Miniseries Review: The Last Don II (dir by Graeme Clifford)


The Clericuzio saga continues and it’s sillier than ever!

The Clericuzios were the Mob family who were first introduced in a Mario Puzo novel called The Last Don.  In 1997, CBS turned The Last Don in a three-part miniseries.  The ratings were good enough that, in 1999, the network gave the world a two-episode sequel, The Last Don II.  The Last Don II was created without the input of Mario Puzo (who died shortly before the miniseries aired) but director Graeme Clifford returned, as did a few members of the cast.

For example, Danny Aiello briefly returns as the honorable but aging Don Domenico Clericuzio, talking about life in the old country and demanding to know why some of his children have yet to marry.  Under his leadership, the Clericuzios are almost totally legit and they’ve even become powerful in Hollywood.  Claudia De Lena (Michelle Burke) is in charge of the family’s film studio and has recently become engaged to a film star named Dirk Von Schelburg (Andrew Jackson, trying to do an Arnie impersonation but coming across more like Jean-Claude Van Damme).  Still, despite the fact that the Clericuzios are (slowly) abandoning organized crime, they haven’t completely cut their ties.  They still have enemies.  And when Don Clericuzio dies after dancing at his final birthday party, those enemies are set to strike.

Who can run the Clericuzio family?  Only one of the Don’s son was actively involved in the underworld aspect of the organization and he’s promptly (and, to be honest, hilariously) crushed when someone drops a shipping crate on him.  Another Clericuzio son is gunned down at his legitimate business, proving that someone is trying to take out the entire family, regardless of whether they’re a part of the family business or not.  Georgio Clericuzio (David Marciano) goes to Paris and tires to convince Claudia’s brother, Cross (Jason Gedrick), to return from exile to take things over.  Cross refuses because he’s happily married to the most famous actress in the world, the improbably named Athena Aquataine (Mo Kelso, replacing Daryl Hannah in the role).  However, Athena is subsequently blown up by a bomb that was meant for Cross and that’s all it takes to bring Cross back to America.

Now that Cross is in charge, he sets about to discover who, among the other Families, is targeting the Clericuzios.  Helping him out with this is Billy D’Angelo (James Wilder), who we are told is the the most important of the Clericuzios capos, despite the fact that he was neither seen nor mentioned in the previous Last Don.  It seems pretty obvious from the start that Billy is not to be trusted.  Everyone who has ever seen The Godfather will automatically look at Billy and say, “There’s your rat.”  But Cross is a remarkably naïve crime lord.  He’s apparently the only guy in the Mafia who has never seen a Mafia movie.

Of course, there’s more going on than just Cross trying to figure out who is targeting the Clericuzio family.  His unstable aunt, Rose Marie (Kirstie Alley), wants revenge for the murder of her son Dante but, fortunately, she’s distracted by an affair with the family’s priest (Jason Isaacs, of all people).  Disgraced former studio exec Bobby Bantz (Robert Wuhl) is plotting against Claudia.  And finally, Cross is falling in love with his stepdaughter’s nanny (Patsy Kensit) despite the fact that it’s kind of obvious that the nanny is actually an undercover FBI agent.  Remember what I said about Cross being impossibly naïve?

The Last Don was a fairly silly miniseries.  The Last Don 2 is even sillier but, for that every reason, it’s also a bit more entertaining.  If the first Last Don was held together by the rivalry between Cross and Dante, the sequel is held together by a nonstop flow of melodrama, overheated dialogue, and thoroughly unsubtle acting.  It’s as if the director looked at every over-the-top scene and said, “It’s okay but can we turn things up just a little bit more?”  As such, tt’s not enough for Danny Aiello to merely make a cameo before his character dies.  Instead, he has to deliver cryptic words of wisdom about family and and honor and he has to do one final, Zorbaesque dance of joy before his heart gives out.  Meanwhile, Kirstie Alley really throws herself into playing the insane Rose Marie and whether she’s seducing a priest or hoarsely yelling that she doesn’t know how to ice skate, her performance is always more than strange enough to be watchable.  Jason Isaacs, meanwhile, furrows his brow desperately as he tries to resist temptation.  Patsy Kensit is the world’s worst FBI agent while Kim Coates shows up as one of her colleagues.  Conrad Dunn returns as Lia, the Sicilian assassin with the world’s silliest mustache.  Even the presence of Robert Wuhl is less of a problem in the sequel.  With everyone chewing up every piece of scenery that they can get their hands on, it somehow makes sense that Robert Wuhl would show up and start yelling, “DON’T LAUGH AT ME!”  Somehow, it even seems appropriate that Joe Mantegna receives a “special appearance” credit, even though his character pretty much only appears in the archival footage used during the opening credits.  The Last Don II is just that type of miniseries.

Jason Gedrick and James Wilder are both good actors and they both do what they can with the roles of Cross and Billy.  Unfortunately, both of them were seriously miscast in The Last Don 2.  Neither one of them is the least bit Italian and Wilder was a bit too young to be convincing as the most feared capo in the family.  Compared to the classic gangster films that inspired them, both The Last Don and its sequel feels more like gangster cosplay than an actual portrait of life as a member of the Cosa Nostra.  Like the first Last Don, The Last Don II suffers from a lack of authenticity but it’s just ludicrous enough to be fun.

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.

Thinner (1996, directed by Tom Holland)


Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke, in a fat suit) is a morbidly obese attorney who might be destined to die of a heart attack but who definitely will not be serving jail time despite running over an old gypsy woman. After a corrupt judge and crooked cop, both of whom are friends of Billy’s, conspire to get Halleck acquitted, all three of them are cursed by the woman’s husband (Michael Constnatine). The judge turns into a lizard while the cop is covered in sores. Halleck, however, finally starts to lose weight! At first, he’s happy. He’s finally getting thin and all he had to do was run over an old woman! But then, he realizes that he’s never going to stop getting thinner and he’s going to just waste away.

Thinner is based on a novel by Richard Bachman, who was actually Stephen King. Like most of the Bachman books, Thinner is nastier than most of the King books. Billy is a terrible character and he deserves exactly what’s coming to him. The book is not usually listed as being one of King’s better efforts and the movie doesn’t get much love either. I’ve always liked Thinner, though. It’s like a really good episode of Tales From The Crypt, with Billy paying the price for his sins. Billy actually gets several chances to redeem himself but, because he’s such a terrible character, he keeps messing them up. Instead of begging for forgiveness, Billy hires a gangster (Joe Mantegna) to try to take out the gypsies. Even when the dead woman’s husband gives Billy a chance to escape his fate with some shred of dignity, Billy would rather go after his perceived enemies. Many bad things happen to Billy but he brings them all on himself. Even when it becomes obvious that he’s under a curse, he still thinks he can plea bargain his way out of it.  He’s a lawyer, through and through.

Thinner is frequently cartoonish and broad but that works for the story that it’s telling. Robert John Burke’s performance may not have many shadings to it but again, it’s right for the story that’s being told.  My favorite performance in the film was Joe Mantegna’s turn as the gangster and fans of Late Night Cinemax will feel a rush of nostalgia when Kari Wuhrer makes an appearance as the beautiful daughter of the woman that Billy ran over.  Thinner is a middle-tier King adaptation, neither as bad nor as good as some others. I dug it.

Above Suspicion (1995, directed by Steven Schachter)


Dempsey Cain (Christopher Reeve) is a former test pilot turned homicide detective who ends up getting shot because of the incompetence of another cop, a patrolman named Nick Cain (Edward Kerr).  Nick also happens to be Dempsey’s younger brother.  While Dempsey’s in the hospital, Nick has an affair with Dempsey’s wife, Gail (Kim Cattrall).  When a now-paralyzed Dempsey returns home, he deals with his depression by drinking and contemplating suicide.  He tells Gail and Nick that he no longer wants to live but that his life insurance policy doesn’t cover suicide.  He comes up with a plan for his wife and brother to stage a break-in and murder him.  Because Gail and Nick are secretly lovers and want Dempsey out of the way, they agree.  However, it turns out that Dempsey isn’t as naive as they assumed and he still has a few tricks of his own.  It looks like the perfect murder but Detective Alan Reinhardt (Joe Mantegna) is determined to solve the case.

Produced for HBO, Above Suspicion is a clever and twisty film noir that, unfortunately, never escapes the shadow of Reeve’s real-life tragedy.  Just a week after the film first aired on HBO, Christopher Reeve was suffered the spinal chord injury that left him confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.  Knowing that Reeve would spend the final nine years of his life paralyzed from the neck down can make it difficult to watch Above Suspicion, which is unfortunate because this film features what might be Reeve’s best performance.

As an actor, Christopher Reeve was always typecast as Superman and he definitely missed out on some roles as a mistake.  Above Suspicion makes clever use of Reeve’s good guy image but casting him as someone who everyone thinks is a hero but who actually has a very dark side to his personality.  Everyone in the film thinks of Dempsey as being Superman but he instead reveals himself to be Lex Luthor.  It was definitely a chance of pace role for Reeve and he really seems to enjoy playing a scheming villain for once.  Watching the film today, it is obvious that he had enough talent that, if not for his injury, he probably would have eventually made an Alan Alda-style comeback that would have seen him settling into the role of being a much-in-demand character actor.

Interestingly, the clever script was written by William H. Macy, shortly before he found fame as Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo.  The film is a clever homage to films like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Ring Twice and Christopher Reeve and Joe Mantegna are both fun to watch as they play their cat-and-mouse game.  Despite the real-life tragedy that it unintentionally invokes, Above Suspicion is a clever and twisty thriller featuring a cast of talented actors at their best.

 

 

Catching-Up With Two Courtroom Dramas: Suspect and 12 Angry Men


As a part of my continuing effort to get caught up with reviewing all of the movies that I’ve seen this year, here’s two courtroom dramas that I recently caught on This TV.

  • Suspect
  • Released in 1987
  • Directed by Peter Yates
  • Starring Cher, Dennis Quaid, Liam Neeson, John Mahoney, Joe Mantegna, Philip Bosco, Fred Melamed, Bernie McInerney, Bill Cobbs, Richard Gant, Jim Walton, Michael Beach, Ralph Cosham, Djanet Sears 

Suspect is a hilariously dumb movie.  How dumb is it?  Let me count the ways.

First off, Cher plays a highly successful if rather stressed public defender.  And don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that Cher is a bad actress or anything.  She’s actually pretty good when she’s playing Cher.  But, in this movie, she’s playing someone who managed to graduate from law school and pass the DC bar.

Secondly, Cher is assigned to defend a homeless man when he’s accused of murdering a clerk who works for the Justice Department.  The homeless man is deaf and mute, which isn’t funny.  What is funny is when he gets a shave and a shower and he’s magically revealed to be a rather handsome and fresh-faced Liam Neeson.  Liam doesn’t give a bad performance in the role.  In fact, he probably gives the best performance in the film.  But still, it’s hard to escape the fact that he’s Liam Neeson and he basically looks like he just arrived for a weekend at Cannes.

Third, during the trial, one of the jurors (Dennis Quaid) decides to investigate the case on his own.  Cher even helps him do it, which is the type of thing that would get a real-life attorney disbarred.  However, I guess Cher thinks that it’s worth the risk.  I guess that’s the power of Dennis Quaid’s smile.

Fourth, the prosecuting attorney is played by Joe Mantegna and he gives such a good performance that you find yourself hoping that he wins the case.

Fifth, while it’s true that real-life attorneys are rarely as slick or well-dressed as they are portrayed in the movies, one would think that Cher would at least take off her leather jacket before cross-examining a witness.

Sixth, it’s not a spoiler to tell you that the homeless man is innocent.  We know he’s innocent from the minute that we see he’s Liam Neeson.  Liam only kills who people deserve it.  The real murderer is revealed at the end of the film and it turns out to be the last person you would suspect, mostly because we haven’t been given any reason to suspect him.  The ending is less of a twist and more an extended middle finger to any viewer actually trying to solve the damn mystery.

I usually enjoy a good courtroom drama but bad courtroom dramas put me to sleep.  Guess which one Suspect was.

 

  • 12 Angry Men
  • Released 1997
  • Directed by John Frankenheimer
  • Starring Courtney B. Vance, Ossie Davis, George C. Scott, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Dorian Harewood, James Gandolfini, Tony Danza, Jack Lemmon, Hume Cronyn, Mykelti Williamson, Edward James Olmos, William Petersen, Mary McDonnell, Tyrees Allen, Douglas Spain

The 12 Angry Men are back!

Well, no, not actually.  This is a remake of the classic 1957 film and it was produced for Showtime.  It’s updated in that not all of the jurors are white and bigoted Juror #10 (Mykelti Williamson) is now a member of the Nation of Islam.  Otherwise, it’s the same script, with Juror #8 (Jack Lemmon) trying to convince the other jurors not to send a young man to Death Row while Juror #3 (George C. Scott) deals with his family issues.

I really wanted to like this production, as it had a strong cast and a strong director and it was a remake of one of my favorite films.  Unfortunately, the remake just didn’t work for me.  As good an actor as Jack Lemmon was, he just didn’t project the same moral authority as Henry Fonda did the original.  If Fonda seemed to be the voice of truth and integrity, Lemmon just came across like an old man who had too much time on his hands.  Without Fonda’s moral certitude, 12 Angry Men simply becomes a story about how 12 men acquitted a boy of murder because they assumed that a woman would be too vain to wear her glasses to court.  The brilliance of the original is that it keeps you from dwelling on the fact that the accused was probably guilty.  The remake, however, feels like almost an argument for abandoning the jury system.

A Movie A Day #336: The Bronx Bull (2017, directed by Martin Guigui)


New York in the 1930s.  Jake LaMotta (Morean Aria) is a tough street kid who is pushed into fighting by his abusive father (Paul Sorvino) and who is taught how to box by a sympathetic priest (Ray Wise).  When Jake finally escapes from his Hellish home life, it is so he can pursue a career as a professional boxer.  Ironically, the same violent nature that nearly destroyed him as a youth will now be the key to his future success.

In the late 60s, a middle-aged Jake LaMotta (William Forsythe) testifies before a government panel that is investigating that influence of the Mafia in professional boxing.  LaMotta testifies that, during his professional career, he did take a dive in one of his most famous matches.  LaMotta goes on to pursue an entertainment career which, despite starring in Cauliflower Ears with Jane Russell, never amounts too much.  He drinks too much, fights too much, and gets into arguments with a ghost (Robert Davi).  He also gets married several times, to women played by everyone from Penelope Ann Miller to Alicia Witt.  The movie ends with Jake happily walking down a snowy street and a title card announcing that Jake is now 95 years old and married to his seventh wife.  (The real Jake LaMotta died on September, 9 months after the release of The Bronx Bull.)

The Bronx Bull is a largely pointless movie about the later life of the antisocial boxer who was previously immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.  In fact, The Bronx Bull was originally announced and went into production as Raging Bull II.  Then the producers of the original Raging Bull found out, filed a lawsuit, and the film became The Bronx Bull.  Because of the lawsuit, The Bronx Bull could cover every aspect of Jake’s life, except for what was already covered in Raging Bull.  In fact, Scorsese’s film (which undoubtedly had a huge impact on LaMotta’s later life) is not even mentioned in The Bronx Bull.

William Forsythe does what he can with the role but, for the most part, Jake just seems to be a lout with anger issues.  With a cast that includes everyone from Tom Sizemore to Cloris Leachman to Bruce Davison, the movie is full of familiar faces but none of them get too much of a chance to make an impression.  Joe Mantegna comes the closest, playing Jake’s best friend.  The Bronx Bull was not only shot on the cheap but it looks even cheaper, with studio backlots unconvincingly filling in for 1930s Bronx.  The film’s director, Martin Guigui, occasionally tries to throw in a Scorsesesque camera movement and there are a few black-and-white flashbacks but, for the most part, this is the mockbuster version of Raging Bull.

Insomnia File #10: Eye For An Eye (dir by John Schlesinger)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Eye_for_an_Eye_(1996_film)_poster

If you were awake at midnight and trying to get some sleep, you could have turned over to ThillerMax and watched the 1996 revenge thriller, Eye For An Eye.  However, the film wouldn’t have helped you get to sleep.  Eye For An Eye is not a film that you sleep through.

Eye For An Eye opens with Karen McCann (Sally Field) comforting her youngest daughter, Megan (Alexandra Kyle).  Megan is terrified of a moth that has flown into her bedroom.  “Kill it, mommy, kill it!” Megan shouts.  Instead, Karen gently takes the moth in her hand and allows it to escape through an open window.  In those first few minutes, the film tells us everything that it feels to be important about Karen.  She’s a mother.  She lives in a big house in the suburbs.  And she wouldn’t kill a moth…

But — the name of the title is Eye For An Eye and that would seem to promise killing so we know that something terrible is going to happen to change Karen’s outlook on life.

And it does!  The next afternoon, Karen is stuck in traffic and calls her oldest daughter, 17 year-old Julie (Olivia Burnette).  In an extremely harrowing sequence that is pure nightmare fuel, Karen helplessly listens as Julie is raped and murdered.

A white trash deliveryman named Robert Doob is arrested for the crime and we immediately know that he’s guilty.  First off, his name is Robert Doob and that’s a serial killer name if I’ve ever heard one.  Secondly, he smirks at Karen and her husband (Ed Harris) and, in a particularly cruel moment that was especially upsetting to this former stutterer, he imitates Julie’s stammer.  Third, Robert has tattoos and Satanic facial hair.  And finally, Robert Doob is played by Keifer Sutherland.  And usually, I find Keifer and his growl of a voice to be kinda sexy in a dangerous sorta way but in Eye For An Eye, he was so icky that he just made my skin crawl.

Robert Doob is obviously guilty but an evil liberal judge throws the case out on a technicality.  After Karen gets over the shock of seeing justice perverted, she decides to take the law into her own hands.  After meeting a professional vigilante (Philip Baker Hall, looking slightly amused no matter how grim he tries to act), Karen decides to learn how to use a gun so that she can get her revenge…

There’s not a single subtle moment in Eye For An Eye but that’s actually the main reason I enjoyed the film.  Everything — from the performances to the script to the direction to the music to … well, everything — is completely and totally over-the-top.  The symbolism is so heavy-handed and the film is so heavily stacked in favor of vigilante justice that the whole thing becomes oddly fascinating.  It may not be a great film but it’s always watchable.  It may not be subtle and it may even be borderline irresponsible in its portrayal of the American justice system but who cares?  By the end of the movie, I was over whatever real world concerns I may have had about the film’s premise and I was totally  cheering Karen on in her quest for vengeance.  I imagine I’m not alone in that.  Eye For An Eye is the type of film that elitist movie snobs tend to dismiss, even while secretly knowing that it’s actually kinda awesome.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers

All Hail Slade Craven! A Look At Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal


Slade Craven, the hero of Turbulence 3

Slade Craven, the hero of Turbulence 3

The first Turbulence was a 1997 box office flop that starred Lauren Holly as a flight attendant who must defeat Ray Liotta and land an airplane.  Turbulence 2 was a 1999 direct-to-video release that starred Craig Sheffer as an engineer who must defeat a terrorist and land an airplane.  2001’s Turbulence 3 reuses the special effects footage from the first Turbulence and features Craig Sheffer in a different role but otherwise, it is a completely unrelated to the first two films.  This time, John Mann plays a rock star who must defeat a terrorist and land an airplane.

Slade Craven is a death rocker who, with his white makeup and his long black hair, is an obvious stand-in for Marilyn Manson.  Like Marilyn in his prime, Slade Craven is a controversial artist whose music is critical of religion.  Unlike Marilyn Manson (whose video for Sweet Things Are Made Of This still has the power to shock), the one Slade Craven music video that we see mostly features Slade stumbling around a high school basement and petting a dog.  Marilyn Manson sang about the beautiful people.  Slade Craven’s biggest hit is Love Gun.

Slade Craven has announced his retirement.  His final concert, complete with pyrotechnics and a working electric chair, will be held on an airplane, while the plane is flying from California to Canada.  Only 40 of his most devoted fans will be allowed on the plane but “10 million people” will be watching via the miracle of the Internet.  (Everything about the internet was still exotic in 2001.)

This is what a hacker looked like in 2001.

This is what a hacker looked like in 2001.

On the ground, hacker Nick Watts (Craig Sheffer) is illegally watching the concert when FBI agent Kate Hayden (Gabriella Anwar) shows up to arrest him.  However, before Kate can put on the handcuffs, they notice that something strange is happening on the plane.  Someone has just murdered the band’s manager and has locked Slade in the first class restroom.  A man disguised to look like Slade shoots a co-pilot and announces that he’s going to crash the plane into a cursed cemetery in an area of East Kansas that is so unholy that “even the pope refuses to fly over it.”  The crash will not only be seen by the 10 million people watching on the internet but it will also unleash Satan into the world.

With the help of Nick and Kate, Slade frees himself from his restraints and becomes a hilariously unlikely action hero.  Not only does Slade have to defeat his doppelgänger and the other Satanists on the plane but, after the remaining pilot (Rutger Hauer!) is revealed to be a part of the conspiracy, Slade has to land the plane on his own.  Luckily, Nick has an old NES flight simulator that he can use to help talk Slade down.  “We’re all going to rock and roll!” Slade tells the passengers as he pulls on the throttle.  Meanwhile, on the ground, Kate rewards Nick by handcuffing him and then walking towards the bedroom while unbuttoning her blouse.  Nick hops after her.

Also, on the ground, Joe Mantegna plays an FBI agent.  All of the scenes with Mantegna take place in two locations, suggesting that Mantegna filmed all of his scenes in a day or two.  Turbulence 3 proves that it is impossible to hear Mantegna’s voice without picturing Fat Tony.

Of all the films about heavy metal singers fighting terrorists and landing airplanes, Turbulence 3 might be the best.  All credit belongs to John Mann’s Slade Craven who rocks every day, parties every night, and beats up terrorists all of the time.  Slade Craven proves the nobody saved the world like a shock rocker.  Sadly, there has never been a Turbulence 4.  I would love to see the further adventures of Slade Craven.

turbulence-3-poster

Shattered Politics #53: The Godfather Part III (dir by Francis Ford Coppola)


GodfatherIII2

Well, it’s come to this.

First released in 1990, The Godfather Part III was nominated for best picture (it lost to Goodfellas Dances With Wolves) but it’s got a terrible reputation.  Over the past two weeks, whenever I’ve mentioned that I was planning on reviewing The Godfather and The Godfather Part II for this series of reviews, everyone who I talked to mentioned that they loved the first two Godfather films and that they hated the third one.  Quite a few, in fact, suggested that I shouldn’t even bother reviewing the third one.  In their eyes, The Godfather Part III was like that one cousin who you know exists but, because he got caught cashing your grandma’s social security check, you never send a Christmas card.

But you know what?

It was never even an option for me to skip reviewing The Godfather, Part III.  First off, I’m a completist.  It’s long been my goal to review every single best picture nominee and, regardless of how much some people may dislike it, that’s exactly what The Godfather Part III is.

Plus, I love the Godfather movies.  I’m a fourth Italian (and, much like the Corleones, my Italian side comes from Southern Italy) and I was raised Catholic.  Let’s face it — The Godfather movies were made for me.  Even Part III.

So, with all that in mind, I recently sat down and rewatched The Godfather Part III.  And I’m not saying that it was an easy film to watch.  It’s a flawed film and those flaws are made even more obvious when you compare it to the previous two Godfathers.  It’s hard to follow up on perfection.  And I have to admit that, even though I had seen Part III before, I was still expecting it to be better than it actually was.  I had forgotten just how many slow spots there were.  I had forgotten how confusing the plot could get.  I had forgotten….

Okay, I’m really starting to sound negative here and I don’t want to sound negative.  Because I like The Godfather, Part III.  I think it’s a good but uneven film.  Some of my favorite films are good but uneven…

But this is a Godfather film that we’re talking about here!

The Godfather Part III opens in 1979, 20+ years since the end of the second film.  Tom Hagen has died off-screen (booo!) and Michael (Al Pacino) is nearly 60 and looking forward to retirement.  He’s handed the Corleone criminal empire over to the flamboyant Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna).  Michael has finally become a legitimate businessman but he’s lost everyone that he loved.  Kay (Diane Keaton) has divorced him.  His son, Anthony (Franco D’Ambrosio), knows that Michael was responsible for killing Uncle Fredo and wants nothing to do with the family business.  Instead, Anthony wants to be an opera singer.  Meanwhile, his daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola) is headstrong and rebellious.  (Or, at least, she’s supposed to be.  That’s what the audience is told, anyway.  None of that really comes across on the screen.)

Now, the first two Godfather films featured their share of melodrama but neither one of them comes close to matching all of the schemes, betrayals, and plots that play out over the course of Godfather, Part III.  Let’s see if I can keep all of this straight:

As the film opens, Michael is receiving an award from the Vatican.  Kay, who is now married to a judge, shows up with Mary and Anthony.  Michael is obviously happy to see her.  Kay glares at him and says, “That ceremony was disgusting!”  (Damn, I thought, Kay’s suddenly being kind of a bitch.  Fortunately, later on in the movie, Kay’s dialogue was both better written and delivered.)

Then, Vincent (Andy Garcia) shows up!  Vincent is one of those handsome, sexy gangsters whose every action is followed by an exclamation point!  Vincent is Sonny’s illegitimate son!  He wears a cool leather jacket!  He openly flirts with his cousin Mary!  He has sex with Bridget Fonda!  He kills Joey Zasa’s thugs!  He convinces Michael to mentor him!

And, as soon as Vincent enters the film, suddenly every scene starts to end with an exclamation point!

And then, Michael goes to Sicily!  He gets swindled by the corrupt Archbishop Gilday (Donal Donnelly)!  He gets targeted by a corrupt Italian politician!  He confesses his sins to Cardinal Lamberto (Raf Vallone)!  Lamberto later becomes Pope!

Meanwhile, Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) is conspiring to kill Michael!  Because that’s what elderly Mafia dons do!  And then Kay, Anthony, and Mary all come to Sicily!  Anthony is going to be making his opera debut!  And soon Vincent is sleeping with Mary, even though they’re first cousins!

And even more people want Michael dead and I’m not really sure why!  Everyone goes to the opera!  We sit through the entire opera!  Meanwhile, enemies of the Corleones are killed!  And some Corleones are killed!  And it all ends tragically!

Okay, I’m starting to get snarky here and it’s probably getting a little bit hard to believe that I actually do like The Godfather, Part III.  And, as much as I hate to do it, there are a few more flaws that I do need to point out.  Sofia Coppola is one of my favorite directors and she has really pretty hair and we both have similar noses but …. well, let’s just say that it’s probably a good thing that Sofia pursued a career as a director and not as an actress.  Reportedly, Sofia was a last minute pick for the role, cast after Winona Ryder suddenly dropped out of the production.  It’s not so much that her performance is terrible as much as it’s not up to the level of the rest of the cast.  Watching this Godfather, you’re acutely aware of how much of what you’re seeing on screen was determined by Sofia’s inexperience as an actress.

And then there’s that opera.  Now, I know that I’m supposed to love opera because I’m a girl and I’m a fourth Italian.  And I do love big emotions and big drama and all the rest.  But oh my God, the opera at the end of the movie went on and on.  There’s only so much entertainment you can get out of watching actors watch other actors.

But, at the same time, for every flaw, there’s a part of the film that does work.  First off, the film itself is gorgeous to look at, with a lot of wonderfully baroque sets and scenes taking place against the beautiful Italian landscape.  Al Pacino brings a very real gravity to the role of Michael and it’s fun to watch him trying to win back Diane Keaton.  (In those brief scenes, The Godfather Part III almost becomes a romantic comedy.)  Talia Shire is obviously having a lot of fun playing Connie as being a Lady MacBeth-type of character.  (In fact, they needed to give Connie a film of her own where she could poison anyone who get on her nerves.)  And Andy Garcia does a great job as Vincent.  You watch him and you never have any doubt that he could be Sonny’s son.

The Godfather Part III may not live up to the first two Godfather films but what film could?

Embracing the Melodrama #40: Bugsy (dir by Barry Levinson)


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Let’s continue to embrace the melodrama with the 1991 best picture nominee Bugsy.

Gangster Benjamin Siegel (Warren Beatty) may be known as Bugsy but nobody dares call him that to his face.  Siegel may be best known for his quick temper and his willingness to murder anyone who gets in his way, but Ben insists that he’s not as crazy as everyone considers him to be.  Instead, Ben knows that he’s a very special person, a visionary businessman whose business just happens to be organized crime.  Along with his childhood friends Lucky Luciano (Bill Graham) and Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley), Siegel is one of the founders of the modern American crime syndicate.  Unlike his more practical-minded partners, Siegel revels in being a public figure.  Bugsy examines how Siegel became a celebrity gangster and how that celebrity eventually led to his downfall.

As the film opens, Luciano and Lansky send Siegel out to Los Angeles, specifically to look after their west coast business operations.  Before Siegel leaves, he is specifically told to keep a low profile.  So, of course, as soon as Siegel arrives in Los Angeles, he starts hanging out with actor George Raft (Joe Mantegna) and having a very public affair with actress Virginia Hill (Annette Bening).  Siegel quickly falls in love with the glamour and glitz of Hollywood and starts to think of himself as being a movie star.  When he’s not working with violent gangster Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) to control the Los Angeles underworld, Siegel is attending film premieres and even shooting a Hollywood screen test.  Back in New York, Luciano and Lansky can only watch as their childhood friend goes out of his way to defy their instructions and become the most famous gangster in America.

Eventually, Siegel goes on a gambling trip to Nevada and comes up with an idea that is destined to change America forever.  With funding from Lansky and Luciano, Siegel begins construction on the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.  However, Siegel’s plans are so extravagant and, in many ways, impractical that the budget soon soars out of control.  Not helping matters is the fact that Virginia is embezzling money from the casino’s budget.  Even after Siegel finds out, he can’t bring himself to be angry at her.  He understand that he and Virginia are essentially cut from the same cloth.

However, back in New York, Luciano grows more and more frustrated with Siegel’s wasteful ways and Lansky comes to realize that he can only protect his friend for so long…

Bugsy is a big, extravagant movie that tries to be a few too many things at once.  Over the course of two and a half hours, it attempts to be a love story, a biopic, a classic gangster film, an allegory for the American dream, a history lesson, a period piece, and finally, a metaphor for the act of filmmaking itself.  (When Siegel complains that Luciano and Lansky don’t understand why the Flamingo has to be huge, it’s hard not to feel that he’s meant to be a stand in for every director who has ever had his budget cut by a meddling studio executive.)  When a film tries to be so many different things all at once, you can’t be surprised when the end result is a little uneven.  Bugsy starts out slowly but gradually picks up speed and the final part of the movie is everything that one could hope for from an epic gangster film.

The film works best as a character study of a man who, in the best American tradition, attempts to reinvent himself by moving out west.  Back in New York, Ben is known as a cold-blooded and dangerous killer.  However, once he arrives in Los Angeles, Ben attempts to recreate himself as a celebrity and then as a visionary.  For him, the Flamingo is about more than money.  The Flamingo is about being remembered for something other than his nickname.  The Flamingo is his way to escape from his past.  However, as Bugsy makes clear, the past can be ignored but it never goes away.

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