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Francis Ford Coppola: The '70s

The Godfather (July 30/08)

Sporadically electrifying yet thoroughly uneven, The Godfather - based on Mario Puzo's acclaimed novel - details the ups and downs of the high-powered Corleone family (which includes Marlon Brando's Vito and Al Pacino's Michael) over the course of several particularly eventful months. The almost stunning degree to which director Francis Ford Coppola has established a very specific time and place certainly proves instrumental in The Godfather's success, although - as becomes evident fairly early on - it's the stellar cast's career-best work that ultimately assures the viewer's interest even through the film's less-than-enthralling stretches. The glaringly episodic structure is never more evident than in the movie's midsection, as Coppola - working from a script co-written with Puzo - places the emphasis on a series of relatively inconsequential happenings and sequences (with Michael's downright pointless sojourn in Italy undoubtedly the most obvious example of this). The periodic inclusion of admittedly breathtaking interludes - ie Michael's apprehensive assassination of two would-be interlopers - does help to temper the ineffectiveness of the film's overlong and flat-out superfluous moments, yet one can't help but imagine that the movie could've benefited from a few judicious trims here and there. Still, it's impossible to downplay the strength of the various performances - as Brando's justifiably legendary turn as the feared Don is undoubtedly matched by the impressively impassive work from Pacino (the latter's character is consequently far from sympathetic, however). And while it goes without saying that the superior sequel does retroactively improve this installment, The Godfather nevertheless remains an egregiously bloated epic that has inexplicably become one of the most lauded and celebrated efforts within contemporary cinema.

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The Conversation

The Godfather: Part II (March 29/09)

The Godfather saga continues with this installment that finds Al Pacino's Michael Corleone attempting to both expand his empire and keep his fragmented family together, while a series of flashbacks detail the early days of Michael's deceased father (Robert De Niro's Vito Corleone). Much like its lauded predecessor, The Godfather: Part II boasts a number of undeniably stunning performances and an overall atmosphere of almost flawless stateliness - yet, with the exception of a few individual sequences, the movie never quite becomes as electrifyingly compelling as one might've hoped. The pervasive degree to which screenwriters Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo stress Michael's progressively convoluted day-to-day activities ultimately hinders one's efforts at wholeheartedly embracing the storyline, as - unless one holds an inherent curiosity in the behind-the-scenes dealings of a mafia don - such moments eventually wear the viewer down with their relentlessly intricate (and doubtlessly faithful) portrayal of Michael's repetitive business dealings. And although Pacino's engaging and impressively subdued work effectively sustains the viewer's interest even through the film's more unapologetically expository interludes, it's consequently impossible to deny that The Godfather: Part II is generally at its best when focused on the origins of Marlon Brando's iconic character (ie the sepia-toned flashbacks are consistently enthralling in a way that's generally unmatched by the rest of the movie). It's worth noting, however, that the film does improve substantially in its post-intermission stretch, as director Coppola offers up a series of admittedly fascinating interludes that delve into Michael's increasingly fractured psyche - with the heated confrontation that ensues between the don and his fearful wife (Diane Keaton's Kay) possessing precisely the sort of emotional resonance that's all-too-absent from the remainder of the proceedings. There's likewise little doubt that Coppola and Puzo tie up the various plot threads in as engrossing a manner as one could possibly envision (ie Vito's revenge for the murder of his family, Michael's solution for the Fredo problem, etc), with the end result an overlong yet accomplished sequel that inevitably proves an ideal companion to its comparable progenitor.

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Apocalypse Now

© David Nusair