Saturday, July 29, 2006

Movie Club: From Yoda to Vigoda - An Offer You Can't Refuse

Hello Movie Club Peeps.. Its time once again for a movie club column as we kick off our Summer Movie Club Series of Godfather Movies.. For those of you new to this blog, we kicked it off last year when I watched the six Star Wars movies in chronological order, and this summer we continue with The Godfather anthology. So basically we go from Yoda to Vigoda.

It was cool to see a movie with Abe Vigoda where he still looked somewhat young. Keep in mind that the movie was made a mere 3 years before Barney Miller... A show where he looked very old… yet he has barely aged in the 30 years since that show premiered. Oddly enough, check out Max Gail who played Wojo.. He looked very young on that show, yet once its run ended.. he aged about 20 years almost overnight when he grew facial hair on his baby face and stopped wearing his toupee.

Vigoda came to mind recently when I saw a blind item in the Daily News about a "top secret love affair" involving 2 sitcom co stars who are now secretly dating now that one of the couple has reached the legal age of consent. A lot of bloggers think this refers to rumors that John Stamos is dating one of those Olsen twins... but I thought that the actress who played the baby adopted by Vigoda in the Fish spinoff had now grown up and was dating that stud Abe.... Or it could be Cloris Leachman started dating one of those kiddies on "Malcolm in the Middle". I wonder if Stamos and the Olsen Twin stay up watching Nick at Night to re-watch the scenes they did together on Full House…Hey remember when we got locked in the gas station and you missed your birthday party?

And why you may speculate did it take so long to get this column together?.... Good luck trying to find the Godfather as a Blockbuster Rental. I went to 3 pretty well stocked Blockbusters and nobody had it for rent.. they did have it for sale for about 20 bucks. I think video stores are about to undergo another major transformation. Years ago there used to be all those Mom and Pop video stores that rented out videotapes until they were swallowed up by the big franchise stores. Then tapes were phased out in favor of dvds.

Here comes the next trend: Blockbuster phased out late fees so now people who like the movie they rent just keep the dvd for the price of the movie plus a "restocking fee". That’s why i couldn’t find any copies of “The Godfather“.. Nobody returns ’em. However, dvds are so cheap to manufacture compared to videotapes, that you can buy dvd’s for about the same as the cost of renting them.. (except for those new grocery store kiosks which rent 'em for a buck and sell 'em for about 20). Take a look at the video store next time you go.. the rental space has decreased... and now the stores are increasing their sales. Maybe that started with TV shows on DVD that are hard to rent because they take hours to watch?. And if I’m not mistaken, I think it was Johnny Carson who started this trend when he made the bold decision to sell old tapes of “The Tonight Show”. This is the wave of the future. Forget about the "restocking" fee replacing unreturned movies.. ... That’s just a fee charged to people who keep their rental movies to offset the profit they will make when they resell them on Ebay.

I didn’t buy Godfather at Blockbuster. but found it for 10 bucks at Best Buy. I also bought four movies for 10 bucks at B-buster.. although getting a fourth good movie was a bit of a challenge. One movie that was inexplicably on the discount rack was last years Oscar Winner Crash.. a perfectly narrated thought provoking masterpeace of a movie that uses the word "blank" better than a Match Game Marathon! It was also quite unpredictable unlike “For Better or For Worse” where everybody knows that Elizabeth is going to hook up with her old boyfriend (now divorced) at her friend’s car dealership at about the same moment that her current boyfriend dumps her.

It’s kind of interesting that I bought Crash while looking for The Godfather. Both are excellent movies and show different stages of loyalty people feel to their family. But Crash dispels a lot of prejudicial presumptions while The Godfather plays into a lot of the stereotypes one would associate with an organized crime family. Crash does have a remarkable amount of coincidence in terms of how the storylines overlap that has not been pulled off as well since Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. (I’m sure Dangerspouse will be happy that I have a reference to PBS here!) Seinfeld also utilized that type of storytelling technique tying in unrelated storylines in a nice little bow, as they made the ride to the finish line a funny adventure.

The Godfather’s screenplay is with a few exceptions very true to the original book written by Mario Puzo. The movie opens up at a wedding as Al Pacino figuratively takes a bullhorn and announces to the world that he is ready to launch his incredible acting career. He tells his girlfriend Kay (played by an oh so young Diane Keaton,) the background of his family. It’s an interesting perspective since Al’s Michael Corleone is a Marine who looks at his family’s business from the perspective of the outside looking in. Michael is a military man.. a definite outsider whose dedication to not being part of “the life” is only overshadowed by his loyalty to his father.. The Godfather Don Vito Corleone. played by the legend Marlon Brando. (I still can’t figure out how he was able to concentrate during that bathtub scene in “Last Tango in Paris”.. what an actor!)

Michael nonchalantly tells her about how his dad muscled his way with a music agent by “making him an offer he couldn’t refuse” which basically meant do it my way or I’ll shoot you.. Or in this case a contract can contain his signature or his brains. When she is shocked he points out to her…”That’s my family… it’s not me”. Hmmmm, maybe not. Ironically this all takes place at his sister’s wedding.. Later in the movie he will be The Godfather to his sister’s baby… but right after the baby’s baptism… he has the Baby’s daddy killed. which he then denies to his wife with a twisted logic later seen by Bill Clinton when he said he did not have “sex” with Monica Lewinsky. I wonder if years later, Michael and that kid go through the family albums.. “Hey that was taken at your Baptism.. That was the day I killed your daddy!”

The plot gets moving at the wedding where a singer appeals to the Godfather for some help getting a part in a movie. A popular singer linked to Organized Crime crossing over to acting and then becoming a bigshot in Vegas? Who could that be based on? Anyway, after movie mogul Jack Woltz wakes up and screams his lungs out when he finds himself in bed with his horse's head... the very next scene is with Don Corleone and potential drug kingpin Sollozo.. Corleone’s decision to stay out of the narcotics business and Sollozo’s decision to cut out the big shots within the Corleone family lead to the showdown between Sollozo and Michael Corleone….. the turning point in the movie where Michael sheds his identity as a Marine outsider and places himself smack dab right in the middle of the family business.

It’s interesting how the military parallels the rules involving the “family lifestyle”. Military respects rank and answers to authority yet we see scenes where someone dares to question authority.. At one point Michael Corleone tells his brother never to take sides against the family business when an issue comes up regarding the purchase of a Vegas casino. In another scene, one of the family members questions Don Corleone about not getting involved in the narcotics industry after he says no thank you to Sollozo’s drug dealing offer. Meanwhile another major turning point involves a corrupt cop who is on Sollozo’s payroll being questioned about roughing up Michael outside his father‘s hospital where is recuperating from a hit ordered by Sollozo.. Sollozo is also the guy who utters the classic line.. “try the veal”…

Ultimately that is the turning point where Michael begins his ascension to the top of the Family hierarchy. After getting a can of whoop-ass from the cop who should have been making sure that the hospitalized Don Corleone is safe while recuperating from gunshot wounds, Michael spends a lot of time with a broken jaw sounding very much like Morey Amsterdam. You almost expect Rose Marie and Dick Van Dyke to come out and make Richard Deacon jokes. Nonetheless, Michael takes care of business and then scoots his way to Italy where he meets a hot babe. His non traditional courtship consists of his giving her dad an offer he can’t refuse.. “his daughter can gain a husband or lose a father”. Incidentally he meets her while she is out walking with some children.. The same scenario where he runs into Kay in an attempt to reconcile. Do these gangsters come out of the woodwork when kiddies are around because it’s safe? That’s a move right out of the Hezbollah playbook where the terrorists hide like cowards among innocent children.

Incidentally, you wonder what Michael Corleone's Marine career was like. The movie takes place right after World War II, and it seems like Mike has some pent up anger that he takes out on people who cross him up. Keep in mind that Brando's Vito would threaten people with "offers they can't refuse".. but when push came to shove he'd behead a horsey or two. He didn't take revenge when a son was murdered, but instead went to arrange a peace pact with the other gangster bigshots. On the other hand, Michael gets a little roughed up and the next thing you know restaurant patrons are requesting tables in the shooting or non-shooting section.

The pacing and sense of dread is skillfully presented thanks to some excellent direction. There’s also a sense of anticipation that you just know deep down inside that something really really bad is about to happen. When Jack Woltz, the horse owner woke up, I sat up in terror rushing to lower the volume on my dvd player knowing full well that the moment he would discover his horsey’s head, his reaction would be a bloodcurdling scream that I hope wouldn’t wake the neighbors. The soundtrack is excellent and it’s quite cool to see such young versions of Robert Duvall and James Caan who had just achieved teenybopper status with the tearjerker “Brian’s Song”. The only minor issue is the movie is a bit too long and its hard to follow the names of the characters.. I had to see it twice and check out IMDB to get my facts straight for this column. Nonetheless, on a scale of one to four bladders meaning how less likely you would be to leave in the middle to go to the bathroom.. The Godfather I is a four bladder movie… And even though its not quite in The Godfather’s league… Crash is also a four bladder movie. Wow, 8 bladders in one place.. Its almost like the men’s room at sweltering Giants Stadium at Saturday Night’s Bon Jovi concert!


Don Pumpelone said...

Incredibly, it sounds so much like my own family, especially when i'm trying to keep myself out of the mishugas of the mishpacha! Did you know my grandmother makes cannolis, and she has a gun, too...

Nate said...

I know someone else whose grandmother made canolis and had a gun too. Now was that a gun in her pocket, was she glad to see me, or was it a moustache comb?