise as last time. In fact, many critics consider it to be superior to the original, although others took a little while to come to their senses. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it won 6 and became the first sequel to win Best Picture, a feat only matched in 2003 by Return of the King. Once again written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the story stemmed from his interest in the dichotomy in the two central arcs. A number of actors from the first film, such as Marlon Brando and Richard Castellano, chose not to return despite their parts being written. It took over half a year for filming to complete, and only 6 months after that to prepare in time for a holiday release for Paramount. This time around, it’s both a prequel AND a sequel. The first story takes place in 1958, and follows Michael Corleone who has assumed the role of family Don. As he attempts to expand his family business into major venues, an attempt on his life leaves him weary of even his closest associates. In the other one, we see his father Vito in his young years emigrate to the U.S. during the early 20th century. And we watch as his empire gradually grows in New York City as Michael’s begins to fall apart. As anyone who’s read my blog before should know, I absolutely adore the first Godfather movie. In spite of all the difficulties Coppola had making that film, I genuinely don’t have any problems with it in terms of either narrative, technicality, or acting. For the longest time, I had been somewhat scared to watch the sequel, as I felt there wasn’t any possible way it could live up to the original. In fact, I only finally watched The Godfather Part II for the first time very early this year. And while I’m not quite sure if it surpasses the original, it is absolutely a worthy follow-up deserving of the exact same gushing. It’s very curious to watch the dual yet somewhat opposite storylines play out. As young Vito’s list of allies and associates grows, Michael’s gradually wanes in the face of paranoia. How both of these men come about it is shown in a very slow, deliberate, but engaging manner. Despite the epic runtime of 3 hours and 22 minutes, including a brief intermission, not a single moment felt wasted developing their stories. In fact, I’d argue that a minute shorter would diminish its power and significance. The movie is less a continuous crime saga and more a melancholy parable on the consequences American Dream, as Vito emigrated to the United States and built everything he had from the ground up. It’s at turns inspiring, heartbreaking, and shocking. Returning to his most iconic role, Al Pacino is even better than last time as Michael. Through subtle gestures and some occasional outbursts, this man becomes increasingly less sympathetic as the film goes on, but you still can’t help but watch. This time around Fred Cazale and Diane Keaton are given more room and time to shine as his brother Fredo and wife Kay, respectively. Each one has a tragic element that they expertly add to their character, partly due to their mutual fear of who Michael has become. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro shines in his Oscar-winning breakout role as a young Vito Corleone. A role spoken almost entirely in the Italian language, he shows why he is a man not to mess with as he kills people from rival gangs to solidify his power as the mafia Don. But he still is able to show genuine care, looking after his wife and infant sons and giving back to less fortunate members of his community. Once again, The Godfather Part II is also a brilliant piece of technicality that was revolutionary for the time and still impressive today. Gordon Willis returns as cinematographer and gives a more muted look to the film. It was the last Hollywood picture to be made using the dye imbibition process with Technicolor until the 1990’s, and makes the most out of its set pieces. From the Dominican Republic to Sicily to a Senate committee, the production designers Angelo Graham, John Dapper, and Dean Tavoularis crafted many memorable locations across the epic story. Each one is edited by Peter Zinner, Barry Malkin, and Richard Marks with ease, moving between each timeline with cross dissolves or some hard cuts. And yet, it still works effortlessly. Nino Rota writes the original film score for the second go-around, this time with a little help from the director’s late father Carmine Coppola. While the primary theme is kept mostly intact, there is some new music worth listening to as well. There are a handful of more lighthearted tunes for Little Italy scenes, consisting of bouncy percussion and accordions. What’s particularly memorable is the song that plays when Vito first sees the Statue of Liberty, a haunting and beautiful piece that illustrates his newfound freedom. Starting with a solemn trumpet solo before blowing out with strings and woodwind trills, it works as well as any piece of film score I’ve ever listened to. It’s truly a soundtrack for New York City. Even after this rewatch, I do need a bit of time to decide if I like this film more than the original, like many cinephiles proclaim. It definitely feels more free of the usual constraints faced by sequels, as the story is never beholden to the events of the original film. In that, it’s just as strong a standalone feature as it is a continuation of the story Mario Puzo had originally envisioned. The Godfather Part II is a brilliant Shakespearean family tragedy clothed as an operatic gangster saga. Just as with last time, there is virtually nothing wrong with this movie in any department and only gets better with age. Epic but not overlong, dark but not cold. The real question: What the hell happened to Frances Ford Coppola? That man was on a roll. But hey, at least we have this duology, (Yes, you read that correctly) The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now, and frankly that’s all I need from him.

 

“The Godfather” Movie Review

I know I’m pretty far behind on my New Year’s resolution plan, but so help me God I fully intend to fulfill it. And I figured this would be a great place to go next. This epic crime drama from director Frances Ford Coppola was released worldwide on March 24th, 1972, when it earned roughly $280 million broke numerous box office records around the globe. It was also released- in spite of industry skepticism -to universally positive reviews and numerous accolades. It has since been studied and revered as one of the greatest films of all time by cinephiles, academics, and many others. Interestingly, it also received praise from real-life gangsters for its extreme realism. Based on the sprawling novel of the same name by Mario Puzo, Paramount Pictures acquired the rights for the film right before it became popular, although their first several choices for director passed up. Coppola got in constant conflict over casting decisions, specifically his insistence that all of the main characters be played by real Italian or Sicilian-American actors and thespians. The studio’s faith in the project was reportedly so shaky that they had another director, Elia Kazan, on standby just in case things fell through. Beginning in post-war 1945, the story focuses on the Corleones, a tightly-knit but dysfunctional Sicilian-American crime family in New York City. Following the eventful wedding of his daughter, the powerful Don and patriarch of the family, Vito Corleone, is attacked by rival gang members, and both his right-hand man and two eldest sons are seemingly left humiliated. All of a sudden the youngest son Michael, an intelligent war hero who initially wants nothing to do with the family business, is forced to do dirty. While he seems intent on legitimizing his family’s reputation, we witness over 10 years as he plunges head first into the world of crime, corruption, and power. It’s weird having to write a review for a movie that virtually every other cinephile on the planet has already written about in one way or another. Especially when that film is as beloved of a classic as The Godfather, but such seems to be the pattern of my New Year’s Resolution. No, I have definitely seen the film a few times prior to this review, but I’d say on this one I was a little more enlightened. I already knew that Frances Ford Coppola had made a true masterpiece, but I had almost always underestimated its brilliance. This is quite possibly the best film of its decade and one of the all-time greats. What I find most fascinating of all is how incredibly neutral the film is on organized crime culture as a whole. Previously, a lot of films would often portray gangsters as these over-the-top bad guys with no remorse as they’d gun down civilians and cops with Tommy guns. But here, the filmmakers decide to give us an inside look at the mafia; they’re well-knit, highly resourceful, and almost always put family before anything else, including business. We come to really care about the Corleones as human beings, especially when they’re under attack from their rivals. But they also don’t skimp on the unglamorous parts of their position; quite a few people die, either directly by a member’s hand or at their behest. It neither glorifies nor condemns the lives of gangsters, but rather shows it as it is, in a nearly unsentimental fashion. I can’t thank Coppola enough for how hard he fought for there to be real Italian and Sicilian actors in the roles, because it’s so hard to imagine anyone else playing these characters. Where to begin? There’s Marlon Brando’s immortal performance as the Don Vito, which won him an Oscar. (And resulted in one of the weirdest acceptance speeches in history) Al Pacino proved to everyone his worth as a great actor playing Michael, a mostly quiet, internalized role. John Cazale, James Caan, and Talia Shire each revel in their roles as Michael’s siblings, each with their issues to work out. Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen may be somewhat out of place as an Irish man in a Sicilian home, but he’s highly intelligent, dealing out one particularly gruesome job to ensure the future of his Don’s godson. No one in this iconic cast is bad in the slightest, everyone feels so natural in their roles. It’s also easy to see why The Godfather was an important film from the technical aspects alone. With then-new cinematographer Gordon Willis behind the camera, we get to see how patient the director is to reveal more of the world. There are many instances where the camera lingers on a subject as we anxiously await what might happen. The film opens with a still shot on a man begging for the Don’s help and it cleverly pulls out to reveal Vito. Thanks to the clever editing by William Reynolds and Peter Zinner, the contemporary New Hollywood techniques are matched with some of the Golden Ages sensibilities- a feat that is hard to achieve. Many scenes are closed or transitioned with cross-dissolve. Combined with the exquisite production design, we’re given a New York that feels authentic and lived-in. Frequent Federico Fellini collaborator Nino Rota composes the instrumental film score, which is one of the most iconic of the 20th century. The main theme “Speak Softly, Love” may have been reworked from a previous work of his, but it’s no less fitting for this one. It uses mellow instruments such as Oboes and strings to convey a certain feeling of Romanticism that just doesn’t seem allowed to exist in this world. It really becomes noticeable during the beginning and ending credits, establishing a strong tone and atmosphere. Other tracks create a feeling of ambiance and sadness that often feels unwelcome in the gangster genre. It’s also a little frustrating that Frances Ford Coppola made this film this early in his career, as he could never really reach these same heights again. While Apocalypse Now and The Godfather Part II were undoubtedly incredible films, for to come swinging out the gate with a movie this amazing is a rare feat. In that, it’s more understandable why his career went downhill after this. The Godfather marries an impeccable cast with a unique story, and is without a doubt a real cinematic classic. If, by some happenstance, you claim to be a cinephile and have yet to watch this film, please rectify that situation as soon as possible. It’s one of the rare “classics” that is 100% worth its immortality in the annals of history.

 

“Lawrence of Arabia” Movie Review

The day that the casual viewer is able to make it all the way through Lawrence of Arabia with little to no guidance is the day that they truly fall in love with this medium. That’s happened to me, and I sincerely hope that that is what happens with other future cinephiles like you. This epic historical drama was first released around the world on December 10th, 1962 by Columbia Pictures. Grossing over $70 million at the box office against a budget of $15 million, it also won massive critical praise and scored multiple award nominations. It ultimately went to win 7 out 10 total nominations from the Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, has been included in several “Best of all time” lists, and- easily most important of all -has been proclaimed by Steven Spielberg as his favorite film of all time. It’s also been rereleased in theaters multiple times in different formats, both digital and celluloid. Directed by David Lean, the long in-development production on the true story marks the second collaboration between him and producer Sam Spiegel, who had worked together on  the war film Bridge on the River Kwai. It took many years to convince the titular figure’s surviving father to sell the rights of several writings collected. Mainly taking inspiration from his work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, screenwriters Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson traded several drafts, which tried to juggle the study of the main character as well as the more political aspects of the events., but were forced to start filming without a complete screenplay. Based mostly on the true story, Peter O’Toole stars as T.E. Lawrence, a highly educated British Army lieutenant who has the personality of a misfit. During World War I, he is sent to the Arab Peninsula, where Prince Faisal and the gathered Arab tribes are in need of support for their uprising against the Ottoman Empire. To the surprise of pretty much everyone around him, he becomes an important figure for the War to End All Wars in this sector of the world. His accomplishments and exploits turn him into a messianic hero for the cause, but also must contend with the emotional and psychological toll the journey brings on him. It feels cliché to say this, but I’d say that it’s a pretty safe bet that every cinephile out there has at least one film that ignited their passionate love for movies. Some might be seen in the theater, others are probably found on home media. Either way, it must have awoken something deep inside the viewer, an unquenchable thirst for answers on how a motion picture like this could be so amazing. For me, Lawrence of Arabia is that type of movie. For it not only opened my eyes to things once thought impossible on the film canvas, but proves to be a true gem in a seemingly forgotten time of ambitious filmmaking. I can still vividly remember the first time I watched it. It was the first weekend after 7th grade started, my mother suggested we go see it together. It was showing at the Paramount, an old movie theater in the downtown Austin area,  screened in 70 mm with an intermission. It is one of the most memorable viewing experiences I’ve ever had, and the moment that I wanted to fall in love with cinema. What strikes me most is how well-balanced everything is, whether it’s intimate moments with the big or broad themes with character-centric ones. David Lean never gets enough credit, in my opinion. In his first major acting role, Peter O’Toole gives a stunning performance as Lawrence himself. Whilst it exaggerates certain aspects of his character and legacy, the subtlety in his gradual spiral. This is best illustrated in two moments when Lawrence looks at himself in the reflection of a dagger, and the circumstances of both. He also employs a wry sense of humor, as the first thing he tells a soldier after trekking through the desert is, “We want two, large glasses of lemonade.” Opposite him is Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali, the protagonist’s primary Arab guide in the adventure. Far more pragmatic and stern than Lawrence, it’s clear how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the Arab cause. Like O’Toole, he deserved to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, despite not winning. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Lawrence of Arabia are almost entirely what caused me to seriously examine filmmaking. Freddie Young’s astonishing cinematography brings the Arabian desert to glorious, beautiful life. Gorgeous wides of the vast landscape paint the scope of the story on 70 mm Super Panavision film. With static push-ins and steady shots, this film as some of the most breathtaking frames my eyes have ever laid eyes on. In fact, in many ways, it eclipses the craftwork of other crew members. Which is not at all to bash Phyllis Dalton’s fantastic costumes or the amazing production design of Johns Stoll and Box. Equally impressive is the editing by Anne V. Coates, which is extremely precise and engaging. The now-famous transition from a match flame to sunrise in the desert is so unexpectedly perfect in its simplicity and effectiveness. In many ways, that one transition captures the whole scale and scope of the film, and it’s so simple. Maurice Jarre composes and conducts the musical score, which has become so iconic over the years that it defines multiple film scores’ templates. The main theme, which is used as the backbone for most of the tracks is just like the film itself: huge, bolstering, jaw-dropping, and beautiful. It primarily utilizes a series of elaborate strings to eschew the main melody several times, while also using a number of other great instruments. These include bouncing percussion such as xylophone, timpani, and auxiliary equipment to more harsh brass trumpets. There are even brief bits of marching military snare drums and trills on high-pitched flutes. The theme builds and then drops again constantly, almost like a Shephard’s Tone built specifically for the desert. It’s grand and flamboyant, much like the titular protagonist. And what an accomplishment it should be to all those who can withstand the mammoth task of finishing it all in one sitting. Clocking in at 3 hours and 42 minutes, it may sound like an intimidating commitment of time. But trust me when I say that that running time actually flies by, for it not only engrosses you in the adventure but makes keeps you enthralled by way of all of the stated qualities above. Lawrence of Arabia is an incredible and sweeping epic destined to inspire for eternity. This is the kind of movie that, as you’re watching, feels like the only movie that there was, is, or ever should be. Films like Lawrence of Arabia remind me why I love cinema in the first place, and makes me fall head over heels for the medium every time I see it. And someday, if I ever get to fulfill my dream of becoming a filmmaker, this David Lean masterpiece is the one I’ll watch right before production.

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