Miniseries Review: Mario Puzo’s The Last Don (dir by Graeme Clifford)


First broadcast over three nights in 1997, The Last Don tells the story of a powerful and respected Mafia family. They control politicians across the country and they own casinos in Vegas and their power even extends all the way to Hollywood. Despite having many enemies, the family has thrived due to the leadership of a wise but ruthless Don.  This Don remembers the old ways and imparts lessons about honor to the members of his own family.  Never let anyone know what you’re thinking.  Never side against the family.  If someone like you were to make enemies, they would become the Don’s enemies and then they would fear you …. you know, stuff like that.

However, times are changing and America is changing with it.  The underworld is no longer run by men of honor.  On top that, the Don is aging and in ill-health. Who will succeed him? One possible successor is respected by all but he’s stayed out of the dirtier aspects of the family’s business and, in fact, he seems to have no desire to be a feared man.  Another possible successor is ruthless and has a terrible temper.  He sometimes speaks out of turn, because the Don has a sentimental weakness for his children.  This possible successor’s anger is feared but perhaps fear is the future of the organized crime in America.  The old ways are changing but one thing remains the same.  The Don believes in America and he believes in family and….

Wait.

Okay, is it just me or does this all sound just a little bit familiar?

If it does, that’s probably because The Last Don is based on a novel by The Godfather‘s Mario Puzo.  Though the family may be called The Clerichuzios and the action may have been moved fro the 40s and the 50s to the 60s, 70s, and 80, the story is still the same basic one that was told in The Godfather.  Don Clerichuzio (Danny Aiello) is an honorable man whose time is coming to an end.  His grandnephew, Cross (Jason Gedrick), is the possible successor who isn’t crazy.  His grandson, Dante (Rory Cochrane), is the possible successor who is violent and doesn’t know how to negotiate.  Don Clerichuzio’s dream is for the family to become completely legitimate but good luck with that when the film business and the political world are just as corrupt as the Mafia.  I supposed one could argue that The Last Don is narrated by Don Clerichuzio while The Godfather has no narration at all but, seriously, once you have to add a voice-over to explain what’s going on, you have pretty much already last the war.

And yes, I did mention the film business.  When Francis Ford Coppola first read The Godfather, he famously hated the Hollywood sections of the book and, with the exception of Tom Hagen’s visit to Jack Woltz (and Woltz’s subsequent discovery of a horse’s head in his bed the next morning), Coppola refused to include them in the movie.  The second half of The Last Don, however, goes full Hollywood and, more or less, proves Coppola’s point.  Cross’s sister, Claudia (Michelle Burke, who also co-starred with Cochrane in Dazed and Confused), gets a job as an agent and one of her clients is the world’s most famous actress, the ludicrously named Athena Aquataine (Daryl Hannah).  When Athena has trouble with her crazy ex-husband (Chris Meloni, bringing a spark of genuine danger to the production), Cross helps her out, falls in love, and gets involved in the production of her next film.  This brings him into conflict with a studio exec named Bobby Bantz (Robert Wuhl).  Unfortunately, all of the Hollywood stuff is pretty dull.  One gets the feeling that Puzo was perhaps settling some old scores with the character of Bobby but Robert Wuhl is one of those goofy actors who belongs nowhere near a Mafia drama.  And don’t even get me started on country singer k.d. lang, who is bizarrely cast as a film director.

(Add to that, how can anyone take a character named Athena Aquataine seriously?  I never miss an Athena Aquataine movie!))

The Hollywood stuff distracts from the Mafia stuff, which is unfortunate because the Mafia stuff is at least occasionally interesting and it’s certainly better-acted than the Hollywood scenes.  Joe Mantegna plays Pippi, who is Cross’s father and who, years earlier, killed Dante’s father.  (Mantegna’s always good but it’s a struggle to take any character named Pippi seriously.)  Kirstie Alley plays Rose Marie, who is Dante’s mentally unstable mother and the Don’s only daughter.  Aiello, Mantegna, and Alley all give good performances, as do Burt Young and Seymour Cassel in the roles of family associates.  As for the “younger generation” of Clerichuzios, Gedrick is a bit dull but then again, Cross isn’t a very interesting character.  The slightly-built Cochrane is miscast as Dante but ultimately, that miscasting kind of works in that it reminds us that, due to his father being the scion of a rival family, Dante is destined to always be viewed as being an outsider.

As I said earlier, The Last Don was originally broadcast over three nights.  I watched the whole thing — all five hours of it — in one sitting and, yes, it was a bit of an endurance test.  It’s not just that it’s long but also that it keeps getting bogged down in all of the Hollywood stuff.  You don’t watch a film like this because you want to spend five hours watching Robert Wuhl mug for the camera.  You watch a film like this for the Mafia action and, for a film called The Last Don, there really wasn’t enough Mafia action.  It has its moments but it never feels as authentic as The Godfather, Casino, Goodfellas, The Irishman, The Sopranos or any of the other classic films and shows about the Mafia..  The Last Don needed to be extremely Italian but instead, it was only slightly Italian.  Robert Evans famously said that Coppola was selected to direct The Godfather because Coppola would make audiences “smell the pasta.”  There’s very little pasta in The Last Don.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: The Final Terror (dir by Andrew Davis)


“Marco!?”

“Melanie!?”

“Margaret!?”

“Dennis!?”

“Eggar!?”

“Windy!?”

If you watch the 1983’s The Final Terror, be prepared to frequently hear the names of the film’s characters.  For a slasher film about a bunch of campers wandering through the forest, The Final Terror has a surprisingly large cast and they all spend a good deal of time walking around and yelling out each other’s names.  Somehow, people keep getting lost even though they know that there’s a killer out there and they all really should be sticking together.

Interestingly enough, for a slasher film, there aren’t that many deaths.  The majority of the cast survives.  Even the most obnoxious of the campers, the one who seems like an obvious victim, manages to make it through to the finale.  I guess we should be happy that most of them survived and this was apparently their final terror.  The majority of the campers were teenagers and if you’re having your surviving your final terror when you’re not even old enough to drink yet …. well, consider yourself lucky.

The Final Terror is set up like an entry in the Friday the 13th franchise but it’s never anywhere close to being as sleazy as those films.  Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on what you, as a viewer, want in terms of a wilderness slasher film.  If you want lots of sex, blood, and people making stupid decisions, The Final Terror will probably bore you to death, despite the fact that it includes all three.  If you want a relatively realistic film about being lost in the wilderness while being stalked by an unseen killer, you’ll probably appreciate The Final Terror.  This film was directed Andrew Davis, who went on to direct several big budget Hollywood action films.  Before he became an action director, though, he worked as an assistant to cinematographer Haskell Wexler on the semi-documentary Medium Cool.  Davis brings that realistic style to The Final Terror.  Even though the film does feature some familiar faces, it’s easy to believe that you’re just watching a bunch of campers trying to survive for the weekend.

As for the cast, Rachel Ward plays one of the leaders of the campers.  Joe Pantoliano makes an early appearance as the creepy Eggar.  Daryl Hannah plays Windy.  Mark Metcalf plays another camper named Mike.  The entire ensemble actually does a pretty good job.  As I said, you really do believe that the majority of the cast are delinquent teenagers who have been sent on a camping trip.  When they work together to keep someone from bleeding to death, it almost feels like an educational film.  “Because the campers worked together,” you can imagine a narrator saying, “they might survive The Final Terror.”

The Final Terror is not bad, though I have to admit that I like my 80s slashers to be a little bit more sordid.  But for what it is — an attempt to take a realistic approach to a genre that is regularly held in dismissive disdain — The Final Terror works surprisingly well.  As captured by Andrew Davis, the wilderness is both beautiful and terrifying.  You’ll never catch me camping!

The Tie That Binds (1995, directed by Wesley Strick)


John (Keith Carradine) and his wife, Leanne (Daryl Hannah) are two white trash murderers who are on the run with the police.  When the cops catch them in the act of burglarizing a house (and murdering the people who live there), John and Leanne manages to narrowly escape but they’re forced to leave behind their 6 year-old daughter, Janie (Julia Devlin).

Traumatized by her former life, Janie is adopted by an architect named Russell (Vincent Spano) and his wife, Dana (Moira Kelly).  Dana, who lost her previous baby, and Russell are convinced that they can give Janie a loving home and help her overcome her past traumas.  And it seems like they might be correct, even though Janie is still terrified of a mysterious monster that she calls “the tooth fairy.”

However, John and Leanne are determined to get their daughter back and they’ve just found out where Russell and Dana live.

The Tie That Binds is a stupid movie from 1995 that, like a lot of stupid movies from the 90s, was put into heavy rotation on HBO and Cinemax after a brief box office run.  The main problem with the film is that everyone consistently makes the dumbest decisions possible but then we’e expected to sympathize with them when everything goes wrong.  John and Leanne may be extremely evil but they’re also extremely stupid so it’s hard to really buy into the idea that they could somehow successfully evade being caught by the police long before the inevitable scene where they confront Russell and Dana in the unfinished house that Russell’s spent the entire movie working on.

The Tie That Binds does feature good performances, all from actors who deserved better.  Keith Carradine and Daryl Hannah are frightening and Moira Kelly and Vincent Spano are convincing as a normal couple who just want to do the right thing.  Both Kelly and Spano should have been bigger stars back in the day but instead, it seems like they usually just ended up in stuff like The Tie That Binds.