Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Godfather: Part III (1990)


Academy Awards, USA 1991

Nominated
Oscar
Best Picture
Francis Ford Coppola
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Andy Garcia
Best Director
Francis Ford Coppola
Best Cinematography
Gordon Willis
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration
Dean Tavoularis
Gary Fettis
Best Film Editing
Barry Malkin
Lisa Fruchtman
Walter Murch
Best Music, Original Song
Carmine Coppola (music)
John Bettis (lyrics)
For the song "Promise Me You'll Remember".
Paramount Pictures
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Paramount)

Now firmly in control of the family, Michael Corleone finds himself in almost the same position as his father before him. The "favors" asked of him by friends, family and acquaintances lead to coercion, blackmail and murder. Meanwhile his home life is a mess: his wife has left him and his daughter is sleeping with cousin Andy Garcia, who also wants to take over as Don of the family. Michael tries to go legitimate and sells the families interests in gambling and drugs, but when he tries to take over a large European company the Catholic church gets in the way. leading all the way to the pope. The convoluted plot falls apart due to the poor acting on display: Sofia Coppola and Talia Shire are terrible, Andy Garcia tries and fails to imitate James Caan and even Pacino goes off  the deep end with a laughable stroke, diabetic attack and silent scream. Only Diane Keaton manages to present any kind of believable performance. A sad coda to the first two films, it's not even in the same ballpark. 

The Godfather: Part II (1974)



Academy Awards, USA 1975

Won
Oscar
Best Picture
Francis Ford Coppola
Gray Frederickson
Fred Roos
The movie became the first sequel to win the best picture award.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro was not present at the awards ceremony. Francis Ford Coppola accepted the award on his behalf.
Best Director
Francis Ford Coppola
Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted From Other Material
Francis Ford Coppola
Mario Puzo
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration
Dean Tavoularis
Angelo P. Graham
George R. Nelson
Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
Nino Rota
Carmine Coppola
Nino Rota was not present at the awards ceremony.
Nominated
Oscar
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Al Pacino
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Michael V. Gazzo
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Lee Strasberg
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Talia Shire
Best Costume Design
Theadora Van Runkle

Paramount Pictures
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
My rating: 4 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Paramount)

Michael Corleone, now firmly in control of the family after his father's death, survives an assassination attempt in his home. He vows revenge on those responsible, first to Florida and Cuba where he suspects a corrupt Jewish business partner, but then within his inner circle. The story of his father's early days as an immigrant in New York City is seamlessly interwoven with the more modern one, mirroring his own rise to power and subsequent betrayals. More or less a continuation of the first film, although the violence this time around is less jarring, but no less effective.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Godfather (1972)


Academy Awards, USA 1973

Won
Oscar
Best Picture
Albert S. Ruddy
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Marlon Brando
Brando did not show up at the ceremony, but instead sent a woman named Sacheen Littlefeather a.k.a...Maria Cruz, a Native American Californian actress.
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
Mario Puzo
Francis Ford Coppola
Mario Puzo was not present at the awards ceremony. His daughter Dorothy Ann Puzo accepted the award on his behalf.
Nominated
Oscar
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
James Caan
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Robert Duvall
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Al Pacino
Best Director
Francis Ford Coppola
Best Costume Design
Anna Hill Johnstone
Best Sound
Charles Grenzbach
Richard Portman
Christopher Newman
Best Film Editing
William Reynolds
Peter Zinner
Best Music, Original Dramatic Score
Nino Rota
Withdrawn, ineligible: reused Fortunella score; replaced by a nomination for "Sleuth"

Paramount Pictures
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
My rating: 4 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Paramount)

Marlon Brando is the head of one of New York's five mafia "families". He grants requests from family members during his daughter's wedding, ranging from jobs to murder, in return for "favors" when he needs them. He triggers a gang war between the families when he refuses to get involved with narcotics. Barely surviving an assassination attempt himself, he grooms his son to replace him. Al Pacino as Michael undergoes a remarkable transformation: from reluctant war hero to ruthless Don, and his story anchors the film. A relentlessly violent yet fascinating portrait of a family that demands loyalty at any cost, seemingly at odds with their deeply religious Italian heritage. The ensemble cast assembled by Coppola is one of the best in cinema history, while Gordon Willis' cinematography reflects the dark, somber mood.

Hands on a Hardbody (1997)


Legacy Releasing
Directed by S.R. Bindler
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, HOHB Releasing)

Redneck Texans compete to win a new pickup truck by seeing who can the last the longest without taking their hands off the truck. They get a break every hour, but it takes a huge physical and mental toll. After about 3 days, they begin to drop off leaving only two for the final few hours. Interviews with the participants are interspersed with the actual contest, and they are just as entertaining. One in particular ends up being a sort of philosopher-narrator, with "deep" insights into his strategy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)


Academy Awards, USA 1989

Won
Oscar
Best Film Editing
Arthur Schmidt
Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
Charles L. Campbell
Louis L. Edemann
Best Effects, Visual Effects
Ken Ralston
Richard Williams
Ed Jones
George Gibbs
Won
Special Achievement Award
Richard Williams
For animation direction and creation of the cartoon characters.
Nominated
Oscar
Best Cinematography
Dean Cundey
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration
Elliot Scott
Peter Howitt
Best Sound
Robert Knudson
John Boyd
Don Digirolamo
Tony Dawe

Touchstone Pictures
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Touchstone)

In the early days of Hollywood, humans and "toons" work together to make lucrative cartoons for the movies. When a producer is murdered, one of the most famous toons, Roger Rabbit, is accused of the crime. He convinces private detective Bob Hoskins to prove his innocence, who has his own problems to deal with. The toons quickly wear out their welcome: they are loud, grating and annoying. The faux film noir is never convincing and neither is the contrived plot. Even the much vaunted special effects have diminished with time and have lost their wow factor.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)



Academy Awards, USA 2007

Won
Oscar
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Guillermo Navarro
Best Achievement in Art Direction
Eugenio Caballero (art director)
Pilar Revuelta (set decorator)
Best Achievement in Makeup
David Martí
Montse Ribé
Nominated
Oscar
Best Writing, Original Screenplay
Guillermo del Toro
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
Javier Navarrete
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Mexico.

Picturehouse
Directed by Guillermo del Torro
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, New Line)

A pregnant woman and her young daughter move to the countryside of Spain to live with a military officer during the days of World War II and Franco's fascist regime. Surrounded by violence and intimidation, the girl escapes into a fantasy world populated by fairies and fauns. The end result is an odd mixture: sadistic, jarring violence countered with a rather paint-by-numbers fantasy story with the girl undertaking a journey to complete a series of tasks. The best part of the film, however, involves neither, but rather the relationship between the girl and her mother, but even that tends to resort to melodramatics. It's all exquisitely photographed by Guillermo Navarro.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Baltimore Bullet (1980)


Avco Embassy Pictures
Directed by Robert Ellis Miller
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
(YouTube)

A couple of down and out pool hustlers travel across the country to participate in a tournament and face off with an old foe. Along the way, they hustle for money, pick up women and play poker. James Coburn mugs incessantly in this awful, sexist buddy comedy. Ronee Blakley contributes a disco country song. Omar Sharif enjoys expensive wine and forgets how to act. Go watch The Hustler for a real movie about pool.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Ski Bum (1971)



Avco Embassy Pictures
Directed by Bruce Clark
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Zalman King is hired by a wealthy family as their ski instructor after being recommended by their friend and his new lover Charlotte Rampling. Soon, King is the center of attention at the Colorado ski resort, with complete strangers acting as if they know him. In his spare time he searches for drugs, almost getting arrested during a deal which appears to be a set up. It is supposed to make him indebted to "the family" but actually makes him more paranoid. It culminates in a bizarre, dreamlike party at a steamy indoor swimming pool. A unique, nearly plotless, stream-of-consciousness film that will likely leave you scratching your head as to what it was all about, but as a mood piece leaves quite an impression. Music and electronics by experimental composer Joseph Byrd.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Griffin and Phoenix: A Love Story (1976)


ABC Circle Films
Directed by Daryl Duke
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Two strangers with terminal illnesses meet at a lecture on death and dying. They begin a relationship without realizing the other is sick. They act out their "bucket list" fantasies by sneaking into a movie theater, painting graffiti on the local water tower or hitching a ride on a freight train. Eventually the truth is revealed and they have to deal with the cold reality of death. Intriguing idea sunk by cliches of "disease of the week" made-for-tv conventions, although Peter Falk and Jill Clayburgh give it their best.

Pickup on 101 (1972)


American International Pictures
Directed by John Florea
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Naive runaway/hitchiker Lesley Ann Warren befriends hobo Jack Albertson and folk singer Martin Sheen. The strange trio make their way across California so she can join a commune. About the only conflict is whether or not Warren and Sheen will sleep together. Later, they get stuck with Jack Albertson's dead body and have trouble disposing of it. Dated and unpleasant.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Diabolically Yours (1967)


Comacico (France)
Directed by Julien Duvivier
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Alain Delon wakes up in the hospital after a car accident married to a beautiful stranger and living in a mansion. His wife refuses sex and along with their doctor keeps him medicated. He dreams about his past life and begins to suspect that things are not as they appear. Fairly routine, Hitchcock-influenced thriller with a twist ending you will see coming long before Delon does.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Shoot the Sun Down (1978)


Baytide Films
Directed by David Leeds
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

A former British officer, a bounty hunter and a miner tangle over the legendary "Montezuma's golden wheel", a solid gold treasure hidden in the nearby desert. They also covet the officer's wife/slave Margot Kidder. They eventually find the wheel then fight each other over it as they try to get it out of the desert. Beautiful landscapes captured by frequent Scorsese collaborator Michael Chapman, but talky and aloof.

Children of Heaven (1997)


Academy Awards, USA 1999

Nominated
Oscar
Best Foreign Language Film
Iran.

Miramax
Directed by Majid Majidi
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Mirmax)

A boy accidentally loses his sister's shoes at the local grocery store. Unable to face his stern father with the news, the two siblings exchange a single pair of sneakers between them to get to and from school. A cross country race offers a new pair of sneakers as a prize and the boy attempts to win it, well actually come in third. A simple story from Iran, beautifully told, if a bit predictable in the end.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Blackout (1978)


New World Pictures
Directed by Eddy Matalon
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

When a thunderstorm knocks out power to NYC, opportunistic criminals besiege a residential tower of upscale apartments. They rape and murder their way all the way to the penthouse, where art collector Ray Milland awaits. Meanwhile, lone cop Jim Mitchum pursues them, with numerous stops along the way to save people trapped in the elevator or deliver a baby. Odd mixture of sadistic violence and by-the-numbers disaster melodrama.

Taxi Driver (1976)



Academy Awards, USA 1977

Nominated
Oscar
Best Picture
Michael Phillips
Julia Phillips
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Robert De Niro
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Jodie Foster
Best Music, Original Score
Bernard Herrmann

Columbia Pictures
Directed by Martin Scorsese
My rating: 4 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Sony)

A disturbing descent into the mind of loner and social outcast Travis Bickle, a career-defining role for Robert De Niro. He drives a taxi on the overnight shift in NYC, going places other drivers avoid. His encounters with pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and other low life instill a deep-seated hatred which comes to fruition when he is rejected by pretty campaign worker Cybill Shepherd. He buys a small arsenal of weapons with which he intends to assassinate the presidential candidate for which she works, but when the secret service intervenes his vendetta is redirected towards the men exploiting an underage prostitute he befriends. Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Chapman capture breathtaking views of the underbelly of New York City, Bernard Herrmann's final work is one of his finest and Paul Schrader's screenplay builds palpable dread.

The Hostage Tower (1980)


CBS
Directed by Claudio Guzman
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Bored criminal mastermind Keir Dullea and his gang take over the Eiffel Tower and demand a ransom from the French government. He takes the mother of the US president hostage just in case his bank of lasers is not enough to hold off the police. Luckily the gang has been infiltrated by US undercover agents who come to the rescue. Dullea's over-the-top, scenery chewing performance and poor special effects sink this made-for-tv disaster based on an Alistair MacLean novel. Even Maud Adams and Britt Ekland, both former Bond girls, look bored.

Haunts of the Very Rich (1972)


ABC
Directed by Paul Wendkos
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Airline passengers are brought to a mysterious island against their will where they are met by Moses Gunn in a white suit. They are given rooms in a luxurious resort, but a tropical storm knocks out the power. As they wait for help to arrive to their isolated location, some slowly begin to realize they might all be dead already and the resort is actually heaven or hell, depending on your point of view. Mildly intriguing premise plays like a mix of The Twilight Zone and Fantasy Island.

The Projected Man (1966)


Universal Pictures
Directed by Ian Curties
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Scientist experimenting in the transmission of matter gets disfigured when he turns the laser on himself. He also gains the power of electrocution, which he uses on a killing rampage. His friend and fellow scientist, along with their buxom secretary, try to find him before the cops. Too derivative of The Fly to make much of a lasting impact.

Léon (1994)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by Luc Besson
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Mob hit man Jean Reno adopts suddenly orphaned 12-year-old Natalie Portman when her family is murdered by maniacal cops in a drug deal gone bad. In a curious decision, he teaches her how to become a hit man as well, complete with rooftop gun lessons aimed at innocent pedestrians. Despite her blooming sexuality, some implied and some not so, they develop a father-daughter type of relationship and he takes up her cause to revenge the killing of her family. Engrossing and superbly filmed with characters that somehow make you care for them, despite the questionable morality on display and Portman's annoying precociousness.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Oldboy (2003)


Palisades Tartan
Directed by Chan-wook Park
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Netflix)

A man kidnapped and held prisoner for 15 years is released. He begins a relationship with a sushi chef and seeks an explanation and revenge for his imprisonment. An unsatisfying, convuluted melodrama with graphic scenes of violence and torture that detract from rather than add to the plot.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Richard Brooks
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Young teacher Keaton clashes with her parents so gets her own grungy apartment. She indulges in the NYC club scene at night while teaching deaf children during the day. She experiments with drugs and sex, attracting the attention of coke head Richard Gere. She is also pursued by a more conventional welfare worker but cannot commit to him. Eventually her risky lifestyle catches up with her in a brutal, downbeat ending. Keaton carries the movie as a naive but likable girl in the freewheeling, disco-fueled 70s, one of her most overlooked roles.

Duel (1971)


Universal Pictures
Directed by Steven Spielberg
My rating: 4 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Universal)

Meek traveling salesman Dennis Weaver is accosted by an unknown truck driver on a lonely desert highway in southern California. At first it seems the truck driver merely wants to annoy Weaver, but it soon becomes clear that his intentions are deadly serious. Weaver's Plymouth Valiant is no match for the dirty, monstrous Peterbilt truck, the real star of the film. Spielberg never lifts his foot off the suspense in this intense, Hitchcock-inspired thriller from the pen of Richard Matheson.

Double Nickels (1977)


Smokey Productions
Directed by Jack Vacek
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

California cop "Smokey" (played by the director) moonlights with his partner repossessing cars. They drive around in a beat up truck, sneaking into driveways to hotwire mostly fast, expensive cars. In his downtime he flirts with an uninterested waitress but eventually hooks up with a girlfriend who tolerates his car habits. Slow, boring drive-in fare, even the car chases seem to be mainly interested in slow motion crashes through fruit stands.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen (1965)


National Film Board of Canada
Directed by Donald Brittain and Don Owen
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Before he started recording albums that made him famous around the world, he was a poet and stand up comic in Canada. These pre-fame days are captured in this sort of black-and-white promo film with a jazz soundtrack. Leonard entertains a packed college crowd with his dry humor, Leonard visits a late-night bistro incognito, Leonard records his poetry for a record album, and so forth and so on. He seemed like a nice guy, but it does often feel like vain self-promotion.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Heavy Metal Picnic (2010)


Directed by Jeff Krulik
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Friends who live on a "farm" in Maryland organize a "field party" featuring bands on a homemade stage. The usual assortment of characters show up: metal heads on acid, ostracized punks, dead heads with joints hanging from their mouths and bikers who think they are the police. Luckily some genius back in 1985 captured it all on an expensive camcorder and actually saved the VHS tapes. Interspersed with this vintage footage is interviews with some of the same people 25 years later, older but still more or less the same. Very entertaining and often hilarious, from the makers of the better known Heavy Metal Parking Lot.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia (1992)


Great Performances (PBS)
Directed by Christopher Menaul
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

After the events depicted in Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence travels to Paris with Prince Feisal to negotiate a treaty with the English, French and Americans. They demand a completely sovereign Arabia while the Allies plot to divide it among themselves. As in the original film, Lawrence struggles with his own loyalties. Fascinating, if at times excruciatingly slow, political drama, essential for understanding the background of the Middle East. Ralph Fiennes convincingly portrays the character made famous by Peter O'Toole.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Panic in Echo Park (1977)


NBC
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Overworked inner city doctor Dorian Harewood tracks down the men responsible for installing tainted plumbing in a building that sickens many of its residents. He deals with corrupt politicians, racist doctors, an ambivalent reporter and others who stand in his way. Luckily his girlfriend is (usually) supportive. Earnest if badly dated made-for-tv drama.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)


Academy Awards, USA 1963

Won
Oscar
Best Picture
Sam Spiegel
Best Director
David Lean
Best Cinematography, Color
Freddie Young
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color
John Box
John Stoll
Dario Simoni
Best Sound
John Cox (Shepperton SSD)
Best Film Editing
Anne V. Coates
Best Music, Score - Substantially Original
Maurice Jarre
Nominated
Oscar
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Peter O'Toole
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Omar Sharif
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
Robert Bolt
Michael Wilson
The nomination for Wilson was granted on 26 September 1995 by the Academy Board of Directors, after... More

Columbia Pictures
Directed by David Lean
My rating: 4 stars out of 4
IMDB
(Blu-ray, Sony)

Misfit British officer O'Toole is sent to unify the Arabs in their conflict against Turkey in the early days of WWI. He leads them in an epic desert crossing for a surprise attack on a key coastal city. Along the way, he risks his life to save a man that others want to leave behind, and earns not only their respect but becomes a sort of prophet. At first he relishes the attention, but when he also begins to relish the bloodshed of war he begins to doubt himself. It all takes place against bigger-than-life, windswept desert locations, beautifully captured by director Lean and cinematographer Freddie Young.

Rojo (1966)


Universal Films (Spain)
Directed by Leopoldo Savona
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Richard Harrison drifts into a dusty Arizona town, seeking revenge for those who killed his family long ago. The four men responsible are corrupt to the core and have a firm grip on the town, but Harrison methodically stalks and murders them. It's strictly pedestrian, with little if any characterization and a stone-faced Harrison.