Mario Puzo

Superman

Year: 1978
Directed By: Richard Donner
Written By: Mario Puzo (story). Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, and Robert Benton, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (creators)

RYAN’S REVIEW

I have never really been a big Superman fan but I have deep respect for this movie. It’s been almost forty years since this film came out and it still manages to be influential in an industry that can’t stop pumping out comic book films. This is a legendary movie and the real first comic book movie blockbuster.

The only time I really like Superman when I’m reading a comic is when he’s getting his ass kicked by Batman. Yes they fight frequently and the Caped Crusader always manages to best the impervious pure of heart hero. I’ll get to why Batman always wins in a minute but I’ll start by explaining why I don’t like Superman. He’s too super powered for his own good. He’s an all powerful superhero and that’s totally lame. He has all the damn powers, it’s too greedy. In this movie he even reverses the rotation of the Earth and travels back in time. I’m willing to look aside from the mere fact that the whole thing doesn’t even make sense in the movie (he reverses time but the earthquake still stops?). It’s still just too much.

What makes a hero badass is the fact that he overcomes obstacles, odds, and weaknesses. Superman doesn’t overcome anything, he overwhelms every thing with his sheer power. As long as the sun rises in the morning Superman is going to be just fine and win the day. Even with Doomsday there is no doubt, and certainly none in this movie as he wrangles cat burglers and cats. I know, I know there is some thing about heroes saving cats from trees but Superman doing it is merely a waste of his (and our) time. It’s no accident that Lex Luthor is his main bad guy. He’s just a man but that doesn’t matter because anybody can beat Superman, so long as you outsmart him.

Batman vs. Superman

Now I’d like to talk about this at some length. Let’s first discuss the two:

You have:

A) Batman-Just a man but an intelligent and skilled man. He’s a fighter who knows many different forms of combat. He’s a tactician who plans ahead and knows his enemy. He has the equipment for any problem that arises, even once breaking out the “Shark Repellent Bat Spray.” He is a man who overcomes the odds, a hero in the truest sense.

B) Superman-An alien from the planet Krypton. On Krypton everyone is the same but the sun is red. Put one of them on Earth with its yellow sun and the power of a God is granted. On Earth Superman has super speed, strength, stamina, motherfucking everything. Oh and he also has the power of flight, laser vision, frost breath, X-ray vision, and apparently according to this film the power of time travel. There is a catch though. A rock from his homeland makes him vulnerable, albeit completely vulnerable. Also rays from his native red sun render him average. There is also a villain that somehow holds the surviving people of Krypton hostage and uses it as leverage against him, but that’s beside the point and not in this movie.

Now you put these two together and things should be pretty simple. The super powered alien pummels the costumed human into dust but it never works out that way. Being the badass he actually is Batman is always prepared and he figures out a way to level the playing field. Be it Kryptonite or somehow utilizing the rays of a red sun he depowers Superman. Without his powers Superman is nothing but a guy who doesn’t know how to defend himself. He becomes chump change for Batman, who doesn’t just beat him but beats the shit out of him.

I remember it being a hot topic of debate when Batman VS. Superman came out a couple of years ago. How could Batman ever fight Superman? I’ll admit once as an outsider in the comic world I would have been perplexed as well and agreed with the naysayers. Now I know better though and I always ask them name the vulnerabilities of both. Batman may be just a man, but nobody would ever accuse him of being vulnerable. While Superman falls to his knees in the presence of a green rock. Of course the gazillionaire Bruce Wayne/Batman has Kryptonite. The man literally has all the resources imaginable at his fingertips. Oh the Kryptonite didn’t quite do the trick? Here are some red sun rays for you. Not enough? Here are some of the most super powered weapons available to man to hit you with. That didn’t do anything but weaken him? Batman is more than willing to roll up his sleeves and duke it out with a guy who knows nothing of fighting because he relies solely on the power that’s been taken away.

To sum it up, Batman=badass, Superman=chump. I haven’t even touched their alter egos either. Clark Kent makes it a practice to appear as lame as possible so nobody looks past the glasses. Great disguise Superman. Bruce Wayne on the other hand may be just as cool if not cooler than Batman. He’s super rich, super powerful, and he is just as likely to beat you up as Batman is. While Superman is bumbling around trying to get the attention of Lois Lane Batman is chillin in a hot tub somewhere surrounded by gorgeous ladies, and he only does that for appearances. Clark Kent may kick a football pretty far when no one is looking but Bruce Wayne is the cool guy that drove off with all the cheerleaders.

Getting back to the point… 

I don’t love this movie but I respect it. I think it was quite an accomplishment in 1978. It’s written by one of my favorite authors, Mario Puzo, though the experience might not have been great for him. I know nothing about the experience he actually had during the making of this film but if any of his other books are to be taken into account he did not have the highest regard for Hollywood. Still, he wrote a story that was great for the time and groundbreaking in its material. I love how the sequel was set up from the get go with Zod and his cronies being imprisoned in the phantom zone. You know they will eventually get out of it and Superman will have to deal with them.

They don’t get out in this movie and I think that is the problem with the film. Or at least why it doesn’t hold up. Yeah this movie introduced a wider audience to a character and blew them away with special effects. In hindsight though this movie is lacking in excitement. Superman has no foe to fight with. Yeah there’s Lex Luthor outsmarting him at every turn but you don’t want to see a superhero fighting nature i.e. time or earthquakes. You want to see the hero fighting someone who is an equal match, or the counter opposite. In this movie Superman is saving cats for crying out loud. There’s also that bizarre man scaling the side of the building, which is an awful lot of trouble to go through for a robbery. A superhero always needs someone to fight, cats are for the firemen with their ladders and cat burglers are for the cops. Let those heroes do that work and let the superhero fight the supernatural bad guy threatening the world.

I for one think Henry Cavill is a terrific Superman, and I like him in the role. That being said, he will never be the real Superman. That’ll always be Christopher Reeve, just as Michael Keaton will always be Batman, for my generation at least. Reeve wasn’t the most incredible actor but he was an incredible man. The tragic accident that he suffered was really unfortunate. He didn’t give up though and remained an inspiration to people both in a similar situation and outside of it. While Superman may be a lame hero, Christopher Reeve was a true hero in real life. May he rest in peace.

I think special mention goes to Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. I fear I have seen the last movie Gene Hackman will ever act in and that hurts my heart a little. I don’t think this was a particularly good movie but if I had to sound off what I liked about it I’d start with Gene Hackman. I am a big fan of him as both an actor and a person. Several years ago I heard a story about him being in a fist fight, the man was 70 years or more and fist fighting someone! That’s a real badass and I will get more into him as an actor when we reach Unforgiven in the collection.

I don’t know that special mention is really deserving but if you didn’t notice Marlon Brando is in this movie as Jor-El. He wouldn’t want you to miss that, but truthfully the presence of the Godfather is a big deal. Yet Brando caused such a problem on set and in the aftermath of the film’s success that he was cut entirely from the sequel. On set he was reading his lines off the diaper of baby Superman because he refused to learn them. After the film proved to be a success at the box office he sued for royalties. He ended up making an awful lot of money for a short part and even received first billing for what basically amounts to a cameo.

There is little more than “look what he can do!” in this movie and it’s not enough for me. Maybe it’s as simple as I’m not impressed with what the character can do. This was a big hit when it came out but Superman has regularly failed to be a success as some of the other famous film heroes have. He doesn’t rake in the money quite like Batman, Spiderman, or now Wonder Woman. This was the most successful effort as it was the first of four films and a financial success at the box office.

There was a time when I thought this movie should hold a place in the collection. I still think it deserves a place in the collection but I don’t know that it’s getting a ride in the DVD player again. I respect this movie and like some things about it but overall it is not for me. I think this movie is worth your time because it deserves your time, but I don’t think it is worth anymore of my time.

NEXT MOVIE: Superman II (1980)

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The Godfather: Part II

Year: 1974
Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola
Written By: Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo

This is NOT the greatest sequel of all time, in fact I find myself at times having a hard time even saying that it is a good movie.  I think this movie shows many characteristics of sequels gone horribly wrong.  For example the Clemenza character having to be written out of the story because Richard Castellano decided to be an asshole. Sometimes when a movie is really successful certain people get it in their heads that they have more power than they really do and unfortunately Castellano fell victim to that. This is a movie of great length, too great if you ask me.  In fact, when people ask me about this movie I tell them that this is one of the worst ones I have ever seen and it is so long and boring that I want to scratch my eyes out.

This movie checks in at 200 minutes. That’s three hours and twenty minutes….My question to you is “who the hell has that kind of time?” This is considered one of the greatest movies ever made, are you kidding me? This movie is unbearably long and all events at the present time were so relentlessly BORING. The Michael story doesn’t even make much sense if you ask me and I am a mafia fanatic.  If I can’t sit through this movie as the movie/mafia fanatic I am then I have to believe all those other people out there claiming it is so great are just lying to themselves. This movie isn’t epic; it’s the apocalypse of sequels.

OK, it’s not that bad and I do love the flashback scenes because they were part of the original book and they were great. I just think the continuation of the story in the present was awful.  It would have been better had the Clemenza character still been part of the story, but not if he turned informant. Unfortunately Richard Castellano, who played the part in the first film, proved too difficult to work with early in production so his character was cut entirely. If I remember correctly it had something to do with him wanting a different writer for his role specifically, a completely unrealistic request for a small time actor. The replacement part of Frank Pentangeli was awful in my opinion, and I hope it doesn’t mirror anything they actually had in mind for the Clemenza part.  The bad impression he gives starts early when he is completely hammered at the party for Anthony’s coronation and then drunkenly belligerent to Michael. He doesn’t get much better after that and it just seems stupid for the all powerful Corleone family to have such an incompetent person at such a high level. A guy in his position should never be the kind of guy that would become a government witness.  A guy in that position would be too proud to kill himself and he would never be allowed to do so, the mob would make an example of him.  Suicide is too easy of a way out for a man who breaks Omerta. His death in the end is anticlimactic and a waste of what should have been an important figure in the family.

For some reason when I think about this movie I only see Al Pacino sitting there, doing nothing but working on that Godfather gaze. He is great in the role but this time around he bores the hell out of me more than anything.  Al Pacino is Michael Corleone but he is so secretive in this film that it is annoying. He tells nobody what he is actually doing and his actions are so vague it’s hard to tell who exactly the bad guy is. To this day I still don’t know who the old guy that shadows Michael the whole movie is, the fact that they never explain that drives me crazy. If anything the man who shadowed him should have been Al Neri and we should have known who he was.  After nearly being killed in his own home I think it is a bit ridiculous that Michael travels with only one bodyguard who looks old enough to be his grandfather.

I also specifically have a problem with the execution of Hyman Roth. Roth wasn’t a bad character and he is based on real life Jewish mobster Meyer Lansky, which is really cool. His execution was stupid because Michael’s Capo Rocco Lampone is gunned down after the hit.  This is just stupid, that isn’t how it should have been handled and I think it was a waste of an important character in the Godfather world.  The mob wouldn’t entrust a suicide mission to such a high level guy, that kind of thing is passed down to the Button Men. Had he not been killed it wouldn’t matter, but I liked the Rocco character. Clemenza may have made a hit in the first film as a Capo but that was different.  Michael was the new Don with one Capo who had already betrayed him; it was an opportunity to prove his loyalty in that case. The Capos are high ranking men in the organization and one of the many buffers for the Don.  These guys generally don’t do the hits; they pass them down making more buffers that keep the Don from getting in trouble.

I didn’t always have such strong feelings about this movie but having read both sequels to the novel by Mark Winegardner I think this sequel fails by comparison.  Winegardner did an incredible job mimicking Mario Puzo‘s style and tone.  He wrote a really interesting story about the Corleone family and I think it was just so much better than what they did with the films.  Winegardner’s book picks up immediately after the first film ends and covers the years before and after this film.  It just kind of bypasses the film and incorporates it into the story.  It parallels history very well by going farther with the Fontane/Sinatra character and a new group of characters obviously based on the Kennedys.  It goes deep into the mafia world and the dynamics of the Corleone family as well as several other major families throughout the U.S.  I wasn’t high on this movie before reading those books, but afterwards I can barely stand to watch it.

Ok, I wrote everything above this before re-watching the film.  I am watching it now and at only 25 minutes in I can clearly see that I was far too critical of it.  It does deserve a certain level of respect, but I do stand by most of what I said.

I have finished the movie now, and it took me nearly all freaking day to do so.  This movie isn’t as bad as I make it out to be, but it is long to the point of being a flaw.  This movie should have been split into two pieces and released as a sequel and prequel. It is so long that boredom is inevitable and to be honest the climax in this one just doesn’t deliver like the first one.  I implore all Godfather fans to read The Godfather Returns and The Godfather’s Revenge if you want some excitement from this series. If you think this movie is worth the 3 hours and 20 minutes it takes to watch it then by all means please leave a comment and argue your position.  I am interested in the thoughts of someone who thinks it is, but I don’t know that I will ever give it that much time again. It will take longer to read the books, but you will get a lot more out of the time you invest.

NEXT MOVIE: The Godfather: Part III

The Godfather

Year: 1972
Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola
Written By: Mario Puzo

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is one of if not the best film adaptation of a book ever.  Watching this movie is like getting little snippets from the book perfectly crafted into a condensed version of a larger story.  I love the book that this film is based off of and I think the movie is incredible.  I love this movie and book on a different level than most. Every time I watch the movie or read the book I find myself so immersed in the story.  It has proved to have a great influence on my life and I have learned many lessons from it.  The movie was legendary when it came out forty years ago and since then the legend has only grown.  For FORTY years this film has been considered one of the best, and in many cases it is called the best. It is an excellent movie that I always encourage anybody to see, and then I suggest they read the book.

About three or four years ago Amber picked this book up for me on the spur of the moment.  She knew I liked the movie and thought that I would like it.  I did not do very much reading at the time and really wasn’t interested in taking the time to read any book.  To humor her I gave it a shot, but I was barely through the first page before I was hooked.  Mario Puzo put words together in a way that spoke to me and I found myself having difficulty putting the book down.  When I finished reading I went on to read most of Puzo’s books, and then The Godfather sequels written by Mark Winegardner. I have never stopped reading since and to this day read constantly and as much as I can.  I credit all I have learned in that time to Mario Puzo and his awesome story, The Godfather for showing me that reading can be so interesting. I cannot even begin to estimate how much I have learned from all the reading that started with that book.  It has had a significant impact on my life, and because of that the film is very important to me.

One of the things I have found so interesting about this film is how successful it turned out to be despite serious problems all through production.  Francis Ford Coppola had a really rocky relationship with Paramount pictures and was nearly fired multiple times.  The studio also specifically hated the casting of both Marlon Brando and Al Pacino.  Literally just about everyone involved in this film met enormous success once the film was released, but it wasn’t really an easy journey getting there. The film won the Academy Awards for both Best Picture and Best Actor for Brando, as well as Best Adapted Screenplay for Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola.  Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Francis Ford Coppola (for direction) were all nominated as well.  This movie became the highest grossing film of all time when it was released and remains the highest grossing film of 1972 earning over $134 million domestically. Its domestic grosses equal to over $625 million once ticket prices are adjusted by today’s rate.

I have never been a big fan of Brando despite how great he was.  I do think he was incredible in this film and this is how I like to remember him.  He got so pathetic later in life; he ballooned into a serious weight problem and became quite the recluse in his old age.  He was great in his youth, and he has a very interesting life that is worth looking into sometime.  Despite all that, I really haven’t ever been a big fan with an exception of this movie and a few others.  He is great in this role, and I have read before that he actually met with real life mafia Dons to learn mannerisms and other character traits he could mimic.  His performance reflected his research too and it will be remembered for all time.  As Don Vito Corleone Marlon Brando became a legend.  He looked the part so much and he had such a great and memorable voice as the Godfather. He spoke with such patience and power, and when he spoke wisdom rolled out of his mouth that could be either insightful or dangerous.

Al Pacino is great as the reluctant Michael Corleone, the family rebel that would prove to be the most cunning and most ruthless of them all.   What I have always found so interesting about his role in this movie is how different he looks.  He looks younger and better looking in this movie, for nearly the rest of his career he has both looked and sounded dramatically different.  I grew up seeing Pacino in films but he was always the older guy.  He was the guy that in any given movie got that crazy look in his eyes and started screaming about something. Pacino loves to raise his voice and does so frequently.  I have heard that Pacino is a really heavy smoker and I assume that the habit has wreaked havoc on both his looks and sound over the years. I like to make a joke occasionally that I tried to “Pacino” my voice by smoking for a few years so I wouldn’t sound exactly like my dad. Pacino, if nothing else, has had a long and significant career in the movie industry.  He has played many legendary and iconic characters over the years and it all started with this film.  Pacino turned out to be perfect for the part and it gave him the opportunity to go on and do so much.

Robert Duvall was so young in this movie too. I had always associated him with being one of those old actors who still had a lot to offer and I was surprised to see him so young.  He is great as Tom Hagen and always stays true to the character.  Hagen is clever and resourceful.  He blends in and knows the importance of remaining anonymous or unnoticed. Hagen is one of the strengths of the family but it wasn’t until I read the book that I realized he was one of the most significant problems for the family.  Hagen was dear to the Corleones and undeniably talented but he was Irish-German.  Having him held in such high regard within the Sicilian mafia family weakened the power the Corleones had in the eyes of the other five families of New York.  It was Hagen’s appointment as Consigliere that even made the possibility of taking out Don Corleone a topic for discussion. When the character of Sollozzo talks to Michael at the restaurant in Sicilian he mentions this. He mentions how the Don was a legend but is being unreasonable over the situation at hand.  He suggests that the Don, as great as he was, is slipping a little and that the appointment of an Irish Consigliere proves as much. If you are interested in what he said specifically read the book because everything is written in English. Nevertheless Hagen remained an important part of the Corleone family and never wavered in his loyalty.  Duvall embodied everything that Hagen was in my eyes and I think he was great in the part.

When I saw this movie for the first time I didn’t really like it.  I was young and too immature to recognize the value and quality of the film.  I was however quite taken with the Sonny Corleone character as a teenager.  I loved his reckless and violent behavior. I remember thinking that this movie sucked because they killed off the best character but I was wrong.  James Caan did do an awesome job portraying the character.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when he goes nuts and beats his brother-in-law on the street in front of everyone.  Sonny was a wild and viscous character who met an unfortunate end much too early, but he managed to make quite an impression with the time available to him.  I like James Caan quite a bit and think he has been great in several films.

John Cazale plays a smaller role in this movie but represents a character very important to the Godfather universe.  As Fredo Corleone I think he really looks the part, the character of Fredo goes on to be very interesting in the books by Mark Winegardner.  John Cazale was Al Pacino’s best friend in the 70s and they appeared in a few other films together.  He was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the late 70s but continued acting despite the diagnosis.  He died in 1978 shortly after completing work on Deer Hunter. Cazale was a very interesting man who is worth looking into.  In this film he did an excellent job and I liked him quite a bit as Fredo.

Diane Keaton, Richard Castellano, Sterling Hayden, Abe Vigoda, and Talia Shire all played great roles in this movie too. I got so immersed into the story at one point that I really got to know all of the characters pretty well.  I think that all these actors did an excellent job playing their parts.  I think they not only look the part but became the characters that they played, at least in my imagination.  I do tend to think too highly of everything in this movie because I think it was really really well made.  I am not really a big fan of most of Francis Ford Coppola’s work, but he got everything right in this one.  He has always been significant and has a name that commands power because he made this film.  Nothing else he has ever done mattered because he was the man that made The Godfather, so we all owe him mad respect.

This story is the classic example of the romanticized mafia. I sometimes feel like a cliché for falling for it because I am one of those people that are somewhat obsessed with the organized crime world.  I have researched not only the Italian Mafia but several other factions of organized crime syndicates.  They are not like we see in the movies; they are violent and ruthless people that will stop at nothing to get what they want.  They usually do not have honor in the ways that we see in the movies but they are still fascinating. They live interesting lives that draw the attention of everyone because if nothing else, we do love the drama in this country and these are dramatic people.  There is a small part of all of us that wants to root for the bad guy sometimes, and these kind of bad guys offer a good opportunity to do so.

I said this movie and book made quite an impression on me and it has.  This movie taught me the importance of cunning, and I try to be cunning in every aspect of life.  The men in this movie are cold and calculating.  They have serious issues to deal with and they come up with elaborate plans to resolve them.  I am the kind of person that plans for everything, and this story taught me a thing or two about planning.  This movie also got through to me the importance of honor, and respect.  In the mafia world the people that don’t know how to show respect get killed, and I suppose there is something appealing about that part of their world.  Couldn’t we all do with a little less of the disrespectful idiots out there in the world?

This book made Mario Puzo a mega star and he went on to write several other books involving organized crime. I would recommend all of them because I did thoroughly enjoy all of them.  Puzo was an Italian American and he wrote a lot about his own experiences in life.  He also wrote quite a bit about Sicilian culture and it has always appealed to me.  Sicilians have such an interesting history and their people are so fascinating in his stories.  The Sicilian was connected to The Godfather universe and was a really excellent book; I would recommend that everybody read it. It was loosely based on a real life person and Puzo wrote a great story. There was also a movie based off of the book starring Christopher Lambert as the main character. Obviously, that movie is not worth your time. The Godfather story too was loosely based on real life and Mark Winegardner’s sequels continued that trend.  When Puzo was on set for the movie he was actually confronted by an angry and aggressive Frank Sinatra who was angry that the Johnny Fontane cried on film.  The character is and was obviously based on Sinatra but that wasn’t what bothered him, it was the fact that his character showed the weakness of crying that he got angry.  Puzo was a big fan of Sinatra, and the experience really shocked him.  It is really obvious in all of Puzo’s books that he really despised the Hollywood lifestyle.

I could literally go on forever and ever about this movie and about the entire series because for a while it was my obsession.  This is not a movie I need to validate because it was one of the greatest ever made.  It has been significantly inspiring and important to me but that should mean little to other serious movie watchers.  This is the kind of movie that means something to all of us, it has taught us all different things and there is no end to the different things we all love about it.  This film is worth your time and worth your attention.  Don’t be the fool I was as a teen when I watched it simply looking for violence.  You have to let this story suck you in and see where it takes you.  There are plenty of lessons to be offered in this one and they are just sitting there waiting to be absorbed.  I recommend this movie to everyone and scold the people who admit to having never seen it before.

Ugh, I finished this review before I finished the film and there is so much to say as the movie goes on but I have already written so much. The mafia’s involvement in Las Vegas is really fascinating.  The character of Moe Greene is based off of real life Jewish mobster Bugsy Siegel who was executed by the mob for blowing too much money. This movie is loosely based off of real history, sort of a fictionalized history if you will. I would suggest anybody interested in the story first read the book.  Then find books about the true history it is based on.  All of it is really fascinating stuff.

AMBER’S REVIEW

The Godfather logo is one of the most recognizable logos in our society today. The font is completey unique and can only ever be used again to parody the typography in this logo.

The puppet hand symbolizes The Don’s power over the mob players. He holds the reins and they are at his bidding. A deeper explanation can be gathered from the following quote from the movie: “And I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by all of those big shots.” Don Vito says this is a conversation with Michael and means that he didn’t want to be the puppet held by someone else. The ironic thing is, he turned out to be the puppeteer while making his own way in life.

This movie is great, and so is the design.

NEXT MOVIE: The Godfather II (1974)