AFI #32: The Godfather Part II

It’s pretty much impossible to review The Godfather Part II out of context from The Godfather because the stories are so intertwined it’s truly one long film. In fact, as most fans know the films were in fact combined in a later release that told the story chronologically, and some believe this is in fact the best way to view The Godfather story. I won’t go that far, but again I think the stories are so connected it’s not fair to review one without discussing the other.

That being said, I’ll try. I will reserve final judgment about which film I think is better for after I view The Godfather again as part of this quest, but it should be noted that part two comes in at #32 on this list and the original is #2. Having seen both several times I find it hard to disagree, and in fact watching The Godfather Part II again yesterday for this review I was struck by how weird it feels as a standalone film. Part two serves two purposes really — one is to introduce how Vito Corleone got his start in the family business and the other is to witness how Michael Corleone completes his father’s work and ends up bringing the family to the point of both ultimate power and internal demise at once. Michael foreshadows this midway through the film when he asks his mother if it’s possible to help the family while at the same time losing it. Clearly it is.

For me the parts of the film about Michael show how power creates paranoia. Michael becomes so obsessed with trying to figure out who tried to kill him that he eventually blames all of his so-called enemies and brings them all down. At the same time, he brings down his family and at the end he’s left with ultimate power but he’s all alone. This is in contrast to Vito’s quest for power, which we learn from the film comes as a result of circumstances. Vito is witness to the murder of his father, his brother and his mother. By heading off to America he rescues himself from the same fate, but ultimately his circumstances in New York also lead him to crime. I think it’s clear Vito had an innate ability within him to be a criminal, but it isn’t until he loses his job and becomes desperate to provide for his family does he let the criminal out. And we know from part one of the film that Vito is a brutal criminal, but his motivation is always the betterment of the family. Michael did not learn this lesson from his father.

Is The Godfather Part II a great film? I’m not so sure. It’s disjointed and the past vs present elements get confusing. Also, not a whole lot really happens in part two other than Michael wiping out the last of his enemies. The great lines that so many of us men quote are mostly from part one, though there are a few gems in part two (I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!). But for me the film is much ado about nothing. Again, it’s all part of a great story, but on its own part two doesn’t have as much to offer as part one.

Of course, the Academy didn’t see it that way. It doled out six Oscars including Best Picture (it beat Chinatown, which I think is a better film and if AFI counts for anything it does as well). Robert DeNiro won for Best Actor and Al Pacino, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg and Michael Gazzo were nominated for acting. Frances Ford Coppola won best director and the film also won Oscars for art direction, music and writing.

The Godfather Part II is a great film, no doubt. But really it’s only great when considered in context of the Godfather saga.

Next Up: The Maltese Falcon

How to Feel Alive

For obvious reasons I have been thinking a lot about life these days, and this week I had two totally unrelated experiences I’d like to share. Just observations…no epiphanies here.

On Tuesday morning I was stuck in traffic on I-10 and as I’m sitting there listening to music and enjoying the morning the car next to me got slammed into by the car behind it. It was not a soft bump…the car that did the plowing into was smashed pretty good. The guy in the car that got hit was rightfully pissed, but a couple of things came to mind as I sped off (everyone was fine by the way). Mainly I thought how fucking random life is. I was inches away from getting my new car rear-ended, but it happened to the guy next to me instead. At the same time, the accident happened right in front of a highway patrolman who was off to the side of the diamond lane waiting to ticket solo drivers. The guy who got hit simply rolled down his window and called to the cop and within minutes I’m sure they were safely off to the shoulder. Crazy how things like that happen.

Last night on the flight home from San Francisco I was reading Greg Graffin’s book Anarchy Evolution. For those of you who don’t know who Greg is, he’s the lead singer of a punk band called Bad Religion and he also happens to have a PhD from Cornell and teaches evolutionary biology at UCLA when he’s not touring. The connection to the car wreck is that one of the chapters I read on the plane last night was about how natural selection alone is not the only thing that influences evolution — there’s a crap load of plain old luck involved. Luck like not getting hit by that car. Luck like surviving a heart attack (or “luck” in even having a heart attack). I wouldn’t call it fate, and I definitely don’t believe it’s part of some grand design…you can only make so many choices yet some things are left to chance. I couldn’t have planned for my heart attack any more than the guy in the car couldn’t have planned to get rear ended. As Mike Tyson once famously said about his opponents in the ring — everyone has a plan until they get hit.

I think the point for me in all of this is to not over-think things. One day you’re driving down the freeway minding your own business and some idiot smashes into you. One day a co-worker quits and you get a promotion. One day you run into an old friend on the city streets of a town you’re visiting. One day you have a heart attack. You never know what life has in store.

The other thing that is floating around in my brain this morning is how alive I felt in San Francisco this week. Yesterday morning I was sitting in Starbucks having a bowl of oatmeal and a latte and I sat there quietly watching all of the people coming and going. Everyone was in a rush and zipping around on their way to work…it was surreal to sit there calmly observing. A little later I was walking down Market Street on the way to the office finishing my latte and I was in no real rush to get to the office. But the street was buzzing with energy. People running to catch buses, folks climbing up the stairs from the BART station, people walking briskly to work in all directions. It was a beautiful morning and I just took it all in and I felt totally alive. It was like I was part of some larger organism called The City and we were all connected. It must be amazing to live in a big city like San Francisco and experience that every day. I wonder if people realize how much energy is all around them. I doubt it…but I highly recommend every so often simply soaking in everything that is going on around you — it’s life affirming! That being said, I like living in suburban Phoenix. But it’s sure fun to visit the big city once in a while to feel that rush of excitement.

AFI #69: Tootsie

One way to tell if some of the films on the AFI list hold up is if Connor enjoys them. A film that translates well across generations surely must be a worthy film. Given that, 1982’s  Tootsie definitely belongs on the AFI list.

Tootsie is a funny film that doesn’t rely on the silliness of Dustin Hoffman in drag to get laughs but rather provides its laughs through the brilliant writing of Larry Gelbart and others. Sure, Hoffman is not exactly an attractive woman, and there are a few moments of physical humor thrown in because it’s always funny when a man tries to walk in heels, but the dialogue makes this film so amazing. Here’s an example of my favorite rant by out-of-work actor Michael Dorsey:

Michael Dorsey: Are you saying that nobody in New York will work with me?
George Fields: No, no, that’s too limited… nobody in Hollywood wants to work with you either. I can’t even set you up for a commercial. You played a *tomato* for 30 seconds – they went a half a day over schedule because you wouldn’t sit down.
Michael Dorsey: Of course. It was illogical.
George Fields: YOU WERE A TOMATO. A tomato doesn’t have logic. A tomato can’t move.
Michael Dorsey: That’s what I said. So if he can’t move, how’s he gonna sit down, George? I was a stand-up tomato: a juicy, sexy, beefsteak tomato. Nobody does vegetables like me. I did an evening of vegetables off-Broadway. I did the best tomato, the best cucumber… I did an endive salad that knocked the critics on their ass.

A juicy, sexy beefsteak tomato! And some of the best lines are left to Michael’s playwright roommate Jeff, played deadpan by Bill Murray. Teri Garr is classic, and Charles Durning is great as Jessica Lange’s smitten dad. And Dabney Coleman is perfect as the chauvinistic soap director. Jessica Lange was just ok, but somehow she managed to get an Academy Award for best supporting actress. You gotta feel for Dustin Hoffman being nominated against Ben Kingsley for Gandhi — he never had a chance. Gandhi also rightfully beat Tootsie for best picture.

I can’t provide praise for Tootsie though without saying something about director Sydney Pollack, who not only directed the film but acted in it as well, stealing some scenes as agent George Fields. Pollack was a great director who along with Tootsie is well known for directing Absence of Malice, Out of Africa, The Way We Were, The Firm and many more. Pollack liked to act as well and over his career he had some memorable roles, none better than George Fields. He made some cameos in Entourage, The Sopranos, Michael Clayton, Husbands and Wives, and many more. The guy was a Renaissance man and we lost him too young.

Next Up: Unforgiven

AFI #77: All the President’s Men

I was 10 year’s old when All the President’s Men came out and I remember going to see it with my family at the Campus Drive-in on El Cajon Blvd. in San Diego. I know it may be hard to believe, but the film had a major impact on me even at that young age. I knew then I wanted to be a journalist. Over 30 years have gone by and I’ve probably seen the film a dozen times or so, and each time I am glued to the action as if I had no idea of the outcome. Watching it yesterday was no different — it is undoubtedly one of my all-time favorite movies. But as a bonus, this time Connor watched it with me and he loved it! How cool is that?

It seems to me that Watergate marked a critical turning point in American politics. I’m sure we knew politics wasn’t all pretty, but when the events of the break-in and cover up came to light in such a public way America lost its innocence about just how corrupt government can be. If you look back at the record, Nixon wasn’t such a bad president — he was just a bad person. In the nearly 40 years since Watergate we have come to expect that politics is a dirty game played by people who most likely don’t have our country’s best interests in mind. Reagan began to divide us along ideological terms, Bush continued his legacy, Clinton created  a mockery of the office with his sexual exploits, Bush Jr. used the office to advance his personal agendas and now a weak and vision-less Obama presides over a fully corrupt government that can’t even agree on what to disagree on. At least during Watergate Americans pretty much agreed on the fact that Nixon was a crook. But looking back the frat boy antics of Watergate seem like child’s play compared to going to war without cause, purposely dividing the nation along class and moral boundaries and bailing out special interests. Should we long for the days of Watergate?

All the President’s Men is wonderful because it’s a great detective film, with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. And of course it’s even more compelling because it is based on fact rather than fiction. It features great acting and powerful moments of realization. It also features some very cool directing by Alan Pakula, especially in the way he weaves in real footage. I love, for example, the scene where Woodward and Bernstein are working alone in the newsroom while the rest of the staff are gathered around the TVs watching Nixon being sworn in for a second term. The Nixon swearing-in is real footage which makes the scene feel even more real. Pakula does this several times during the film and it’s very unique. And of course the film is chock full of great performances by Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Warden, Hal Holbrook and more. Interestingly only Jason Robards, for his portrayal of Ben Bradlee,  won the Oscar. In fact, All the President’s Men didn’t win for Best Picture. It was nominated along with Rocky, Network, Taxi Driver and Bound for Glory. That’s a hell of a year for film — Rocky won by the way!

All the President’s Men made journalism seem important and romantic. It was a noble calling. I remember reading David Halbertam’s The Powers that Be in college and thinking being a journalist was one of the most important jobs in the country. How many of us feel that way today? Journalism itself has fallen victim to the times of division. We either watch Fox or MSNBC. We believe the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, but not both. Local news has become nothing more than the crime report and a vehicle for advertisements. The Internet has given us the ability to read more news than ever, but none of it has any teeth — the lie of “balance” has given way to articles with no heart and mind. The Fourth Estate has become just another tool for the corporatocracy.

Regardless of how you feel about journalism, All the President’s Men surely harkens back to a different time. It’s a great film and an important film. And just like then, today if you want to know who is in charge of things all you have to do is what Deep Throat said to Bob Woodward — follow the money!

Next Up: Forrest Gump

What to Blog About

I’ve spent the past four years blogging at Valley PR Blog, a blog I co-founded to help bring together the Phoenix area public relations community. VPRB was much more successful than I ever thought possible, and it helped me build a name for myself in the PR and social media world both locally and around the world. It was fun, but PR was never my passion.

These days I’m working for Apollo Group as a communications professional and that side of my life is fulfilled. But I still feel the need to write, and I’m most comfortable writing in the blog format. So recently I asked myself what would I like to blog about for which I have a passion? The answer was easy enough — I love movies, music and books. OK, maybe love isn’t a strong enough term. I live for movies, music and books. When I’m not working or hanging with friends and family I’m usually reading, watching movies and always…sometimes at the same time as the other things…listening to music. If you’re friends with me on Facebook you know I’m always posting about the songs I like, the films I’ve seen and the books I’ve read. It makes me happy to share my love for this kind of entertainment. That’s what this blog is about.

Through this blog I’ll be sharing my thoughts on movies, music and literature…and perhaps some other similar topics. I may provide a review, or perhaps just a quick mention of something I’d like to pass along. I’ll do my best to provide links to the things I blog about so you can get more information, and when I can I’ll embed a song or a clip as well. I hope you’ll offer your opinions too, since I get most of my best recommendations from my friends who also like movies, music and books. And of course, whether you agree or disagree with me, I hope you’ll feel free to tell me what’s on your mind.

Along with the launch of this blog, I’ve decided to attempt a silly blog challenge with inspiration from the film Julie & Julia. No, I’m not going to eat my way through Julia Childs’ recipes. Instead, I’m going to watch, in order, all of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies! I’m not giving myself a time limit, and my thoughts on those films will be interspersed throughout this blog, but I will try to get through all 100 beginning with Ben-Hur and ending with Citizen Cane between now and the end of the year. Interestingly enough, I have already seen 63 of the top 100…but most of them I haven’t seen in a while so it should be fun. And ironically, I’ve never seen Citizen Cane, which is considered by most aficionados to be the best film ever made. We shall see.

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