Thursday, October 12, 2006

Name Clearing Part II - A Movie Club Column

This blog started on Nov 10, 2005 with a Movie Club column where I announced that I would be watching the 6 Star Wars movies in chronological order... We're planning something special to celebrate the blog's 1 yr anniversary this Nov. 10th and on that day Cinemax will run all 6 Star Wars movies in chronological order. Coincidence? I‘ll leave it to my fellow conspiracy theorists to decide.

In last week's column we talked about the importance of a good name...This week, in honor of Columbus Day, we continue that theme with a Movie Club column about the Corleone Family in the Godfather and how one man built up the family's name, while another destroyed it. The Columbus Day tie-in is not because the movie is about an Italian family per se.. but because Columbus was the ultimate immigrant, and a large part of G2 is the story of how an immigrant came to America with nothing, and makes something out of his life... just like many of our ancestors.

The movie is not exactly a sequel to the Original Godfather - It is actually a half new story and half back story that was actually part of the original Godfather book -The producers smartly left the flashbacks out of the first movie because it would have been waaaaaay too long. Therefore part of the movie is the Robert DeNiro show as flashbacks tell the story of how Vito Corleone built his family and the rest is the Al Pacino Show as we see Michael Corleone destroy his family.. You will leave the movie saying the opposite of the old Nike campaign - I don’t like Mike!

Speaking of Mikes that I am not too happy with… I can’t believe the sheer audacity of Mike Francesa and Chris Russo of WFAN in their ambush interview with Corey Lidle on Monday afternoon. (Incidentally, Lidle and Thurman Munson are 2 Yankees to die in plane crashes on Jewish Holidays.. Lidle on Sukkot.. and Munson died on Tisha B’Av.) Lidle had been quoted in a tabloid paper saying the Yankee players were “unprepared” for the Detroit series… Mike and the Mad Dog ranted and raved that Lidle’s comments were dissing the beloved sacred Mother Teresa-esque manager Joe Torre.. Lidle called in to defend himself, and repeatedly told Mike and the Mad Dog that he was referring to the players not being prepared and that the comments were no reflection on Torre. However, the two co-hosts in full Bill O’Reilly/Nancy Grace attack mode claimed he was criticizing Torre. (Torre by the way was the first person to confirm to CNN Wed. afternoon the plane belonged to Cory Lidle - Mayor Bloomberg wouldn’t give out names pending notification of family members-And Lidle’s wife was in a plane from NY to CA the whole afternoon apparently unaware of what was going on.) The ultimate insult came when Lidle remarked how he was just enjoying the day in NY City when a friend text messaged him about the content of the radio show... so he called in. To which Mad Dog retorted… “How can you be enjoying the day so soon after the Yankees lost?”…. Now who the heck are these two guys to question Lidle for enjoying himself during his last 48 hours on Earth?

In the flashback portion of the movie, Vito comes off as being rather likeable.. As a young kid he watches his family slaughtered by a ruthless gangster in Corleone, Italy; He is then smuggled away to avoid getting killed, and ends up on a ship bound for New York. Once he arrives in Ellis Island, an overworked staffer just stamps his name as Corleone when it reality that was not his name but the town from which he emigrated. This kind of hits home for me because when my father and his parents came over here in 1948, they decided to “Americanize” their name to Kean.. but the worker at Ellis Island just wrote Kean for my dad, and "Keane" for my grandparents. From then on, they always had different spellings.

Vito advanced through the ranks purely by chance. He was in his apt minding his own business one day when his neighbor throws him a bag and asks him to hide it... and would you believe it was loaded with guns? Later the neighbor, played by a very young Bruno Kirby decides to repay him with an expensive rug... which he then steals from a rich neighbor. Ultimately, Vito ends up stealing clothes and re-selling them, and when the local gangster - Don Fannucci adds Vito to the list of people he terrifies with demands for "protection money", Vito decides to just kill him - and from then on, we see Vito as the man about town who goes around helping ladies who have issues with mean landlords. Sounds very sweet and sugary… almost like The Waltons.

The ultimate last flashback - is Pearl Harbor Day - Vito's birthday... the kids are grown up and are in their 20s and they all gather around the kitchen table preparing to surprise him with a cake. James Caan is there (At that time he was a big star post “Brian’s Song” and was credited as a "special appearance") plus there is a cameo by Abe Vigoda. You can see how well they all get along - except for Michael. He is the outsider not involved with the camraderie with his siblings, and when its time to surprise his dad with the cake, he just sits alone in the kitchen... moments after informing his family that he joined the Marines, as did many other people who signed up when the Japanese attacked us. His family is upset with him, but he doesn't care... but oddly enough later in life he would bellow to his siblings how they "disappoint" him. yet you wonder with his lousy husband and parenting skills whether they really cared too much for him, or just liked him because he is their brother.

The plot in the non-flashback part of the movie consists of Michael Corleone's battle with Florida Jewish gangster Hyman Roth. The 2 team up while simultaneously attempting to double cross each other. Roth, played by legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg lives in a small house in Florida and while watching a college football game tells Michael what a big sports fan he is, while at the same time admitting how much he admires Arnold Rothstein for fixing the 1919 World Series.

There are other interesting trends to note in this film… the movie starts at the Christening of Michael’s son and the law enforcement milling around the parking lot are enjoying hors deuvres and drinks… a contrast to the first movie where the cops were treated rather unfriendly during Vito’s daughter Connie’s wedding. That scene also introduces us to the fascinating Nevada Senator Geary whose mispronunciation of the name “Vito Corleone” makes one think the good Senator is an outsider to the hijinks of the Corleone family. Indeed it turns out that he is very aware of the names and pronunciations when he tells Michael in no uncertain terms that his kind of people are not welcome in his state. How interesting to see the tables turn when Senator Geary “blacks out” and wakes up to find his favorite hooker dead and bloodied… in a Corleone hotel… only to be reassured by Tom Hagen that everything is gonna be ok because it’s a Corleone hotel!

There is another smooth segue scene when Michael travels to Cuba to see Roth. This is the pre-Castro Cuba before the Revolution and Roth speaks lovingly of the Cuban government which does not regulate him as much as his nearby home base of Florida. During the New Year’s Eve visit, Michael notices the Cuban rebels and admires their ability to rise up against the establishment.. (which was a well placed dig at Roth and his old school way of doing things.) We then go to a flashback scene of Young Vito Corleone rebelling against gangster Don Fannucci by refusing to pay him the requested “protection money”.

There is also the character Pentangeli..portrayed in an Oscar winning performance by Michael V. Gazzo, another old school gangster who survives a choking by the Rosato brothers. In the beginning of the movie at the Christening he drunkenly starts leading the band in “Italian Music” only to see them perform “Pop Goes The Weasel”.. Later on in the movie he prepares to testify as a Gravano-esque snitch before Senator Leary’s committee investigating organized crime, only to back down when his brother flies in from Italy and sits in the audience to hear his testimony..

It was cool to see how young some of the actors are in this movie.. Bruno Kirby looks like a kid.. Danny Aiello who plays a Rosato brother looks exactly the same. And the character of Johnny Ola (who ultimately led to the demise of Fredo Corleone) is unrecognizable as he looks today as Uncle Junior on “The Sopranos”

The theme that ultimately sticks out in my mind is how Michael Corleone can’t hold his family together while conducting his business affairs while his dad was able to maintain the balance. Michael achieves shmuck status for killing his brother… and also for denying his kids time with their mom who leaves him after she gets tired of his shenanigans.. Michael doesn’t even go home for Christmas because he is too busy hanging out with Roth in Cuba. Instead he dispatches Tom Hagen to get his son a gift. The first movie ends with Michael closing a door to keep his wife out of business… in the 2nd movie she visits her children, and as she waits for her little son to give her a good bye kiss at the doorway Michael silently walks over and closes the door leaving her out in the cold. Now we see why his family did not like him.

Even though Michael disintegrates in this film… The Godfather Part II is a total masterpeace… with 2 legends DeNiro and Pacino.. who of course never share a scene… I may have to rent Heat to see that colossal acting duo work together.,…The screenplay is flawless as we go from flashback to “present time“. . and the characters are well fleshed out and very fascinating.. specifically Senator Leary, Hyman Roth and Pentageli. On a scale of 1 to 4 bladders meaning how less likely you would be to leave in the middle to go to the bathroom.. Godfather Part II is a 4 bladder movie!

Ok now on to the picks… Last week we were 7-4-3; our record now is 30-38-6. Pumpstradamus is 3-1-1. Remember team in caps is at home… And this week for the 1pm games were taking all Road games except for 1!

Giants 3 point doggies over ATLANTA – Now that the NY Baseball team has shown Atlanta who is boss.. the Giants have a chance to throw around some muscle.

Miami 2 doggies over NY JETS – The Jets do well against the Dolphins.. but they are coming off such a horrendous loss.. do they deserve to be favorites?

Bengals 6 faves over TAMPA BAY – I get nervous after 5 or 6 weeks with these winless teams…but the Bengals are for superior.. For more logic see Pumpstradamus below.

Titans 10 doggies over WASHINGTON – See above and I’m not too impressed with the Skins..

Texans 13 doggies over DALLAS – Huh? Has Nate lost his marbles.. I don’t think the evil Cowboys will cover against Houston… (also remember I love the Giants and hate the Cowboys.. if youre betting shekels, keep that in mind!)

Seattle 3 faves over ST. LOUIS – Poor St. Louis fans.. looking ahead to Game 4 against the Mets and losing to Seattle on the same day. I don’t think the Mets are gonna sweep ‘em though… I like the Mets in 5.. but if they beat Carpenter Fri. night.. hmmmm.

Eagles 3 faves over NEW ORLEANS – How sacrilegious.. the Saints are at home and are America’s team.. but the Eagles look pretty good so far this year..

Panthers 3 doggies at BALTIMORE – Hey how many road teams are going to cover the 1pm games? I’m taking 8.. in honor of Shmini Atzeret… (which is the 8th day of Sukkot)

DETROIT 1 doggies over Buffalo – Hey a Detroit – NY matchup.. sounds like The World Series. The only difference is Detroit is going to win this one.. the only 1pm home team I am picking..

San Diego 10 OVER SAN FRANSISCO – The 49ers have been a halfway decent home team.. but despite not being a fan of double digit spreads.. this one is reasonable.

STEELERS 6 ½ faves over The Chiefs – I’m thisclose to jumping off the Steeler bandwagon – If KC plays like they did last week.. it could be a long season for Steeler fans. They always have the Penguins who looked good on Thurs night.. (By the way The Star Ledger again doesn’t have a Ranger beat writer!)

Oakland 15 doggies over DENVER – The Broncos will win.. but so far they have only averaged 12 points a game.. so that spread might be a bit too large.

ARIZONA 10 ½ doggies over Chicago – Probably a dopey pick but you gotta go with Home Dogs on Monday Night.. By the way.. isn’t MNF getting higher ratings on ESPN than the regular Bachelor – What About Brian garbage on ABC?

PUMPSTRADAMUS PICK OF THE WEEK: This week in honor of Hyman Roth… we pick a game from his home state of Florida.. and since George Steinbrenner is home in Tampa watching the Mets in the playoffs while his Yankee season is done… we’re picking the Tampa Bay – Cincinatti game. The pick is Cincy because they are in Ohio, the home state of the Hamilton Ohio prosecutor who got caught on a courthouse closed circuit camera walking around butt naked.

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