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.
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.
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.
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.
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.