John McTiernan's debut NOMADS bridges past and present— a Gothic horror set in LA, where evil spirits/bikers lurk.
Ever wanted to take a trip to hell? Well, wait for a better ride. Trust me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Vito 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.
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.
Catch Me Daddy. 2014. Directed by Daniel Wolfe. Screenplay by Daniel & Matthew Wolfe.
Starring Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, Connor McCarron, Gary Lewis, Barry Nunney, Adrian Hussain, Anwar Hussain, Ali Ahmad, Shoby Karman, Wasim Zakir, Nichola Burley, & Kate Dickie. Emu Films/Film4.
Unrated. 110 minutes.
Does a film need to have a massive plot? Can an entertaining bit of cinema simply have a small, intricate plot that runs on atmosphere? Catch Me Daddy is a movie that certainly has a plot. All the same, the events move towards a conclusion that doesn’t particularly satisfy. Nor does it let down, either. Essentially, director Daniel Wolfe, along with screenwriting partner on this picture Matthew Wolfe, crafts a chase into the extended series of events which frame the story of love, honour, betrayal, culture, and so much more. The tone of the film is gritty, its look equally as raw. In addition, Wolfe uses mostly a cast of relative to completely unknown actors, which further grasps that aim of realism. Most of all, this movie tackles the issue of honour killings and the culture clashes amongst the lower class in England without getting too controversial. Not that controversy is bad. But Wolfe’s film takes on a different air, instead of diving deep into dialogue or exposition on the cultural and racial issues, and what results is an endearing, tense, even brutal ride through the streets of England, the countryside, the caravans. Best of all? We’re never spoon fed all the ingredients. Rather, the crew of filmmakers alongside Wolfe give us plenty to look at, listen to, and leaves us with a hunger for understanding.
Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed) is a young Pakistani woman living in Britain. She hides from her strict religious family in a caravan out in the country with her Scottish boyfriend, Aaron (Conor McCarron). They get by, as she works assisting a hairdresser, and Aaron does his best to track down a job.
But there are men looking for them, specifically Laila. Her brother Zaheer (Ali Ahmad) leads a group of his friends in the charge. Also, two white men named Tony (Gary Lewis) and Barry (Barry Nunney) are on the trail. When Laila and Aaron find themselves discovered, and she accidentally kills her brother, the chase is on. Unable to trust anyone, the two lovers rush like mad to escape their fate. Through the countryside, into the streets of London, Laila must run for her life. Or else she’ll lose it.
Cinematographer Robbie Ryan takes us right into the world of these characters, offering up a beautiful style and at the same time giving us a gritty, dark visual atmosphere that you can almost chew. Ryan is particularly adept at capturing those gritty landscapes, as evidenced by his previous work on such films as Isolation, Red Road, Fish Tank, and he has a unique flair that’s quite noticeable in the recent Slow West. This film is almost a mix of those qualities. While Ryan finds all those raw, rough qualities that are worth seeing when tackling a story highly based in reality, he simultaneously infuses many of the scenes here with a gorgeous look, nearly radiant at times. The rich, vibrant look of certain shots combined themselves with the grittiness of all the lower class neighbourhoods, caravans and other locations, and this aesthetic creates an interesting space in which everything plays out.
Not only is the cinematography excellent, the score from first timers Matthew Waston (a.k.a Matthew Wolfe) and Daniel Thomas Freeman is wild. Whereas a few scenes contain popular music, it’s the music Watson and Freeman add that helps make so many of the scenes chug along filled with adrenaline, fear, and suspense respectively. When Laila is first forced to flee the caravan where she and Aaron hide, the frenetic music propels the entire film forward, and it prepares us for a chaotic cat-and-mouse thriller.
I love the screenplay for this film. There are so many elements that are only alluded to briefly, which is always a plus. Stories that try jamming exposition and unneeded dialogue down the audience’s collective throat are the worst. Not to say there shouldn’t be anything concrete. On the contrary, I hate when scripts are vague simply for being vague’s sake. In direct opposition, Catch Me Daddy focuses very clearly on its present events, while all the past, the backstory, the characters and their lives remains distinctly behind them. We get allusions to previous events, the lives of the characters. Nothing is spelled out plainly, though. And all the better for it. Because once the end comes around, this film throws us for a curve. We want answers, we’d like to know everything. But what will that help? Will anything give us a clear path towards understanding Laila’s father? We already recognize her clear hopes to be her own woman, separate from the wants and wishes of her family, the expectations of her culture. Left with an ambiguous ending, no answers offered up, the screenplay defies explanation. Likely, we all know what happens after the credits roll. Although, Wolfe & Wolfe give us nothing perfect, nothing that fits entirely into the right box. The mystery surrounding some of the film’s plot and events is what makes it so intriguing. If everything were laid out, we might have come to a fully formed idea of what happened, perhaps even see exactly what comes next. Without that, director Wolfe leave us in a position where the agonizing questions, the lingering, sore emotions are still up for debate. Nobody here is trying to make a statement, so much as the filmmakers are presenting us with a harsh reality of what goes on within certain pockets of culture bent on fundamentalism, and the path hardcore belief can lead brothers, fathers, sisters, lovers on.
The central performance from Sameena Jabeen Ahmed is quality. She is amazing, even just when it’s her eyes on camera. Her expressions, her demeanour, it is all perfect for this role. Her acting talent, as well as the excellent Gary Lewis, provide Catch Me Daddy with an anchor. Even when it feels as if not much is happening, the actors allow us to stay rooted, and the film carries you away.
A definite 5-star affair. From cinematography to acting to score, this is one hell of a ride. The slow burn nature of the plot may get to some, but trust me, if you hang in there every last bit is worth it. Again, if you prefer expository dialogue and having every last detail of the characters and plot explained in long-winded scenes, then this is certainly not your cup of tea. If you do like a challenge, a film that tries its hand at storytelling instead of dishing out concrete evidence for every last move, this is up your alley.
There is a ton of great stuff to enjoy here, and it’s impressive this small film is capable of holding the weight it does. Wolfe does a spectacular job in the director’s chair, giving us a glimpse into a world foreign to many of us, yet gives us enough that we feel involved in that world, at least for 110 minutes.
Mother of George. 2013. Directed by Andrew Dosunmu. Screenplay by Darci Picoult.
Starring Danai Gurira, Isaac de Bankolé, Anthony Okungbowa, Bukky Ajayi, Yaya DaCosta, Klarissa Jackson, Ishmael Omolade, Roslyn Ruff, Chinaza Uche, Florence Egbuchulam, Mutiyat Ade-Salu, Atibon Nazaire, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, & Susan Heyward. Parts and Labor/Loveless/Maybach Film Productions/SimonSays Entertainment/Fried Alligator Films.
Rated R 107 minutes.
We all – meaning those of us with any sense – know that the mainstream Hollywood system largely ignores stories about people of colour, apart from the civil rights pictures and slave narratives. It’s obvious, if you take the time to look at it. Rarely do we just simply get to look inside the culture of others aside from the perspective of white people, at least when it comes to the mainstream films in the West. Even more rare is a film starring solely black people.
So Mother of George is a unique piece of cinema for a film set in the U.S. Although, it is most certainly a Nigerian film. The story is all about the cultural expectations within a Nigerian neighbourhood in Brooklyn, involving a married couple. Plus, Nigerian director Andrew Dosunmu leads the movie, as well as adds his unusual style to the mix. It is a refreshing story, Dosunmu presents it gorgeously with the added help of cinematographer Bradford Young, and the main performances of Danai Gurira and Isaac de Bankolé root the drama in such a wonderful yet tragic humanity.
Ayodele (Isaac de Bankolé) and Adenike (Danai Gurira) are married in a grand traditional Nigerian ceremony. Ayodele has been in America a little while, whereas Nike is newer. She’s still trying to adjust, stuck in the old school role of wife at home her husband works during the day. She tries to get a job cleaning, though, this angers Ayodele whose culture demands of him masculinity; part and parcel of which is providing for his wife and not needing her to work. Between the culture clash and her marriage, Nike has a million different things on her plate.
Meanwhile, her mother-in-law is pressuring her – in their culture it is proper for a woman to get pregnant soon after the marriage, and unfortunately Nike and Ayodele can’t seem to get pregnant, though. When the situation becomes more and more dire, with Ayodele refusing to go against traditional, conventional methods, and his mother insisting he take another woman, Nike soon makes a decision which will have huge repercussions for her, her husband, and everyone around them.
The first thing you’ll notice is the extremely rich, vibrant colour palette of the film. Bradford Young brings a unique and beautiful look to Mother of George. Some of his other work includes Pariah, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, as well as most recently A Most Violent Year and Pawn Sacrifice. Young’s visual flair through the lens adds a true gorgeous quality to every single frame of the film. Added to that, Dosunmu has a different style of direction, which I’ve seen some people say detracts from the performances and the screenplay. Not at all, I say. In fact, the way Dosunmu and Young capture everything together in their respective ways it draws me tight. I felt as if I were right next to Nike (Gurira), going through the motions. The tight frames on the characters helps their world absorb into you, the colours reach out and touch you. There’s never a moment where I felt outside of the story, or the characters, even if the film moves at a slow pace much of the time.
Brings me to another portion of the movie I love: the screenplay. The script doesn’t have much dialogue throughout, which places a special significance on the performances. At the same time, the lack of massive pieces of dialogue lends itself to a film with a main concern for aesthetic and tone. With a lot of subtle, quiet scenes, the actors are left carrying so much of the weight – like a complete counterbalance between style and performance.
Isaac de Bankolé, whom I knew originally from Jim Jarmusch films specifically (as well as the impressive White Material from director Clair Denis), plays a very strong, if not fairly flawed character in Ayodele. He portrays the vulnerability and masculinity, both tied together most of the time, with such an ease. You feel for the man while also wishing he might let go of a little of his boisterous pride, instead it pushes his wife to a point of no return. Bankolé is a reserved and thoughtful actor whose presence is large in this film.
But mainly, it is Danai Gurira I love here. She is a strong and powerful actor. Her presence is equally enormous, if not more so than Bankolé. Gurira is tough, she is also flawed, but above all she bears the weight of a relationship on her shoulders. The way she has to navigate the trappings of her Nigerian culture, stuck between what she wants and what is expected of her, it is a difficult life. Gurira brings out Nike’s pain, her desire, everything with such a subdued and commanding performance. She and Bankolé work very well as a couple onscreen, their chemistry helped their relationship seem natural. Further than that, Gurira presents a woman who struggles to both adapt to living in America and adapt to marriage, plus its requirements, all the while – even in her rash decisions – making us feel for her every step of the journey.
There are not enough films set in the U.S. which celebrate the other cultures among Western culture. It is a melting pot, even if the cities become, at times, broken into ethnic enclaves. Still, this is a beautiful and heartbreaking story of two worlds coming together, as one woman tries to hold her own together. A 4&1/2-star film that succeeds because of Bankolé and Gurira acting their hearts out, as well as the combo of director Dosunmu and Young’s cinematography. Everything in this film speaks volumes, from the wonderfully sparse screenplay to the vibrancy of the visual style. All these elements are so important to Mother of George. This is not the conventional black narrative we’re offered in mainstream Western films, but as I said, this is totally a Nigerian film regardless of its Brooklyn, New York setting. We need to see more of this, and hopefully with all the talk of diversity re: Oscars in 2016 we may see a shift; somehow, some way. Studios need to take the chance and tell more stories like this one, affording different cultures a look, giving them an avenue to touch peoples hearts and minds. This is a piece of art, not simply a movie. Mother of George should be seen by everyone, especially those who love powerhouse acting and a unique sense of visual storytelling; all of which you’ll find here, in spades.