Quick Takes – 04.01.12

The Godfather: Part III

Grade: A- | 1st Viewing

So-called Threequels get kind of a bad rap. Oftentimes, it is either because the filmmakers of the first two films get totally burned out (Spider Man 3), lose sight of what made the series’ mythology so legendary (Return of the Ewoks), or the express purpose for the film’s existence can be measured in simple dollars and cents (Transformers 3).

This is decidedly NOT the case for the concluding installment of Francis Coppola’s iconic crime saga, which is inarguably the trilogy’s best film. Gone are many of the elements that bogged down the first two flicks – from Part I’s ham-fisted, nuance-free Marlon Brando performance to the nonlinear clumsiness of Part II, as it maladroitly shifts from one time period to another for no meaningful reason.

Part III, however, is a master-class of execution and good intentions, bringing much-needed closure to beloved characters in sore need of it. There are plenty of great new characters who join the Corleone clan for their misadventures, like Vincent (Andy Garcia who actually improves upon James Caan’s performance as Sonny) and Donal Donnelly as a corrupt and incompetent archbishop who leads us seamlessly through the movie’s brilliant Vatican conspiracy sub-plot.

Most underappreciated, of course, would have to be Coppola’s daughter Sophia as Mary, the ever-loyal – and none too bright – façade to the Corleone family’s “legitimate” dealings. Her naïveté comes through beautifully, and her commitment to the role is convincing enough to make even a fairly creepy cousins-in-love plot seem innocent and tragic. Sophia abandoned acting to follow her father’s footsteps as a writer-director. Big mistake.

Breathless

Grade: D+ | 1st Viewing

Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut claimed to have been inspired by the legendary American auteurs like Hitchcock and Hawks, but you wouldn’t know it from their listless 1960 effort (Godard directed and co-wrote with Truffaut). This “film” pays almost no regard to plot, character identification, coherence of editing, or any of the classic tenants by which we hold all cinema to standard.

Basically, all we do is follow a Bogart-obsessed hoodlum (Jean-Paul Belmondo) as he steals cars, murders police officers and fools around with a cheap American tart who in the end only serves to betray him for the most asinine of reasons. What’s the point of this movie? What’s it about? Do we truly care?

Do yourself a favor and rent the brilliant 1983 version starring Richard Gere instead; it’s one of the sole instances of a remake improving upon the original. Leave the French version to the pretentious film-school sheep who fail to understand the purpose of any and every film is, first and foremost, to entertain.

Brokeback Mountain

Grade: C | 2nd Viewing

Folks still hem and haw over this one losing the Best Picture Oscar to the infinitely superior (and more thematically deft) Paul Haggis film Crash. But the truth is that this one deserved to lose, and frankly, deserves to be forgotten. Sure, the movie looks beautiful, the performances are nice, and watching a Ledger/Gyllenhaal make-out session is empirically hot, but how can I possibly be expected to identify with characters whose entire romance is predicated on their infidelity to their spouses? Sure, you could argue that the movie is all about a society pressuring them to live their lives a very specific way, and that love between two gay cowboys is incongruous to that specific way of life. But it’s not like anybody was actually forcing them to marry those poor women. This movie enters a moral gray-zone that was completely unnecessary. The way I see it, Jack and Ennis should ether have nut up or shut up, and deserve no sympathy for their selfish actions.

Crash, which achieved the impossible by actually managing to SOLVE racism, was the true Best Picture of 2005. Make no mistake.

Citizen Kane

Grade: C+ | 3rd Viewing

Yeah, Yeah, yeah. The movie was revolutionary and it admittedly brought techniques to the medium that still feel fresh by today’s standards. But what holds me back from declaring this “The Greatest Move of All Time” is its ending. Specifically, I refer to the lack of resolution surrounding the meaning behind Charles Foster Kane’s dying words. Orson Welles stages the big reveal like a mind-blowing epiphany, but the truth is it reveals absolutely nothing. I feel cheated every time I am forced to watch Citizen Kane, because for all the set-up, there exists absolutely no payoff in the script. The 1941 film may be a ground-breaking cinematographic achievement, but in terms of storytelling, Welles proved that the medium still had a great deal to learn.

Watch Oliver Stone’s Wall Street if you want to see a quintessentially American story about ambition and loss done right.

Cars

Grade: A | 5th+ Viewing

Pixar’s best? I think so. So often the animation studio gets credit for pushing the envelope in terms of what animation is capable of achieving, and movies like WALL-E and The Incredibles are lauded as singular works that are vital to movie-lovers young and old. But what sets John Lasseter’s flick ahead of the pack is his refusal to pander to viewers’ intellectual sensibilities. Cars (and by extension, its sequel) gives Pixar’s whole “artistic imperative” schtick a rest, to merciful and delightful results.

Emulating the ingenious moviemaking model that works so well for Dreamworks Animation Studios, Lasseter’s film feels meticulously engineered – no doubt aided by Disney’s team of marketers and merchandisers – to appeal as broadly to the masses as possible, which really ought to be the goal of every film. Sure, we lose out on some of the more auteur-driven idiosyncrasies seen in works helmed by Brad Bird or Pete Docter, but that is compensated for by Lasseter’s subversive – even brave – willingness to embrace the low-brow, the scatalogical and the simplistic. Pixar has proven it can do practically anything, and with Cars it proved it can do dumb entertainment as well.

The gravy, of course, is the magnetic voice performance of Larry the Cable Guy, who brings as much incisive, good-natured wit to his Mater character as Ellen DeGeneres brought to Finding Nemo or Edward Asner in Up.

What movies did you see this weekend?

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  • Nicely done. You know, for a minute there I actually thought this was a serious post. Then I remembered what day it was. (Although I must say, I actually mostly agree with your comments about “Breathless”. I am not a fan of that movie.)

    As for me…

    “Melancholia” (A): A stunningly impressive achievement. The visuals are incredible (as is the level of thematic depth), and Dunst and Gainsbourg are both fantastic. Review will be posted tomorrow on my blog, for anyone who’s interested.

    “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (A): Was even more impressed with this film, though. Elizabeth Olsen’s performance is as good as any I’ve seen recently, and the filmmaking and writing (which brilliantly and hauntingly explores Elizabeth’s constantly shifting mental state) masterful.

    • Martha Marcy was my #11 movie of the year. Just missed my top ten. I am actually really looking forward to seeing it again with my sig-O, since I went to a screening and had nobody with me to discuss it afterward.

      And with regard to ‘Breathless’ — We’ll just have to agree we’re not in accord.

  • Oh, excuse me… Martha’s mental state, not Elizabeth’s.

  • Jose

    I saw Martha Marcy May Marlene, and I was actually unimpressed.

    While I did like Olsen’s performance and the filmmaking (particularly the editing), I was quite bored with the movie, to the point of annoyance.

    Something that really bothered me about the movie was Martha’s sister and her husband, they came across as idiots who didn’t notice that Martha was clearly in need of some serious help sooner than they got it but instead treated her like a dumb child that, to me at least, kept degrading her and made the situation worse.

    B+ for Olsen’s performance
    C for everything else.

    Horrible Bosses, which was pretty bad.
    D

    X:Men First Class.

    I remember liking the movie when it first came out, watching it now though, makes me see a lot of stuff they did wrong. They really rushed Charles’ and Erik’s friendship, we didn’t see that friendship that we saw in the animated series or even the original trilogy, this felt more like a summer camp fling.

    And they especially rushed Erik turning into a villain, which I think would’ve been better if they saved that for the end of the sequel but in here it makes no sense to quickly change that fast.
    And wow did he look awful in the suit.

    But aside from that, there’s more fault to the movie, like how Shaw’s plan to let mutants take over the world is incredibly stupid.
    D

    • Jose

      Oh , and I saw The Incredibles, for the 50th time.

      I still think its one of the best superhero movies ever made, and I’m still impatiently waiting on that sequel.

    • I really hated ‘Horrible Bosses’ too, Jose, and I agree with you on almost every point with ‘X-Men: First Class.’ That may have been the most overrated movie of last summer.

      • Jose

        For me, that honor goes to Bridesmaids and Harry Poter.

  • I’m really disappointed that the comments are not as clever as Justin’s post. Can’t we play make believe for just one day!?

  • Dylan Cuellar

    Holy crap, I thought he waas serious. I’m sorry but I don’t get sarcasm very well. I didn’t realize this was an April Fools day prank.

  • Wish i could post my Quick Takes but i am not watching any movies these days because i am still caught up in the (post awards season hangover) :D

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