The Conversation (1974) Review

It’s the final day of Coppola Week at Cinema Parrot Disco & I’ll be finishing with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. I’ve also reviewed his movie The Outsiders and his daughter Sofia’s movies The Bling Ring & Marie Antoinette. Yesterday, I ranked their films in a list of My Top Ten Coppola Movies.

Now let’s talk about The Conversation, which is one that doesn’t seem to get mentioned that much but is really quite good…

The Conversation (1974)

Directed & Written by Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Michael Higgins, Cindy Williams, Frederic Forrest, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall, Teri Garr

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
A paranoid, secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple he is spying on will be murdered.

My Opinion:

First of all, let’s face it: I suck at writing “movie reviews”. 😉 I’ll remain spoiler free for anyone who hasn’t seen this movie but for those who have, you’re much better off reading this article HERE than my ramblings below. It’s Francis Ford Coppola being interviewed by fellow filmmaker Brian De Palma about the making of The Conversation. It’s a really interesting read considering it’s a conversation between two respected directors. Damn – Francis Ford Coppola doesn’t totally love Alfred Hitchcock movies, though!

I can see where Hitchcock comparisons were made in the above article as the plot of this movie certainly has a Hitchcock feel to it, which is probably why I enjoyed the story since I love Hitchcock’s films. As also pointed out in that article, its story is somewhat similar to the 1966 film Blow-Up but has a conversation being listened to over & over again that takes on new meaning instead of a photograph as in that film? Maybe – I did see Blow-Up a very long time ago but remember very little now. I should watch it again!

The Conversation is very good and I even prefer it to Apocalypse Now but I’ll admit that I also found it a little slow & dated. The opening scene was absolutely brilliant, in which Cindy “Shirley” Williams & the man in the above picture (not the stupid mime – the other guy) are being “listened to” & recorded by surveillance expert Gene Hackman as they walk around a loud & crowded Union Square in San Francisco.

One of the biggest strengths of this film is, surprisingly, Gene Hackman as the surveillance expert who has been hired to spy on this couple but becomes increasingly concerned with what he fears the outcome will be as a previous surveillance job resulted in people being murdered. I don’t mean to be rude about Hackman – it’s just that he’s one of these old male actors who has been around for years but I’ve never really “noticed” him all that much. He’s great in this role, though! His job has led him to be extremely secretive, paranoid, and obsessed with his own privacy. Or perhaps he was this way to begin with, which is how he ended up in a job which would result in him living a very lonely life? Either way, it means he’s unable to form any close relationships as he doesn’t trust anyone, which we see in the way he interacts with colleagues and especially with his lover (played by Teri Garr). Oh! Oh!! And I read that, basically, Hackman is playing this same character again in Enemy Of The State with Will Smith?? I mean, not the actual same character but one very similar. I wonder if that was intentional? I guess I need to watch that one again as well as Blow-Up! Anyway: Bravo to Hackman in this film.

You know who else is in this movie? Harrison Ford!!! It makes for a nice little American Graffiti connection with Cindy Williams. But he doesn’t have a huge role. Luckily. Because, um, his acting is a little dodgy… I mean, it was still very early in his career so who cares if his acting was a little “off” – the dude is Indiana Jones & Han Freaking Solo! Look at him – so damn handsome:

Summary:

I know I haven’t seen all of Francis Ford Coppola’s films but The Conversation is a very good piece of filmmaking that I suppose gets somewhat unfairly ignored as it came out in between The Godfather & The Godfather: Part II. It’s slow & subtle and not some “grand epic” like those but the mystery involving the couple Hackman is spying on had me intrigued and Hackman’s performance deserves special recognition. I forgot to mention during my review yet another movie this one reminded me of: the absolutely brilliant German film The Lives Of Others. The Conversation isn’t quite as good as that one nor as good as its Hitchcock comparisons but I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who likes a good “mystery thriller” with a great central performance. Don’t let my score slightly put you off as I rate mainly according to my own personal enjoyment & this one did drag a bit in the middle. If I was basing this only on worthiness, I’d give The Conversation a slightly higher rating. 

My Rating: 7/10

Since I couldn’t help but think of Laverne & Shirley anytime Cindy Williams was on the screen, here’s one of the many excellent clips from my beloved Wayne’s World. Zang! 😉

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The Deer Hunter (1978) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Mark of Marked Movies. Thanks for all the reviews, Mark! 🙂 Now let’s hear what he has to say about The Deer Hunter, IMDB rank 134 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE. Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews.

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Director: Michael Cimino.
Screenplay: Deric Washburn.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Cazale, John Savage, George Dzundza, Chuck Aspegren, Rutanya Alda, Shirley Stoler, Pierre Segui, Joe Grifasi, Somsak Sengvilai.

Released in 1978, only three years after the official end of the Vietnam war, Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter” seemed as if it may have been too soon for the American psyche. It was a surprising box-office hit but was also one of the most controversial, major theatrical releases about America’s involvement in the war. It went on to receive 9 Academy Award nominations (winning 5 – including Best Picture and Best Director). Despite this, the backlash was pretty vehement. It received criticism from the likes of Jane Fonda and John Wayne – who in his last public appearance had to present it with it’s Best Picture award even though he wasn’t fond of the film. These criticisms came in many forms but for as many critics as it had, there were also a great number who considered it to be another American classic.

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Michael (Robert DeNiro), Stevie (John Savage) and Nick (Christopher Walken) are among a group of friends who live and work in the steel mill town of Clairton, Pennsylvania. They spend their time getting drunk and going deer hunting before they are enlisted in the airborne infantry of Vietnam. What was once a slow-paced and fun-filled life is shoved into the stark reality of warfare and how their experiences change their lives forever.

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Clocking in at just over three hours, “The Deer Hunter” is a film of length. However, it’s one that never overstays it’s welcome as Cimino wisely works within a three act structure – book-ending the war with marriage and death. He may take his time and linger long on shots but it never gets boring. To view it as simply another Vietnam film is to entirely miss the point also. If it is to be viewed in any way, it should be as a commentary on American disillusionment and it’s loss of innocence at this time. It’s intention is not to focus on the war itself but on the aftermath and the impact war can have on the lives of ordinary working people. In fact, the scenes that take place in Vietnam only amount to a very small portion of the film, overall. Ultimately, it’s a character study that’s only heightened by the 50 minute wedding sequence at the beginning of the film. Many grumble about this being too indulgent but it’s integral that we get to know these characters in order to fully understand them. It’s during the wedding reception that they come across a Green Beret who has just finished his Tour of Duty; they buy him a drink and take offence when all he has to tell them about the war is… “Fuck it!“. This perfectly sums up the naïveté of these young men as they seem to have a romanticised idea of war and have absolutely no idea of what is to become them.

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Following this, a bunch of them go on a deer hunting trip where we again see the dynamic of the group and get to know each of them more personally. Suddenly, we are thrust into the chaos of Vietnam and it’s not before long that the films iconic and controversial Russian roulette scene takes place. This is a scene that has received much criticism in not only being claimed as inaccurate – as there was no evidence to suggest that any such atrocities took place during the conflict – but for being racist in it’s sadistic stereotype of the Viet Cong captors. These criticisms are justifiable to an extent but, personally, I think the critics have taken it far too literally. If viewed as a metaphor for the senselessness of war and the inhumanity of man during wartime struggles then it’s entirety fitting to the films themes and says more about an initiation into manhood. It was literally minutes before this powerful scene that DeNiro’s Michael and Walken’s Nick were discussing how a deer should be killed with “one shot” and now (ironically) they must face a similar fate. This game of chance is the catalyst that changes the dynamic of the three principle characters (the other being John Savage’s Stevie) and further adds to the character development that was so playfully and innocently displayed in the opening wedding sequence or the camaraderie of the deer hunt. It’s purpose is not to be racist but to capture the extreme pressure that soldiers face in conflict. In the film’s final act, some of them return home only to realise that they’re traumatised as they struggle to fit back into society. There have been claims that it doesn’t take an overly pro or anti stance towards the conflict but I struggle to see how. This was one was of the first films to challenge the perspective on Vietnam. The likes of Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” and Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” were praised for such honesty and I believe this deserves the same credibility.

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“The Deer Hunter” is, undoubtedly, epic filmmaking and despite your political interpretation, there’s no denying the power of it’s emotionally devastating narrative. It’s unlikely that Cimino will be able to deliver a work of this magnitude ever again. He tried (and many would say failed) in 1980 with “Heaven’s Gate” (bankrupting United Artists Studios in the process) but his scope and ambition here deserves the utmost respect. So too does the work of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond for his astounding ability to capture both the expansive landscapes of Pennsylvania and the war ravaged mountainous villages of Vietnam. The actors are also very strong and committed throughout. This would be the last performance of the great John Cazale – before his untimely death to cancer – and the first notable one from Meryl Streep, who brings a touching vulnerability to her supporting role. Walken (who won a Supporting Actor Oscar) is a marvel and deservedly made a name for himself in the process. As good as they are, though, it’s DeNiro who anchors the film in a enigmatic display of stoicism. Another deserved Oscar nomination came his way and even though this is a film that many omit from DeNiro’s plethora of magnificent performances throughout the 70’s and 80’s, it happens to be one of his strongest and most unsung. DeNiro apparently described his role as one of the most physical and exhausting that he’s ever done, and it’s easy to see why; the emotional, physical and mental abuse that he seems to be suffering is perfectly and gruellingly displayed onscreen.

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The 1970’s are well known for producing some of the finest experiences in cinema and “The Deer Hunter” can, proudly, consider itself one of them. It’s marvellously structured, harrowingly vivid and so grand and ambitious that it thoroughly deserves it’s epic status. Truly one of the best of it’s decade.

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Mark Walker

The Godfather: Part II (1974) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Zoe of The Sporadic Chronicles Of A Beginner Blogger. She reviewed The Godfather: Part I for us last week (see her review HERE). Now she’s tackling The Godfather: Part II. She’s also reviewed The Departed (HERE) and The Green Mile (HERE) and Big Fish (HERE). Thanks once again, Zoe – you’re truly awesome! 🙂 Now let’s see what she has to say about The Godfather: Part II, IMDB rank 3 out of 250.

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.

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***WARNING: SPOILERS***

“There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” – Michael Corleone

So as the trilogy progresses, Michael Corleone has become a force to be reckoned with. Al Pacino reprises the mantle of Michael, and it is rapidly evident that he has completely taken up and embodied the role of being the head of the Corleone crime family. This movie was presented interestingly, different from the first in that it plays out the current state of affairs that Michael is dealing with as well as taking you back to Vito Andolini’s youth, and seeing how he ultimately lost his Andolini name, took on the Corleone name and rose to his prominent position.

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“If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.” – Michael Corleone

This movie worked incredibly well. It is a long movie, clocking in at 200 minutes, but not once do you get too familiar with that, you are instead caught up in another time and whisked away. This speaks volumes about Coppola’s ability to rivet the audience, still. The time shift that worked its way in throughout the movie was truly brilliantly executed. In the present you see Michael (Al Pacino), and his antics, as well as the issues he is dealing with, ranging from his wife Kay (Diane Keaton) to his drama in court. Michael is progressively becoming more and more ruthless, which still resonates with the watcher seeing as we know how reluctant he was to become involved with the family business in the first place, and to watch him embrace it now in its entirety never fails to surprise and amaze. Al Pacino’s performance was again subtle, carrying with it a power that is palpable, a demand for allegiance and focus, respect and fear. I love the way Pacino captured Michael’s brooding, his shift, his stress, the way he worked to keep everything functioning, the way he dealt with betrayal from everyone, truly highlighting how ruthless he had become. His portrayal as Michael Corleone is definitely one of my favourite portrayals in movie history.

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“Don’t you know that I would use all of my power to prevent something like that from happening?” – Michael Corleone

Diane Keaton was really good in conveying her role as the wife of a mobster – not just any mobster, but the head of an extremely strong mob family. The splinters of the relationship are introduced at the end of The Godfather, where we see how unhappy Kay is about the fact that Michael is running things, as well as how he has changed towards her, too. Now, however, two kids along and all that, we see how she is starting to pull away from him, his violence, his dominance. She is seemingly alone, Michael has all the love and respect from everyone, and she is considered his wife, and is respected as such. Later we learn what extremely hard and rough decisions she made due to her growing hatred and resentment for Michael, which leaves you stunned that she would take such steps against him as well as admit it. Her desperation is palpable. Michael is cold and cruel, and he does not hide that from her. Kay is eventually on her own, from permanently fighting with Michael, egging him on and pushing him for legitimacy to being cast out, even being taken away from her children, completely cut off.

Robert Duvall steps up as Tom Hagen once again, delivering another fine performance as the family consigliere. Something that is extremely evident from the off is that Tom has become more involved with the family business as well as how things get done. A lot of responsibility and trust has been placed on him, and he has become colder. Still extremely calculated, and still doing some of the more horrendous jobs (remember the horse head?). He visits Frank Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo) in prison and informs Frank that he should recant, also promising that the Corleones will care for his family. Frank commits suicide later that night in the fashion discussed with the consigliere, and Tom seems to have no emotion for it as it was merely business. His performance was great, but it is becoming obvious that he is no longer just an incredibly educated outsider, but Michael’s right hand man, and that he loves the position.

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“When a plot against the Emperor failed… the plotters were always given a chance… to let their families keep their fortunes. Right?” – Tom Hagen

Vito Andolini’s (Robert De Niro) youth is addressed, and it is quite the enthralling tale. His father was murdered, his brother attempted to avenge him and was killed, and his mother was gunned down by Don Francesco Ciccio (Giuseppe Sillato) and Vito, who did not talk much and was considered to be a bit slow, ran for it, and was helped out by family friends to make passage to the United States of America. A struggling young man with a wife and a child, Vito sees how things are going in life, how the crime families are treated, and in a scheming way eradicates any competition he could have had, instantly making him the new man on the block, a man who definitely does things differently than the previous guy. He listens to the people, and is respected by the people. We get to explore the rise of Vito’s empire, as well as how he exacted his revenge that eradicated his family and swept him from his homelands. We see who he was and how he became what he did. He was smart and methodical, and in stages got everything just as he wanted it. The Corleone children serve as markers to see Vito’s progress, as well as indicating how the family did not always have everything, but that Vito built them up from scratch.

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“Do me this favour. I won’t forget it. Ask your friends in the neighbourhood about me. They’ll tell you I know how to return a favour.” – Vito Corleone

Fredo’s (John Cazale) bitterness at Michael is thinly veiled, something he struggles with constantly. Michael may have humoured it for the first while, but eventually that, too, becomes a serious problem, causing strife between the two brothers. I liked how the discord in the family was shown, that even though Michael is the one that stepped up, there was resentment and bitterness about it. Fredo took it as a personal failure that Michael ran the Corleone family, and that Michael was the one supporting Fredo and looking after him, even though Fredo is the older brother. His ultimately betraying Michael could be seen coming, but the reaction of Michael was intense, and it caused some tension within the family, too. Michael has many friends, but at the same time he is losing family and loyalty he thought he didn’t have to question faster than he suspected. As if Fredo is not enough for Michael to deal with, Connie (Talia Shire) is still bouncing off the walls, crazy and doing really stupid things, expecting Michael to pick up after her, to see how much she can push him. Initially she is not looked into much, and while she does not command a lot of screen time, it is eventually explained why she did what she did. This does not make it better, but the questions are no longer floating around and not making sense anymore. As fast as she broke herself away from the family, it seems that she is doing what she can to work her way back into Michael’s good graces at the very least.

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“Taken care of me? You’re my kid brother and you take care of me? Did you ever think about that?” – Fredo Corleone

So many aspects of this story come together at intervals, and it is a stunning work of art to get to the end result. The journey, the characters, the events are all just exactly what they need to be, and it is exceptionally impressive overall. The score used suited everything just right, and Coppola truly took this film in a direction to match its predecessor equally. The camera work was fantastic, and all the actors worked wonderfully in their roles. Movies are just not the same as they used to be, and The Godfather Part II is just further evidence of this. I don’t really have words to justify this movie, there is just so much to talk about (the scheming, the partnerships, the travels, the alliances struck up, etc), and I know many more people have discussed it in more detail than I have, but I am going to stop here now, The Godfather Part II is just one of those films that has to be experienced to be understood. My Spock Chop, I know you are not a fan and all, but really, this is something glorious!