Vincent Pastore, who played Salvatore Bonpensiero on HBO’s The Sopranos (1999-2007), told The Sunday Times series star James Gandolfini wanted to adapt the show to film before he died of a heart attack at fifty-one years old on vacation in Italy, according to Metro. Pastore says showrunner David Chase ended the series ambiguously on purpose so as to open The Sopranos up for a movie. Chase describes the “genius” actor as one of the greatest of all time, Gandolfini having won three Primetime Emmy Awards as well as a Golden Globe for his performance as conflicted mob boss Tony Soprano.
Sam Mendes would go on to direct another critique of suburbia after his American Beauty (1999), Revolutionary Road (2008). Together, the two are companion pieces – one sees the death of its leading man, the other, its leading lady.
Revolutionary Road, the later release in Mendes’s filmography (and starring his then-wife, Kate Winslet), marks a maturation of his “suburban prison” theme.
Meaning American Beauty is the more immature film.
If you don’t know what to watch next, American Beauty is available to stream on Netflix. The drama was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture as well as Best Director.
Best Original Screenplay winner Alan Ball was inspired by the “Long Island Lolita” media scandal.
As a framing device straight out of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), Lester Burnham (Best Actor Kevin Spacey) narrates the movie from beyond the grave after his murder at the hands of an unknown assailant.
He is a middle-aged magazine executive who is unhappily married to a real estate broker, Carolyn (Best Actress nominee Annette Bening), and father to an angsty teenager named Jane (Thora Birch).
Around the same time Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper) moves in next door with his repressed wife, Barbara (Allison Janney), and voyeuristic filmmaker son, Ricky (Wes Bentley), Lester becomes infatuated with Jane’s cheerleader friend, Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari).
American Beauty is frequently cited as among the worst Best Picture winners of all time, and its age has sullied it to a degree. Spacey’s own perverted past, which came to light during the #MeToo movement, makes his characterization of the pedophilic Lester a little too “realistic.”
That the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science celebrated him with an Oscar is further proof of the predator culture in Hollywood.
But, even if somebody else played Lester, the picture would still be flawed. It is a toxic masculine power fantasy for pedophiles.
Carolyn is an offensive caricature of career women, Ricky is a vehicle of wish fulfillment for Hollywood artists who objectify, fetishize, or otherwise obsess over their “muses,” and Frank proliferates the homophobic myth that male homophobes are closeted gay men.
Still, like the rose for which it is named, American Beauty is one of the most dramatically, aesthetically, and overall cinematically “beautiful” films ever made, thorns and all.
Conrad Hall’s Oscar-winning cinematography externalizes Lester’s perversion for the audience as poetically as such imagery can be photographed.
Coupled with Thomas Newman’s Heavenly nominated score and Mendes’s stage-like direction, it is some of the most striking non-CGI camerawork ever put to celluloid.
And Spacey’s line delivery is at times lyrical. His final voiceover never fails to raise chills. His performance is unethically good in that it is sympathetic, but, to the critical media consumer, it is still well worth the watch.
But it is Ball’s script that Spacey reads with such musicality, and what a script it is. It can be in equal measure comedic and stirring. Its satirical tone rings sharply inside us as a dark, sinfully watchable mood, as though pricked with… well… an American beauty.
For better or worse, American Beauty is a feat of American filmmaking out of a Hollywood dominated by abusive, older men. Its production value is impeccable, if not its ethos. At least Lester gets what he deserves at the end.
Last year, UCP signed Kate McKinnon to star in and executive produce a limited series called Joe Exotic, a scripted adaptation of a Wondery podcast, according to Page Six. However, Eric Goode, who codirected Netflix’s Tiger King (2020), says he feels like dramatization would not do the story justice, though he would cast McKinnon (or Kathy Bates) as animal rights activist Carole Baskin, and Edward Norton or Sam Rockwell as Joe Exotic. While Dax Shepard, Jared Leto, and Norton himself have been playfully lobbying for the role on social media, Goode says he has enough footage for a second season.
On Friday, Film at Lincoln Center executive director Lesli Klainberg released a memo announcing the organization would be furloughing or laying off half of its fifty-person full-time staff and all of its part-time employees, according to Variety. While continuing to provide health insurance for the furloughed full-timers, the company (which has published Film Comment since 1962) will release the May/June issue of the cinema and arts magazine digitally, after which time it will be placed on an indefinite hiatus. As per recommendations from the Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control, the center already suspended its theater operations March 12.
Following the success of his Pulp Fiction (1994), Miramax wrote Quentin Tarantino a blank check.
Using that carte blanche, he shot Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), which this critic would argue are his masterpiece, even though Pulp Fiction is the more successful movie.
Paramount did the same for Francis Ford Coppola after The Godfather (1972), and that artistic freedom, so fleeting in show business, gave us The Conversation (1974), the most significant sound picture since Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer (1927).
And, as with Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, The Conversation is the auteur’s masterwork, even though The Godfather is the more influential.
If you don’t know what to watch next, The Godfather is available on Amazon Prime. The crime film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning three, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The filmmaker himself cowrote the script with Mario Puzo, who originally penned the 1969 novel of the same name upon which the movie is based.
Set in 1945 New York, Don Vito Corleone (Best Actor Marlon Brando), head of a crime family, is gunned down in the street when he refuses to invest in as well as provide political protection for drug lord Virgin “The Turk” Sollozzo (Al Lettieri).
His firstborn boy, Sonny (James Caan), takes over the family business, while middle son Fredo (John Cazale) seeks shelter from Moe Greene (Alex Rocco) in Las Vegas and youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) flees to Sicily as a gang war erupts between the Five Families.
With Vito’s daughter, Connie (Talia Shire), married off to the abusive Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo), the Corleone power vacuum faces further destabilization.
The Godfather is popularly regarded as one of the greatest releases ever made. While its importance is indisputable, the same cannot be said about its merits.
As a three-hour intergenerational, international period piece masquerading as a pulpy gangster drama, it is mainstream claptrap for a wide audience.
Nino Rota’s romantic score, though a classic, is out of place in what ought to be a gritty crime saga, and this tonal inconsistency is what kneecaps the text’s greatness.
It belongs in the same class as Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind (1939) or David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (1965), not when it should be the next William A. Wellman’s The Public Enemy (1931). It’s unethical because it quite literally romanticizes the Mafia for young men.
Pretensions aside, The Godfather redeems itself through Brando. His performance in Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1950) is a masterclass in method acting, and he is iconic as the eponymous Godfather.
It’s not only his dialogue but also his delivery, that makes Vito Corleone such a moment of a character.
And Puzo and Coppola’s screenplay is peppered throughout with quotable lines. They do weave a mythological tapestry rich enough to inspire two epic-length sequels, and it could have been as genius as The Conversation if not for the commercialization of its style.
Make no mistake, The Godfather is a studio production, which is why Coppola didn’t win Best Director; as it stands, anybody else could have made it just as well, if not better.
But the film is a mile marker for Italian American representation.
It’s not altogether positive representation, but it’s a cast of Italian American actors (well… except for Caan) playing Italian American characters under an Italian American director according to a script written by two Italian Americans, and it was a cultural phenomenon.
One of the reasons The Godfather Part II (1974) surpasses its predecessor is because it unpacks the oppression Italian Americans face, as well as the extenuating circumstances that backed a slim minority of them into a corner where there was no way out but organized crime.
Without The Godfather, we wouldn’t have Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), HBO’s The Sopranos (1999-2007), or, for that matter, The Conversation, and, for that, it is a worthwhile piece of cinematic history, warts and all.
A mailed-in directorial style is better than an unwatchable one, and an ambitious title is always welcome in an industry that favors the safe over the gutsy.
Frustratingly, however, The Godfather is a groundbreaking work that plays it safe (unlike Goodfellas), but, then again, maybe it had to, to break new ground.
Michael Biehn has been cast in the second season of Disney+’s The Mandalorian (2019-) as a bounty hunter from the titular Din Djarin’s (Pedro Pascal) past, according to /Film. A James Camron alumnus, Biehn has starred in The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), as well as The Abyss (1989), in addition to action movie classics such as George P. Cosmatos’s Tombstone (1993). Giancarlo Esposito is expected to reprise his role, Rosario Dawson will play fan-favorite Ahsoka Tano, and Bill Burr, Carl Weathers, and Gina Carano are all set to return; Baby Yoda (officially called “The Child”) is back also.
The Guardian critic Scott Tobias writes that Garry Marshall’s Pretty Woman (1990) may have been released in the 1990s, but it is very 1980s with its “greed is good,” Reaganomics materialism, as well as its ultraconservative sexual politics. After all, it is about a Hollywood Boulevard prostitute named Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) – who is new to streetwalking, does no drugs, and doesn’t have a pimp – snagging a wealthy out-of-towner named Edward Lewis (Richard Gere), who innocently meets her asking for directions. According to Tobias, Roberts’s star-making turn, which made her America’s sweetheart overnight, elevates the film beyond its shortcomings.