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Monday, June 21, 2010

Jarret's Frank Film Forum: The Godfather(s)

June 21, 2010: I'm nearly through the three Godfather movies ... again ... and I'm alive (or awash) with lots of clever -- No, correct that! -- a handful of observations. (I don't want to promise anything I can't deliver.)

For starters, what I think most people fail to realize, or perhaps accept, is that the script itself is not that good. Well, certainly it has its moments, its clever lines, etc. And mind you, I love the films (certainly the first two). But I've watched that first movie 20 times at least, and for the life of me I still can't see any difference between Barzini and Tatalia, and I can't figure out what it is they do, or who double-crosses who, nor can I even pick them out from amongst the cast in the film. It's really weird, but so much drama seems to rest on it, and when Vito finally says, while driving in the car, that it was "Barzini all along," and the music dips dramatic, again and again I find myself befuddled by what it is that I'm supposed to care about.

That said, what really makes these movies, in my estimation, is the cinematography, which is brilliant and powerful, and I'll quickly add that the set designing (and costumes) are close behind. Cheers to Gordon Willis, who really demonstrates how important that art is to film, and credit to Coppola for being smart enough to work with him.

The acting, of course, is pretty good too, except I've come to have less and less respect for the craft of acting, because I think it's a lot easier to do it well than people realize, especially on film. There's a great quote from Richard Dreyfuss, which I love so much, I actually bothered to look it up and include here: He said, "I don't think film acting is necessarily a triumph of technique. Film stardom is a friendship that happens between an audience and a performer. It's like you meet someone and you click with that person for whatever reason." Brilliant, and refreshingly honest. (And Dreyfuss rules, of course!) Of course, we love all the principals in this cast, and that's that. I know I'm willing to forgive Brando for using cue cards, Duvall for being bald, etc.

But God, I'm being so drearily serious about this. I really thought this would be a great opportunity to rip into Godfather III and garner some great laughs at the expense of Sophia Coppola. (My God, that girl is unattractive, and I'm sorry to have to say it, but somebody needs to. And to watch her in love scenes with the dashing Andy Garcia is not far from the bizarre juxtaposed spectacle of seeing a handsome male guest star flirting with Miss Piggy on the Muppet Show.

I saw Godfather III only once before, and I was amazed at how awful it was. Much to my surprise, this time I'm enjoying it much more and even see some merit there (although not much, I'm afraid, for the better part of it is residual ... But see how much I've grown in my acceptance and tolerance.)

But the director's daughter aside -- and she's really not that bad an actor, if I'm to be fair -- the film has some moments that are such painful parodies of the first two movies, it's ridiculous. Clearly Francis and company have read too much historic material on the first two movies, and included a lot of embarrassing regurgitations, references and such. ("Never tell anyone what you're thinking," Michael tells Vinnie, paraphrasing (or should I say mis-paraphrasing his father from the first film, and just sounding stupid in the process). Oh Please Francis!

And Pacino, who had such a personality in the first two movies, dreadfully falls back on his later-life acting method (complete with the raspy Devil's Advocate delivery), and chews the scenery beyond all recognition when he has his diabetes-induced attack in the kitchen. I found myself laughing outloud in hysterics at this "dramatic" scene.

And what the hell's with Connie. My god, she looks like the winner of an Anne Rice lookalike contest. And how about Joe (The Simpsons' Fat Tony) Montagne, and his wooden, over-articulated play at Joey Zsaza (or is it Zahzah? ... or Zaa Zaa?) Oh Please Please!! (Duvall was no fool to miss #3.)

But at the end of the day, the package is so terrific -- nine hours of the family we love! Such fun and voyeuristic feasting. One only wishes they'd made it into a TV series when the cast was still young. Kudos to all of them. Yay Mario Puzo, you fat guinea hack! My people will be forever grateful to you! Ciao!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Political Notebook #1 (Why Do So Many Republicans Look Like Nazis?)

June 4, 2010: As many of you know -- well, I'd hope that all of you knew -- I've refrained from sharing my varied opinions on political matters. It's not that I don't have them, you have to understand, but I just feel that religion, sex and politics are too sensitive to explore in this vaguely impersonal medium. And while I like to write constantly about sex and religion, bashing both of course, heretofore my political observations have been suspiciously absent.

But a news article I saw on the GOP candidate for Connecticut's 4th District congressional seat -- "Dan" Debicella of Shelton -- prompted me to say something. Now please understand, I didn't really read the article, but I read enough of it to become thoroughly annoyed. (Three paragraphs, actually, and this is more newspaper reading than I usually do in a week!) Also, there was a picture of "Dan," and this alone was enough to prompt a whole essay speaking out against him. (Why do so many Republicans look like Nazis?)

The point is -- you see, I don't want to just make fun of his picture, because that would be too easy -- he describes himself as "being in the mold of President Ronald Reagan," according to the article. Now I came of age in the Reagan era, and through the 1980s I was a fervent student of American politics and government. Back then I devoured newspapers and news magazines, and could name you all the players in the Reagan administration and what their most detestable traits and crimes against humanity were. I also followed with shock and depression all the awful things that that administration orchestrated, the negative ripples of which are still felt to this day. And when the Iran-Contra scandal broke -- and isn't it AMAZING how many people have forgotten about that, or never even thought about George Bush's role in it -- I sat and watched with awe as this madman (Reagan) wasn't impeached for his crimes. (No, instead they named an airport after him, put him on a stamp, and continue to hail him as some great leader of white men.)

To me, Debicella's association is not much better than saying he's modeled his politics after Nixon's, or George Wallace's, and to see his dark-eyed kisser in the paper, his mouth agape in Republican wonder, it simply weirds me out. I thought the country had outgrown these kind of people. I thought we were on a road to enlightenment, where the public could not longer be fooled by vague, meaningless mottos lauding "less government," and I thought as such a supposedly educated nation, history would have given us the clarity to see what the Reagan administration was about, why it was evil, and why the Republican party truly is the party of greed, denial, short-sightedness and ... well, stupidity.

Now I'm not saying the Democrats don't have their faults. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Himes seems like a nice man -- he's had the opportunity to chat with me and appeared to really enjoy himself, which obviously says alot about him -- but who knows what ugly skeletons he keeps hidden in his closets. (I think we're all pretty sure that his former company, Goldman Sachs, is its own evil empire, and of course I'm always wary of so-called "nice" people, because they often either want to borrow money or saw you sit on something dirty, like gum, and are gaining pleasure at your unwitting expense.) I don't mean to infer that Himes is the type of candidate who'd actually put gum on your seat, but who really knows? Still, when it's a case of the lesser of two evils, how can you chose someone who looks (and perhaps even thinks) like a Nazi over someone who's nice and probably likes animals.

My point is that those who don't remember the past elected idiots are condemned to screw the rest of us up by electing more of the same. Please, on behalf of thinking men and women everywhere, STOP THAT!