Category: 1972


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Man, talk about a movie that seems like it was made just for me that I wound up not liking at all. I’m a political science major (for those who aren’t familiar with my personal life) who suffers from what we’ll call… disillusionment with the modern political process. I still follow it fairly religiously, but every time a politician I admire lets me down, part of me dies, and it’s not a stretch of the imagination to say that my complete and total lack of faith in American politics is why I still haven’t graduated from college. It’s kind of ridiculous at this point considering my general stellar academic record when I actually participate in the process. So, a 1970s satire starring Robert Redford (The Way We Were) that chronicles an idealistic politician’s path to corruption and selling out seems like a perfect fit for my bleak worldview. Sadly, 1972’s The Candidate is a shallow and superficial affair that is also undeniably dull.

Anyone who’s seen the Chris Rock film Head of State should be familiar with the basic plot of the film; Head of State is mostly just a more upbeat and directly comedic version of this film starring an African-American (and it deals with a presidential election instead of a Senatorial one). Bill McKay (Robert Redford) is the overwhelmingly handsome and liberal son of a famous former governor of California. The Democratic party needs to field a candidate in the Senate election against the seemingly unbeatable incumbent Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter), and a sleazy party operative, Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle), picks Bill McKay as the sacrificial lamb because this untested and inexperienced pretty boy should have no chance of winning. But, Bill begins to resonate with the voters, and he slowly starts to relinquish the control he was promised over his campaign to party hacks in the hopes that he can win, and Bill begins to be just another political sell-out.

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The premise of that film sounds spectacular. I was incredibly excited when I put this movie in my DVD player, and I thought my streak of watching excellent films in this blog was going to continue. It didn’t. The Candidate isn’t an inherently bad film. At times, its portrayal of the realistic tedium and day-to-day activities of a political campaign can be interesting. In fact, I’m not sure if many other films capture it as well, but that portraiture is rarely used for the sake of propelling a compelling plot forward. And, Bill is about as uninteresting a protagonist as you can imagine. Though the film’s intention was to have a weak, passive protagonist, that doesn’t make said weak, passive protagonist a strong anchor for an entire film. The Peter Boyle character was far more compelling, and just, in general, the things The Candidate has to say about political corruption seem stale and sadly dated.

Though Bill was a terribly boring character, Robert Redford did as much he possibly could with the bland “hero” he had to work with. Part of the film’s ability to work is that you have to believe Redford is charming and handsome enough to sway the state of California despite the fact he clearly doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about on the issues. And, since Robert Redford was one of the biggest sex symbols of the 1970s, he’s got the handsome part down. And with his boyish good looks and natural charm, he oozes the natural appeal that any politician would need. Although the best performances of the film were Peter Boyle as Marcus as well as Melvyn Douglas as Bill McKay’s father who smirks and laughs as he is fully aware of the path of self-corruption that his son is about to set himself on.

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I’ll keep this review short because A) I watched this movie several days ago and B ) I just didn’t care that much for it. Even if like me, you consider yourself a political junkie, there are other movies that handle similar ground better. Hell, I’m sure that if I were to re-watch Head of State, I would find it to be a more enjoyable experience than sitting through The Candidate again. I respect what the movie was trying to say, and, perhaps, in 1972, its message might have resonated more, but the passage of time has robbed The Candidate of whatever power it may have had. If you are going to watch this film, come for Robert Redford and stay for Peter Boyle. Otherwise, find a different way to pass your time.

Final Score: B-

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It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed a film that is almost without fail always counted among the top ten films ever made. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever reviewed a film this universally acclaimed. 8 1/2 is probably the closest contender if we throw foreign films into the mix. Chinatown is probably pretty high up there but only among more serious movie types (although you could say the same thing about 8 1/2). I just looked at the list of every single movie I’ve reviewed for this blog (I keep one along with the scores I gave them for my own clerical purposes), and absolutely no film I’ve reviewed is as much of a cultural touchstone as 1972’s Francis Ford Coppola opus, The Godfather. It’s the #2 highest ranked film on IMBD.com (narrowly behind The Shawshank Redemption). It is one of the most celebrated and beloved films ever made. It’s influence is immeasurable. But, it’s not quite perfect.

Thankfully, it is about as close to perfect as you could wish while still recognizing the film has one troubling flaw which distracted me for the film’s entire second half. Perhaps, it’s because the film is so well-loved and so highly considered that I was extra attentive to any flaws that I could find in the film. I’d like to believe I wasn’t going out of my way to look for things that I disliked in this movie, but there’s always a chance that I was doing it subconsciously. But I had so much trouble believing a fundamental transformation of the film that I was drawn out of the technical wizardry that Francis Ford Coppola (and cinematographer Gordon Willis) were using to wow me. Perhaps, I’m ill-suited to analyze the motivations and competing urges that seemed week and artificial to me, but the spiritual downfall of Michael Corleone still seems poorly developed.

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A generations-sprawling epic (particularly when the later two films are taken into consideration), The Godfather is ultimately the tale of the Corleone crime family. Starting on the day of his daughter’s (Rocky‘s Talia Shire) wedding in the mid 1940s, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is presented as the head of his powerful crime family. With the help of his sons, the hot-tempered Sonny (James Caan), the incompetent Fredo (John Cazale), and the adopted Tommy (Robert Duvall), Vito runs gambling and prostitution circuits in the New York area. Vito’s son Michael (Glengarry Glen Ross‘s Al Pacino) is a war hero that wants nothing to do with the family business, but when a rival family nearly murders his father, Michael takes it upon himself to run the Corleone family even if it means losing his soul in the process.

At nearly three hours long, The Godfather is a multi-layered, complex epic in every sense of the word so I fear to spoil too much about the plot. Although at the same time, this movie is 40 years old now. It’s not like there’s anybody reading this blog who is still yet to see this movie. Or at least I hope not. What I was trying to get at before though is that there is a sweeping grandeur to the film which is based off of Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name (Puzo also helped to write the screenplay with Francis Ford Coppola). The film falters on occasion but you can’t fault it’s ambition. The Godfather is as much about the price of family and how familial loyalty can undo us as it is a detailed look at the mafiosi in the 1940s. The attention to rich characterization and a bird’s eye view of the most intimate secrets of this family is what made The Godfather such a revelation upon its release.

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Much like Glengarry Glen Ross, this is truly an actors’ film. The ensemble casting is pretty superb (if not quite as seamlessly fluid as Glengarry) and it ranks among the best-cast films in cinema history. Brando won the Best Actor Oscar at the 1972 Academy Awards (though he declined it because of how Hollywood was treating Native Americans… long fucking story), and while I don’t actually consider Vito to the be the male lead of the film (that’s clearly Michael), it’s still a stunning performance. And it was probably Brando’s last great role. This was one of Pacino’s first big roles, and it was obviously what catapulted him to become the film legend he is today. And this is pre-crazy Pacino. It is a wonderful, restrained, subtle performance that helps makes Michael’s self-destruction far more believable than the script which rushes it despite the movie already being three hours long. The film didn’t nab three Best Supporting Actor nominations for nothing.

It’s also an incredibly directed and indelibly shot film. The film was shot by the “Prince of Darkness” himself, Gordon Willis. He earned the nickname because of how he flaunted the then conventional rules of how much light needed to be in any given scene. But it’s the same dark, moody atmosphere and half-lit room and deals that makes so much of The Godfather‘s visual appeal. This is a film where the mood of any given shot or scene is nearly as important as the actual on-screen dialogue and action. In fact, The Godfather is full to the brim of semi-lengthy sequences without dialogue (or without pertinent dialogue) and Coppola and Gordon Willis are able to evoke so much emotion just from the visual composition of a shot.

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And as far as direction goes, is there a better example of cross-cutting in the history of the medium than the famous baptism scene? Michael has finally taken over as the head of the Corleone family and intercut with images of the baptism of his sister’s newly born child, we see Michael’s associates brutally eliminating in one fell swoop anyone who had the temerity to cross or betray Michael’s family. That mixture of the sacred and profane is one of many things that made Coppola such an accomplished director. That moment has become a bit of American iconography. So much so that when it’s played with in The Godfather: Part III, you’re reminded why that film is so f***ing awful compared to the first two entries.

My only significant complaint about The Godfather (which is why I’ve ultimately always considered The Godfather: Part II to be a better film) is sadly, as I’ve said, tied straight to the major character arc that Michael undergoes. His steady transformation from the good-natured, straight and narrow son who doesn’t want to be involved in his family’s criminal underside into a ruthless and merciless crime boss is a shift that I just can’t buy. Much like Anakin becoming Darth Vader in Star Wars, the leap here seems hard to grasp. Although the film plays it out as Michael’s steady descent into hell because he’s trying to protect his family, Michael seemed so pure at the film’s beginning that the movie doesn’t do enough justice showing him being torn about the terrible things he does. He simply does them and there seems to be no psychological afterthoughts as to the terrible things he proceeds to commit.

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If the rest of the film weren’t so masterfully constructed, acted, and conceived, that flaw would be much more detrimental. Thankfully then, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather is a masterpiece in virtually every other respect and it remains an important hallmark of American cinema. My inability to connect with the transformation of Michael Corleone ultimately keeps this film from perfection (and therefore from receiving my illusive top score of an “A+”), but it takes a special kind of movie to keep me engaged for three hours and The Godfather never loses the audience’s focus for a second. I ultimately don’t consider this film to be in my Top 10 Greatest Films of all time, but if you even have a passing interest in movies, The Godfather is simply one you can’t miss.

Final Score: A

 

All I’ve been listening to this last week or two (besides albums that I review for work) are bands that I’m seeing at Bonnaroo this year and as I said in my last Song of the Day post, I’m trying to avoid doing any songs from bands I’m seeing there. So, I’m having to just sort of pick random songs out of my head for this. And since I have about 120 GB of music on my iPod, I know a lot of songs and it’s hard to pick just one. Anyways, one of my favorite older bands that not a lot of people are familiar with (cause even when it comes to old music, I still sadly find ways to be a hipster) is the original alt-country rock act, Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show. One of my favorite children’s authors, Shel Silverstein, was the principal songwriter for the group, and I don’t know. They just make really pretty and memorable ballads, and I love me a good ballad. I can put their greatest hits album on and listen to the whole thing and not find a single song I want to skip. It’s a little cheesy, but it’s the good kind of cheesy. One of my favorite Dr. Hook songs (and it was one of their biggest hits, if not their biggest hit) is “Sylvia’s Mother.” I swear to god that Outkast stole the idea for “Ms. Jackson” from this tune. It’s a gorgeous love song, and I hope everybody that reads this takes a second to listen and enjoy it. It’s a classic.

I’ve got a page on this blog dedicated just to requests that people can make for movies/TV shows they want me to review. It doesn’t get used very often, and half of the requests have actually been made via my Facebook page instead of my actual blog. But because it happens so rarely, I do always make the effort to review the movies that have been requested (Cinema Paradiso, Moon, The Court Jester, Road to Rio, and The Place Promised In Our Early Days). For the last two months, one of the requested movies has been sitting in my living room in its Netflix envelope as I went an extended period without reviewing a single film from Netflix. Generally speaking, the quality of the films I’ve reviewed that others have told me to watch has been good (except for Road to Rio). However, the 1972 musical 1776 recounting the battle over America declaring its independence from Great Britain jumped back and forth over the line of being an unmitigated disaster or being simply unremarkable. It may have had its moments (that almost all seemed to involve Howard de Silva’s Ben Franklin), but I can’t recommend this film to even the most ardent history buffs.

In May of 1776, John Adams (William Daniels akaBoy Meets World’s Mr. Feeney aka the man whose voice will make me listen to everything he says like it’s the most important lesson in the world) is mourning the fact that no one in the Continental Congress will listen to his pleas to officially declare Independence from England. As Ben Franklin is fond of reminding him, he’s obnoxious and unliked, and generally no one gives a shit as to what he says. Honestly, any description of the plot of this film is going to devolve into me giving a history lesson that everybody else knows (f you paid any attention in school whatsoever). The entire Southern delegation is loyal to the crown because it’s more economically advantageous for them to remain friendly with England, and most of the middle states (especially Pennsylvania) don’t wish to rock the boat and commit treason (thereby opening themselves up to the very real risk of execution by the British if their revolution fails). When Franklin convinces Adams to let another delegate introduce the measure, the Continental Congress finally agrees to debate the measure and the film follows the blow-by-blow of 18th century legislative hearings with a never-ending stream of musical numbers.

Since the movie is a musical and it can’t go more than 15 minutes without a massive Stephen Sondheim-esque number (though without any of Sondheim’s inspiration), it’s only fair to judge the film heavily on the quality of its musical performances. Unfortunately, in that regard, it’s a total dud. Imagine all of the worst excess of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta without any of their wit, and you’ve got the never-ending songs from this film. I can’t remember a single melody from the songs nor the words to any song. They were all completely forgettable and outright boring. I don’t blame the performers. The movie’s cast was culled almost entirely from the original Broadway production and all of the tenors, baritones, and altos all sound great in that classical musical style, but the music and lyrics they’ve been given are terribly mediocre at best and simply terrible at worst. However, there was one moment during one of the film’s musical numbers where I began to laugh uncontrollably so there was one bright spot. John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard), and others are singing about who should write the Declaration of Independence and at one point there’s a chorus of Ben Franklin (and two other historical figures) singing the phrase “sexual combustibility” referring to how Jefferson hadn’t been intimate with his wife in six months. That was pretty great.

Not only were the musical numbers almost all unbearable, they would kill the momentum of the historical and political drama on display. I’m a history buff, and while I’ve seen plenty of the scenes in this film played out in documentaries or in text books, there were honestly moments when I found myself engrossed in the intellectual and philosophical debates that our heroes were engaged in. The film captured just how tedious and absurd the ratification process for the Declaration was (which ultimately hurt the film’s pacing on occasion), and for people who enjoy history, those moments were intriguing. But, when people are having an honest ethical debate about whether we as a nation could afford to compromise on the issue of slavery in order to pass the Declaration of Independence only to burst out into a song, it ruins the whole moment. The film runs for nearly three hours, and there was honestly at least 45 minutes of material that could have been cut out of the film that would have resulted in it being a much more enjoyable experience. Rather it became a test of wills to see how many dull songs you could sit through and how many filler scenes of flat comedy you could endure before you got a intriguing moment about the birth of our nation.

The film’s redeeming qualities (its ability to poke fun at the fallibility of our founders even when they’re presented in a heroic light [i.e. Franklin’s womanizing], its display of the philosophical debates that framed our founding, great performances from William Daniels, Howard de Silva, and Ken Howard) could not even come close to redeeming its mountain of problems. I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to do a lavish Broadway revue of the Founding (and maybe in better hands, it could have been done well), but under Peter Stone’s source material (which somehow managed to win a Pulitzer Prize as a play), 1776 can only be recommended to the most die-hard musical fans simply because of its status as a classic of the American canon. Everyone else should stick to their text books.

Final Score: C

In Quentin Tarantino’s classic film Pulp Fiction, Uma Thurman’s character posits that people are either Elvis people or Beatles people. I think that’s sort of an outdated expression though and among music fans of my age group, you’re either a Beatles person or a Rolling Stones person. There’s the intellectual artistry of the Beatles and the thumping rock glory of the Stones. I”m a Beatles person myself but I still love the Stones to the very core of my being. Much like the Beatles, the Stones experimented with a wide genre of music and you can really feel the influences of American rhythm and blues the further and further they progressed in their career. This is especially true on their classic album Exile on Main Street.

The common occurrence throughout the 1960′s and 1970′s was that the exploding British Invasion had a major influence on the way that American artists were playing. Everything from the Beatles to the Who to the Stones themselves were going to affect the music stylings of generations of American performers. So what is so absolutely refreshing about Exile on Main Street is the way that the Stones explored such uniquely American soundscapes. They mix up blues-grass and what we’d now call southern Rock and combine it with their typical hard-hitting sound. Songs like “Tumbling Dice” and “Shine a Light” are instant classics in the Stones catalog. It’s extremely, extremely debatable about where this album stands in the ranks of the pantheon of great Stones albums and I’m not entirely sure if it’s one of my favorites, but you can not deny the immediate power that the album represents. There’s nothing worse than when a band clings desperately to the same tired formula over and over again, and you have to respect when a band is willing to take major risks in style and presentation.

This is without a doubt an “album” album. It’s meant to be listened to in order from beginning to end. Hence, there aren’t a ton of memorable singles on it but that’s ok because it’s meant to be digested as a whole. If you’re a Stones fan or a classic rock fan in general, I recommend it whole-heartedly. I really can’t imagine you being disappointed. This is not one of my favorite albums of all time but it’s one that if I put in, I know I’m in for an enjoyable ride.

Final Score: A-