Archives for posts with tag: robert deniro

You know how this goes.  Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) fights in WWII, is romantically involved with a New England WASP, Kay (Diane Keaton), and seems unlikely to become involved in his father’s crime family.  But his father (Marlon Brando) is shot and his brother Sonny (James Caan) is a hothead, so poor Michael has to become a mobster. His sister Connie (Talia Shire) is also around, and she is so badly treated and her psychology is so opaque that I pray for her to go back to Rocky.

In the second installment, we see young Don Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro), from his tragic childhood in Sicily through his gradual and seemingly passive slide into organized crime in New York. This is in parallel to Michael’s rise through casinos and hotels from Las Vegas to Cuba, where of course he sees the revolution happen. Kay’s not sold, and then he has to murder his brother Fredo (John Cazale). Also he blackmails some senators.

In the third installment, we see a director’s ego run amok.  I haven’t seen it in ten years and I hope I never do again.

I was re-watching these because you’re supposed to be familiar with them. I internalized so little of them last time that I didn’t get the “IT Crowd” episode entitled “Jen the Fredo.” So on the one hand it’s probably good that I can get references, but on the other: I still hate mob movies. Yes, these films are grand and the drama is sweeping, but everyone is unpleasant and hateful and sometimes you end up with a horse’s head in your bed. And Pacino, while he has not yet got to the point where his acting seems to be dictated by a sadist with pins, is an unconvincing blank. Everyone else is better, but that mostly tends to throw his flatness in your face.

Also, wow, are the costumes bad.  Some effort is made with cars and the width of ladies’ skirts, but hair, suits, and decor are just early 70s, and it’s dire.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Rating: R
Length: a billion trillion minutes
Score: unrateable

MV5BNThjMzczMjctZmIwOC00NTQ4LWJhZWItZDdhNTk5ZTdiMWFlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDYyMDk5MTU@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Nope, I don’t like mob movies. Even the good ones. Just like prison movies. There’s just something about the squalor and the casual violence that puts me off.

This one is a true story! Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) goes from childhood to mob peon to informer. He can’t actually achieve much, because he’s not all Sicilian (his father’s Irish), in which boat he joins Jimmy Conway (the very Irish Robert DeNiro). The chappie who can become a made man, Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), is rather unfortunately a touchy, sadistic nutbar. The film opens as we dispose of the body of a man who reminded Tommy he used to shine shoes. It turns out he’s not quite dead. It’s disgusting.

On the way, we meet Henry’s wife, Karen (Lorraine Bracco), who doesn’t seem very bright, but she will give him a blow job when he gives her shopping money and doesn’t seem to mind being slapped around, so that’s nice. He cheats on her repeatedly and flagrantly. Sometimes with Debi Mazar!

The film is well-written, well-shot, and well-paced, but it’s also super fucking gross. And the tone is not lacking in admiration. Which bothers me. Sometimes you have to make movies about things that aren’t nice, but this is too glamorizing. Henry is supposed to be sexy and appealing, at least until the coke really makes his face go blooey. And then you’re supposed to feel bad for him when Paulie (Paul Sorvino) will only give him $3200 to go away. I don’t.

The only good thing about this, as far as I can tell, is that Robert DeNiro is still trying.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Rating: R
Length: 156 minutes
Score: 3/5

There are a million adaptations of Great Expectations, and Alfonso Cuarón’s is not the worst. It is, however, suuuuuuper 90s.

None of the essentials of the story are changed; Pip is now called Finn, and he grows up on the Gulf Coast. The part of London is played by New York, and Finn (Ethan Hawke) is an artist, because I suppose that’s how we update aimless Victorian young men. Estella is still called Estella, and she is still raised to be evil by the delightfully over-the-top Miss Havisham (Anne Bancroft as Miss for some reason Dinsmoor). Gwyneth Paltrow is an excellent choice for the grown-up Estella’s cold beauty.

As an adaptation it’s fine. Ethan Hawke is pretty good at hapless, and Chris Cooper is as usual great as Joe Gargery/Coleman. Robert DeNiro plays…Robert DeNiro, and incidentally also Abel Magwitch, whose adapted name I never caught and doesn’t matter. The Florida visuals are gorgeous, particularly, of course, Miss Dinsmoor’s grand tomb of a mansion. Soho is always rainy, Central Park is always beautiful; these are almost true. The rich ciphers of Finn’s artistic life are appalling. We are meant to be appalled.

So how is it super 90s? Well, Florida seems stuck in the late 80s and early 90s generally, so there’s that. And there is Ethan Hawke’s intermittent (terrible) sensitive facial hair. People still smoke, in buildings, in New York. Everyone (men and women) dresses like a high-powered lesbian. But mostly there is Estella. Gwyneth Paltrow wears every horrible knit outfit, every pair of atrocious mules, every ghastly hairstyle. She looks great (of course). But not only were the 90s a weird, bad time for fashion, they were also a weird, inexplicable time for feminism. Estella’s power, then, is more frankly sexual than we usually see, and she seems more in control, both of which are interesting and probably good. She does not, however, make sense. So…there’s that.

Stray observations:

  • Medium-aged Pip is played by Ethan Hawke in just the worst blond wig, and I’m not sure why.
  • The child actors are phenomenally well chosen, though. Both are eminently believable, and also not irritating as actors.
  • I think I liked the soundtrack. I’m not sure I knew a single song, and the lyrics seemed heavy-handed, often, but, well, Dickens isn’t subtle, and there was no reason for this movie to be so either.
  • Hank Azaria is Estella’s mark. It’s strange not to like or to laugh at him.

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Rating: R
Length: 111 min.
Score: 3/5. Too close yet too far? If you’re doing Great Expectations, you have to do better, or at least differently.