From Robert De Niro

TAXI DRIVER Rides Through the Moral Soup of Murder

This Martin Scorsese classic is the barometer for movies dealing with PTSD - not an overt military movie, but one that examines the effects of war and isolation and the lack of help for those who come home.

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The Godfather: Part II Redefines the American Classic

The Godfather: Part II. 1974. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Screenplay by Coppola & Mario Puzo.
Starring Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin, Richard Bright, Gastone Moschin, Tom Rosqui, Bruno Kirby, Frank Sivero, Francesca De Sapio, Morgana King, Marianna Hill, Dominic Chianese, Joe Spinell, James Caan, Abe Vigoda, Danny Aiello, & Harry Dean Stanton. Coppola Company/Paramount Pictures.
Rated 14A. 202 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★★
POSTER
The first Godfather film was being received so positively even before it hit theatre that the studio greenlit a sequel quickly. This surely gave Francis Ford Coppola not only the money and freedom to keep doing what he saw fit with the story, but it likely also instilled him with some degree of confidence. Rightfully so. As I’ve said in my other review, the first movie is an American classic, a masterpiece of crime cinema and a giant of artistic, studio filmmaking crossed into one package. This sequel only builds upon all that momentum and all that dark beauty. The screenplay that Coppola and Mario Puzo manage to twist around through two separate time periods – the life of a younger adult Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) after he left Sicily as a boy and came to America, one of the huddled masses that entered through Ellis Island; then there’s the personal and professional troubles of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) having now taken his place as Boss of the Corleone crime family. Again, it’s a powerhouse of cinematic technique and writing. On top there’s the delicious cherry of a crackerjack performance out of Pacino and De Niro, all in the same damn film. How can it get any better?
The answer is, it can’t. Not really. Because there are only so many Godfather: Part IIs that are going to happen. There are other perfect movies out there (I consider this perfect, by the way). This one takes the cake. I have other favourites, but this is a genuine work of art that will last in the collective consciousness of film lovers worldwide, until there’s no such thing as consciousness any longer. Coppola redefined the classic film he’d put out a couple years earlier by making it even better through the sequel. I can’t think of many movies that are so well written and executed on all ends. So many beautiful shots, perfect scenes, the capable eye and blocking of Coppola… it’s hard to figure out what’s most enjoyable.
One thing’s for sure: this is the greatest sequel of all time, one of the greatest films period.
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Let’s talk of oranges again, shall we?
When Michael meets with Johnny Ola (the fantastic Dominic Chianese), the latter actually brings an orange. From Miami, Ola says. An ominous gift in the world of Coppola’s notorious crime family and their shady business. This should be our first inkling that something’s wrong with Ola, or that something is eventually going to go wrong involving him. Later, this is all confirmed when the plot plays out down in Havana. Ola also wears plenty orange, if that’s not enough to convince you of a foreboding death.
Another instance of the infamous orange omens comes in the younger days of Vito. When he drops the talk of making Fanucci an offer, one he can’t refuse, there’s a stand with oranges on it behind him. After Vito gives Fanucci money, the greasy extortionist grabs himself an orange before getting popped with a couple bullets; perhaps the strongest one of the entire series.
Apart from oranges there are so many iconic scenes and shots that it’s hard to talk about even half of them. Certain moments stand out, though. Near the end when Michael tells Fredo – “You broke my heart” – and gives him the kiss of death, I love how it’s all set against this New Year’s Eve party, such a happy, joyous celebration, and then in the midst is this really deadly confrontation between brothers. Subtle, quiet, yet deadly. Consequently the shot later when Fredo is taken out for a boat ride is a serene and beautiful moment, if not a dark one. Most of the amazing parts during The Godfather: Part II are not the action, the guns, they are the more subdued and gentle shots. That being said, one of my absolute favourites is the sequence where Vito takes care of Fanucci; everything from how it looks and sounds and feels, to the manner in which Vito carries out the deed, wrapping his gun, unscrewing the light bulb, and the gruesome shooting of Fanucci. There’s something for everyone, in the sense there’s drama, great looking cinematography, violence. All turned into a masterpiece by the hand of Coppola.
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Once again there’s an immersion in the Italian-American Mafia lifestyle. We have this ridiculously massive celebration for Michael’s little boy and his First Holy Communion. Yet it’s tradition. The Italians are proud of their heritage. Sure, it’s funded by mob money, but they’re celebrating religion, faith, all that. And I think the greatest part about those opening scenes with Michael, the big party, is how they’re all juxtaposed with meeting Senator Pat Geary (G.D. Spradlin) and his disrespect for the Corleone family, as well as Italian-Americans as a whole. Seeing such a beautiful, if not outrageous, celebration of culture and heritage followed by a dose of white American bigotry, it’s almost shocking at first. However, for all the mafioso stuff, the Corleones and many of their associates are atypical gangsters. Particularly compared to lots (/most) of the gangsters that came before these two movies. This is why getting a look at Vito in his early years, to the early days of his own family burgeoning in New York City right near the tail-end of WWI in 1917, is a super important aspect to the screenplay. This movie wouldn’t be near as powerful were it a simple sequel. Instead, Coppola mixes a prequel element into his story, which allows us to see the simple family man Vito was at the start. Before any of the gangster lifestyle and the illegal business.
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Effectively, Coppola and Puzo give us a window into why these men do what they do. In the first film it was more a broad look at these people as more than mafia stereotypes. Here, we explore exactly how these men start out on the path with the Black Hand. Vito’s tale is a microcosm of the Italian-American Mafia experience. In that Vito only became what he was due to the fact he and many others around the neighbourhood were being extorted by Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin in a properly despicable performance you can’t forget). And in the Italian-American community at the time, there wasn’t much reliance on the police, so where could a person turn in a city where they were all but forgotten? Vito simply stepped up and took a position that afforded him respect, power, and above all a means to provide for his family AND his community. You will likely never agree with the mafia life, nor do I. Although it’s easy to understand, especially in the early 20th century when so many Italian-Americans were being mistreated, forgotten, left out (purposely along with other cultures), and all around discriminated against.Pic2Vito is so wonderfully written. De Niro is a large part of why the character works on screen. But it’s undeniable the writing makes him a human being, alive off the page. One worth of empathy and the sympathy of others. Just the power of that scene where he’s being let go, reluctantly, at his job is enough to create the depth of his character. Most importantly, we see how Vito became a loved leader. Never mind fear. Vito has the power of faith in him as a leader, something others see and of which they take notice. His kind heart is evident from the start; his boss tries to give him some food as a token of appreciation after having to let him go, Vito won’t even take it. He has a sense of pride along with the warmth, a willingness to never let anybody have to take care of him. His principled way of living is clear so fast. This is a brilliant component to the performance of De Niro, he at once gives his own performance while calling us back (or forward depending on how you see it) to Marlon Brando and his older Vito Corleone. Certain aspects of Vito’s personality ring loudly through De Niro, ones that we can likewise pick out from the first film and Brando’s performance. Not only the voice. There’s the way Vito works from his heart and from his mind and always on principle, which De Niro shows us at the root, from where it originated.
On the opposite side there’s Michael. He is a completely different type of man, and therein lies the ultimate distinction between Vito and his son – Michael can never be Vito. He never had to haul himself up with absolutely nothing. The generation of men that came over to Ellis Island from the old country in Sicily were faced with building their entire life up. Vito chose the life of the gangster because, in the end, it was really one of the only things available to him. Otherwise, he might have been in service to some greasy, corrupt guy like Fanucci. Instead he decided to turn himself into a man completely on the other end of the spectrum, a tough and powerful and dangerous man, though one with a code of honour and a sense of respect for others around him (so long as the respect is returned). Michael simply falls into the troubled game of the American Mafia, murdering his way to the top, then he questions why danger has come to his door, constantly, threatening both him and his family. Someone like Vito didn’t deserve any of what came to him. He only did it for his family. Michael does all this for his family, but unlike his father none of it is by necessity. It isn’t until The Godfather: Part III does Michael realize the error of his ways and tries to repent. On the one hand, Vito never had to repent because he never did anything that you can truly call underhanded. Illegal business doesn’t mean immoral. On the other, his son Michael has done immoral, terrible things. Just consider what he does to Fredo (John Cazale). Despite all the dumb Corleone brother does and lets happen to the family because of his careless actions, he’s still Michael’s brother. And for him to do that to Fredo speaks to his character. You’d never see Vito do that. He’d maybe send him away, somewhere far nobody would ever find him, something other than death. Michael proves the difference between himself and his father with deafening finality via this act.
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I could say plenty more about this classic. This is one perfect piece of cinema. It’s fine if you don’t agree. On a technical level, I don’t see how you can’t call this a work of art, of mammoth proportions. If ever epic were a label suited for a film, The Godfather: Part II deserves it, every step of the way. Pacino and De Niro go back, forth with their acting talent, as the screenplay moves us from focus on a young Vito Corleone working his way into the business because of necessity, to his son Michael Corleone at that age later having essentially fallen into the grasp of the crime family business and becoming a totally different, more brutal person than Vito ever was, even at his worst. I’m always amazed at the power of this movie each time I see it. Never changes. Coppola is a master. He could make 100 shit films, and I’d still call him that for this film alone, let alone the trilogy as a whole. He deserves the label for making a work of art out of the crime genre, allowing a different perspective on Italian-American mobsters other than what the mainstream media offered up to that point. Not meant to change any perceptions, this sequel expands upon a look at the Corleone family, specifically Michael, and how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a Dystopian Vision of Not-So-Distant Future

Brazil. 1985. Directed by Terry Gilliam. Screenplay by Gilliam, Charles McKeown, & Tom Stoppard.
Starring Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson, Peter Vaughan, Kim Greist, Jim Broadbent, Barbara Hicks, Charles McKeown, Derrick O’Connor, Kathryn Pogson, Bryan Pringle, & Shella Reid. Embassy International Pictures.
Rated R. 132 minutes.
Drama/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
POSTER
Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘bureaucracy’ as the following: 1) a large group of people who are involved in running a government but who are not elected; 2) a system of government or business that has many complex rules, an administrative policy-making group; 3) government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, and a hierarchy of authority.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is the filmic epitome of a not-so-far off future, nearly a dystopian present, where bureaucracy has created such a perfectly tailored society for the upper echelons that they can do just about anything they want, to whomever they please. What Gilliam does so well is expose the saccharine sweet surface of such a society, as a disturbingly rotten core lies further at its core. Since my dad introduced me to them at a early age Monty Python have always been a big influence on me. Partly a reason why when Gilliam made films on his own, they intrigued me immediately. At a young age I also saw his movie The Fisher King, and that had a tremendous impact on me, both due to the whole story and plot, as well as the fact Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams did fantastic jobs in the lead roles.
However, with all the great work he’s done in cinema it is always Brazil to which I return, that always keeps me coming back and wanting more. It’s funny because, as great an actor Jonathan Pryce is, I’ve never considered him a leading man; more a supporting guy, even a character actor at times. Yet here, he is perfect. It’s as if all pistons were pumping, every thing in its right place, and this masterpiece of dystopian film fiction came to us in all its quirky, unabashedly strange glory.
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The bureaucracy is utterly skewered by this screenplay. And while it’s right there, so open, that doesn’t make it any less funny. An entire system is made out to be incredibly inept through all the different departments, the divisional hierarchy making one hand completely unaware of what the other is doing. What’s so great is that Gilliam, Charles McKeown, and Tom Stoppard do their own thing, but much of their madness also does feel Kafkaesque at times. From the beginning mix up between Buttle and Tuttle that causes a man to, eventually, lose his life, to the various fuck arounds Sam has to through, there is no shortage of incredibly wild existential grief. One thing I’ve always loved is that the bureaucracy is epitomized in the fact there’s no Orwellian figure at the top, the hierarchy goes nowhere. It’s a perfect little touch. Not only that, there’s a vaguely futuristic, sci-fi element to the entire production, yet the story feels extremely contemporary rather than something being predicted. That truly aids the entire movie, as it feels like this bureaucratic, totalitarian society is just one step away. Especially when you watch it now, as the U.S. Presidential campaign is underway, getting zanier, more dystopian than possibly ever before at times. Even in ’85, Gilliam put this out there at the right time, as people like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were running their respective countries and things, though sold in a pretty package, were looking quite bleak underneath the political rhetoric and doublespeak.
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Spoiler Alert: Do not go on if you haven’t actually finished the film, or else be spoiled.
Ultimate irony, though dreamily, ends with Tuttle (De Niro) eventually being swallowed up by paperwork; the very thing he’d earlier told Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) was a reason why he hated the system nowadays. I love a lot of the imagery like this. Sam goes to help Tuttle only to find nothing in the mound of papers that seemed to be choking him. This entire sequence during the finale is actually something I remember seeing on Showcase, a Canadian channel, years ago. For some reason Brazil was on in the late afternoon, I’d landed on the channel after school. I caught the last few minutes or so right after Tuttle disappears, so out of context it looked like absolute insanity. It was creepy. Years later when I was seventeen or eighteen, I tracked this down and watched the whole thing. Then it went on to be one of my favourite films, ever. But those crazy moments with the casket, the eerie masks, all that stuff, it stuck with me. Because you finally get a look totally beneath the mask of that society. The rotten core is visible, fully. We still see bits of the sweet slip in, only Lowry is hallucinating, off in the Brazil of his mind, as the physical body remains back in the dingy, dark tomb-like auditorium where he’s likely to waste away.
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The world of Brazil is part camp, part visionary, part horrific. A 5-star bit of dystopian fiction on film. Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python brain comes together with an even more sophisticated sense of satire resulting in one of my picks for best films of all-time. Absolutely on my top list. The acting is terrific, from Jonathan Pryce to the fantastic Ian Holm and equally awesome Robert De Niro everybody pulls their weight, and then some. The set designs, the dream sequences, all of it is just downright perfect. At the same time it’s liable to give you nightmares remembering those creepy fat faced masks. To this day I’ll have a bad dream where those faces show up. Seeing it so randomly on television when I was young it always crept into my brain when least expected. But after actually watching it through, many times and on Criterion at that, Brazil has presented itself as one of the more chilling and daringly accurate visions of a near future that I’ve personally seen onscreen.