Movie Recommendations – Volume IV

Movie Recommendations – December 2019

The Report (2019)

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With an excellent cast, brilliant cinematography and direction, ‘The Report’ (2019) is one of the most underrated films of this year. Casting a wide net from the early days after 9/11 to the 2nd term of the Obama Administration, the film covers the work of Senate Intelligence Committee staffer Daniel Jones and his team’s tireless efforts to bring the scope of the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ program into the public light. Focusing on not just the legality of the program but its effectiveness as well as its handlers, the film does a great job in bringing that story to a wider audience who may not have read the report or even heard about it. Part of the appeal of the film is that it creates a real sense of drama and real-world significance that often lacks in other Hollywood films about Washington. You really do sympathize with the characters and understand the weight that is on their shoulders handling a report of both national and international significance.

The fact that the report or at least a summary of it was made public is a great victory for transparency, the truth, and for holding those in power accountable for their actions. In terms of actual justice for those who may have perpetuated crimes and/or human rights violations, the film makes it clear that justice was not served but hopefully because those crimes were laid out to bare through this report, we will be finally able to learn that torture does not in fact work and that by refraining from these ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ in the future, we do not become a monster in order to defeat a monster.

Ford v. Ferrari (2019)

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Ford v. Ferrari is an excellent film that is sure not to bore you when you see it on the big screen. It’s got that classic kind of Hollywood racing film and it does a good job of keeping you excited throughout the movie especially if you have never heard of the story before. It can be hard to make a racing film carry emotional weight, but the stakes are kept high throughout and there’s never a dull moment. Each major character has something on the line whether it’s their pride, their future success, their family, or their car brand’s ability to be the best in the world. A stellar cast of Matt Damon, Christian Bale, and Jon Bernthal deserve a stellar script and a stellar story and luckily, Ford v. Ferrari is ready to provide that and then some.

Even if you are not a fan of racing, you’ll enjoy the story behind this film especially when it comes to the time-old theme of proving yourself against the odds. An unlikely American auto company focused on station wagons and comfort is able to stand up to the challenge thrown down by the legendary Ferrari auto company who had dominated stock-car racing for decades. An unlikely hotheaded driver is able to overcome his doubts and his hotheaded instincts to become the key to a potential victory of Ford v. Ferrari. An American racing legend, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is able to put his racing days behind him due to his heart condition to focus on the new mission of building an amazing Ford racing car that could put them over the top against Ferrari and establish his company’s success as a budding entrepreneur. This film shows you that you don’t just need talent and the will to win but you also need heart and a belief in your team to get the job done. An excellent film that I really recommend while it’s in theaters.

The Irishman (2019)

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I know you may be asking yourself: Another mafia movie? Hasn’t this particular genre been exhausted already? The answer is both yes and no. It is a ‘yes’ because it’s the same old story of a rise and an eventual fall of mobsters who thought that they could get away with their crimes and most eventually ended up dead or in prison. It is a good film overall about hubris, vanity, pride, and how a man can justify his sins when both family and society is against you by saying that he was just ‘following orders.’ I say ‘No’ as well because any Scorsese mafia movie is going to be a classic in some way and this one in particular does an excellent job of highlighting the connections of the legendary and controversial Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa to the Pennsylvania mafia. The unique story of Jimmy Hoffa has never really been explored that well in American cinema and I have to admire Al Pacino a lot for his performance of the emphatic and conniving union leader.

Not to be outdone, Joe Pesci who is a legend in film makes his first film in what seems like a decade and does an excellent job playing the mafia crime boss Russell Bufalino. Robert DeNiro plays the role of Frank Sheeran, a World War II, mafia accomplice, and Jimmy Hoffa bodyguard who is a tragic character in a way. Like any good Scorsese movie, the film asks the audience about how far a person can go to betray their ‘friends’ as they ‘follow orders’ and at what cost is it to do morally heinous acts and still act for forgiveness from family and from God.

The film’s almost 3 and a ½ hour runtime is my biggest gripe as it does drag at times and some scenes could have been cut out without detracting from the overall story. Still though, it’s a great Scorsese film that will add to the legendary acting careers of De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci. I would not be surprised if this film walks away with the ‘Best Picture’ Academy Award even if another film may end up deserving it more.

Knives Out (2019)

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A murder mystery film that you actually care about? Daniel Craig talking in a Southern drawl while figuring out the case in a tweed suit? An all-star cast that actually acts in this film like an all-star cast? What movie could this be? This movie is ‘Knives Out’, a film about a mystery that Agatha Christie would endorse regarding the suspect suicide of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) who is a wealthy crime novelist found dead after a family party and foul play might have been involved. Each of the family members is a suspect and the top-notch private detective recently published in The New Yorker, Benoit Blanc believes one of the family members may be responsible for having murdered him. Besides the family itself, one non-family member is also a suspect, Harlan’s nurse, Ana Cabrera (played by the excellent Ana de Armas, an actress on the rise) who was with Harlan the last time he was seen alive.

If this is not an intriguing premise for a murder mystery, you may want to skip this one, but you shouldn’t because it is that good. This film is more than a modern murder mystery brought to the big screen, but it also intelligently discusses the issue of immigration in the United States and also lampoons extremist views on both sides during the film’s more lighthearted moments. The film also covers family relations through the generations, what someone is or isn’t entitled to, how social class can divide people rather than unite them, and how somebody can stand up for themselves when the crowd (or family in this case) is out to get them for their own benefit. Don’t sleep on ‘Knives Out’, which is a definite crowd pleaser and a satisfying ending that could result in future films. I, for one, hope Daniel Craig will be in more films where he can use a Southern drawl from Kentucky as it was surprisingly convincing and must have took a lot for him to emulate. Highly recommend this one which is in theaters now.

‘The Godfather’ – Film Review and Analysis

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“I’ve spent my life trying not to be careless. Women and children can be careless, but not men.”

One of the great classic American films of the 20th century, The Godfather, directed by the legendary Francis Ford Coppola and based off of the novel of the same title by Mario Puzo is often considered to be the most influential film that created the ‘organized crime’ or mafia/gangster genre in cinemas.

Since its’ release in theaters in 1972, it has garnered a cult following among fans who led to ‘The Godfather’ becoming a trilogy with Parts Two and Three both released in following years. Because of its significance culturally and historically, the Library of Congress preserved it in the United States National Film Registry in 1990. Because of its success at the box office and with film critics alike, ‘The Godfather’ garnered many Academy Award nominations and won four Academy Awards including ‘Best Actor’ for Marlon Brando and ‘Best Picture’.

In addition to adding to the legendary career of Brando, ‘The Godfather’ also introduced to Hollywood a young Al Pacino and a very talented Robert Duvall. Both men would have extremely successful careers in American film but I believe that it was ‘The Godfather’ which helped catapult their early careers into noteworthy stardom.

Drawing parallels to the real life ‘Five Families’ of New York that dominated the Italian mafia during the 20th century, the fictional Corleone family, led by Don Vito Corleone, is highlighted as being the ‘pariah’ and at odds with the other crime families throughout the film. Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, acts like the quintessential mob boss whose cunning and intellect has made him to this day a very quotable character that has become apart of American popular culture.

In The Godfather, we see Vito nearing the end of his reign as boss of the family and looking for his eventual successor. Vito has three sons: Sonny, the oldest whose lack of foresight and hotheaded temper makes him a liability albeit is the favorite initially to replace Vito as Don of the Corleone family. Fredo is the middle child and is a consistent womanizer. Considered neither to be reliable nor intelligent, Fredo is kept to the side often and is not a suitable person to lead the family due to his lack of cunning and intellect. Michael, a U.S. Army Veteran and the youngest child of Vito Corleone is portrayed as being very innocent and often has requested to be kept out of the family business if he can avoid it.

However, as the viewers of the film can understand and interpret, a mafia family reels everyone in to its business whether or not it’s intentional. One of the best aspects of The Godfather is watching the changes in Michael’s behavior and demeanor as extenuating circumstances involving the family forces his hand and he is forced to take on more responsibilities and duties as a Corleone and the son of Vito. His loss of innocence and the transformation that occurs with Michael from dignified U.S. Army Veteran to cunning, ruthless Mafia boss is a great strength of this timeless film.

For those critics who are against violent Mafia films and choose not to watch them, that is fine but it should be considered that there is more to this movie than meets the eye. Above all else, it is the story of a father trying to repent for the sins of the past and trying to keep his sons from avoiding the same mistakes that he has made.

The relationship between Vito and his son, Michael in particular is memorable for how Vito expects so much from Michael considering he is the most levelheaded and intelligent of the Corleone brothers. There is one great scene in the film where Vito and Michael are discussing the ongoing drama of the war between “The Five Families.” Vito laments to Michael on how he is sorry that he was thrust into the mafia business when he expected his son instead to become “Governor Corleone” or “Mayor Corleone.” Michael simply looks at his father lovingly, and says: “We’ll get there, pop. We’ll get there.”

Other classic scenes that I enjoyed involve the courtship between Michael and a beautiful Sicilian woman named Apollonia. What I liked most was highlighting the very old-school dating process of asking Apollonia’s father for permission to date and then later marry his daughter with all respect given. It’s a touching moment in the film, which reveals that Michael’s humanity has not been totally wiped out because of the mafia. It was also great of Director Coppola to show the traditional procession of the Sicilian wedding and how all of the townspeople were involved in wishing Michael and Apollonia well.

Without trying to spoil the rest of the film for those of you readers who haven’t watched The Godfather yet, I can’t recommend it enough to avid movie fans. The directing by Francis Ford Coppola, the cinematography, the acting performances by Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, James Caan, etc. are phenomenal and they deserved every heap of credit that was bestowed upon them at the Oscars and elsewhere.

The Godfather is simply more than just a mafia film in my opinion. It is a story about a complex family, fathers and sons, human nature, and the thirst for power and respect. Have an open mind and see this film if you get the chance. I promise that you won’t regret it even if the running time is three hours in total. You can always tell your friends and family that I wrote a blog post that you couldn’t refuse to read.