Movie Report: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Godfather Part III (1972, 1974, 1989)

Book coverI had seen The Godfather before–my mother-in-law bought it for me one Christmas, probably hoping it would butch me up to be worthy of her beautiful daughter, and I got around to watching it some years ago. But I recently came upon the whole Godfather collection in a VHS box set with the two cassette per movie thing–what is this, laser disc? I have to stop and change the media? But I watched the films not quite back to back–sometimes not in one sitting–as my family had various excursions through the end of the summer. Once the summer vacation came to an end, though, gentle reader, movie time came screeching to a halt. Also, during this interim, the lamp on our projection television conked out, which meant I was without a home entertainment center for a week or so until replacement lamps arrived. So I got through two and three quarter movies but had to wait until this weekend to finish the set.

I’m not going to talk in too much depth about these films, as they’re nine or so hours worth of Great American Cinema, and you can find that material elsewhere. But I will remark a bit on the overall sweep of it. I see what Coppola’s doing with them. The first two came out in the early 1970s. The latter was fifteen years later, quite a gap and maybe an afterthought. I was too young to see any of them in the theaters.

In the first one, the family is emphasized: Michael Corleone joins the family business out of loyalty to the family. The movie starts, as they all sort of do, with a long family celebration scene. In this case, it’s the wedding of Michael’s sister, the daughter of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). At the wedding, various people ask favors of the Godfather. Then, during the course of business, some other group wants the Corleones to support their new drug trade. When the Godfather refuses, the families go to war, leading to the deaths of one of the sons and the wounding of the Godfather. Michael helps to protect the his father, which draws him into the family business. They settle scores and decide to move to Las Vegas. And Michael’s wife, to whom he’d promised that the family business was going to go legit, starts to have doubts.

The second has a twin structure: It tells the story of how Vito Corleone came to America and got into the business and the story of how the business is going in the 1950s. Vito’s father is killed by a Sicilian mafia don, and he is hidden and smuggled to America as an orphan. In the 1950s, at Michael’s son’s confirmation party, he conducts some business but someone tries to hit him at his own home, so he has to figure out who is the traitor in his midst while thinking about business in Cuba amidst the revolution and testifying before Congress. As he progresses, he loses more and more of his family: His wife admits an abortion and wants to leave him; it turns out his brother was the traitor, so he has him killed; and at the end, he is basically alone, feared but not loved, which is unlike his father before him.

In the third, Michael Corleone is older; still hoping to become a legitimate businessman, he has become a philanthropist. The opening scene is not a family gathering, but an event to celebrate Michael’s awarding of a church award. He offers to help cover up a Vatican financial shortfall by buying the Church’s stake in an international real estate company, but as it turns out, it’s all a boondoggle. Meanwhile, a hungry young mafioso wants his cut, and a young hothead, his brother’s illegitimate son, wants to join Michael. Intrigue, and then bloodletting, it follows the pattern of the others, except that Michael, haunted by the decision to kill his own brother, has to watch his daughter die as the result of an attempt on his life, and the very last scene is an elderly Michael dying alone.

So the story arc is not a pleasant one for Michael; he ends up in the business to take care of his family, but he ends up alone, alienated, and not particularly liked to say nothing of loved. It’s a tragedy with violence in it, a Hamlet where Hamlet does avenge his father, and it’s not ever over.

So I’m pleased to have watched the whole set (and not just relieved, unlike reading a Stephen King book). But some parts of it, particularly the opening scenes of the family parties, run on and on, and many of the other scenes run on a couple of beats too long.

The picture, though, was very good for a twenty-some year old set of videocassettes. Of course they put them onto two cassettes each so they could record them slower, at higher quality. The videocassettes also include commentary from the director, writers, and actors before the feature. I watched a little bit of what they were saying before the first film, but it’s the self-indulgent, self-important stuff you get from the Serious Cinema Critics–and I don’t like to read the introductions to classic literature to know what to think of it before I’ve read it, either.

So I’ve quoted the movies on a professional call in the last couple of days, and I am refreshed on the lines from the movie to drop into conversation. Which will be relevant to other old men.

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Book Report: Four Past Midnight by Stephen King (1990)

Book coverYou might have noticed, gentle reader, a dearth of book reports here at MfBJN over the last couple of weeks (what? Poems was almost a month ago?). A number of factors play into this. I have a new client on the West coast, a startup whose participants have day jobs, so meetings sometimes occur in the evenings during reading time. Also, I have been working on longer works (no, not just longer comic books). I still have Pamela on the chairside table, and I read a letter in it from time-to-time. A recent interest in writing again led me to pick up a collection called On Writing Horror. And since I was reading about writing horror, I decided to venture to my Stephen King shelf, choosing this volume which includes four shorter novels/novellas instead of one 1000+ page extravaganza. Still, the book took me several weeks to finish, and at several points I looked at the shelf of remaining King works, mostly his later, 1000+ page opii, and thought there’s no way I’m going to read all of those in my lifetime. Sadly, gentle reader, I am getting to an advancing age where I realize that I will not read all of the books I now own. Will that keep me from buying more, whether at ABC Books or the library book sale coming up in two weeks? Shut your mouth!

This book contains for, erm, stories, but most of the stories are novel length. Or would have been before the inflation of the 1980s made it so bestsellers had to be 600 pages to be worth the suddenly expensive cover price.

As I was reading, I came up with a term to describe King’s work: Pulp gothic. Or maybe Gothic pulp. Perhaps this is not an original term, but I really think it captures King’s style, especially as it developed in the middle 1980s and onward. The tone and style are modern and conversational and move along fairly well; however, the scope of the works runs really long as I mentioned. So gothic and not unlike some works of classical literature. Except that when I have finished Wuthering Heights or David Copperfield, I feel like I’ve accomplished something and am a bit proud of it. When I finish a Stephen King book, I don’t get that sense of accomplishment. I get a sense of relief that it (not the book, and not the book of that title, but the reading of the book) is over. And, sometimes, disappointment at how it ends.

The book contains these works:

  • The Langoliers
  • Secret Window, Secret Garden
  • The Library Policeman
  • The Sun Dog

I will go into some detail about each below the fold.

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It Would Be A Quiz If We Knew The Titles

With help from Aaron Rodgers, speedy Marquez Valdes-Scantling getting a better read on how to succeed with Packers:

Early in what might have become a transformative training camp, Marquez Valdes-Scantling received a gift from his quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers had heard his fourth-year receiver was an “avid reader,” something the two have in common. They had been discussing adversity and longevity, how Rodgers overcame a slow start in his career to fashion a Hall of Fame résumé, and Valdes-Scantling wanted to know what books had helped him most.

So between practices, Rodgers made a quick trip to Barnes and Noble, just a three-mile drive down Oneida Street from Lambeau Field. He left the store with a small library.

“There were probably, like, 20 books or so,” Valdes-Scantling said. “So I can’t tell you the whole names of them. But I started reading them.”

C’mon, man, I want to know what the books are. I am sure if I made a quiz from it, I would do poorly as I don’t tend to read self-help books.

However, I might get some gift ideas for my beautiful wife.

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Brian J. Is Back On The Comics: Chic Young’s Dagwood, #136, April 1964

As I mentioned when I did a… what, comic book report? on a Sad Sack comic from 1967, I picked up some comic books a couple weekends ago when I had time to kill. I’m not tearing through them at any raste–it’s been almost a month since I read that previous comic, the Sad Sack Laugh Special. I moved these two to the top of the stack because when I was a kid in the 1980s, I inherited a bunch of 1960s Harvey titles, and they have nostalgia value for me.

This comic is a Dagwood title, #136 in the series, that came out in 1964. Which is eight years before I was born, but everything from before I was born was in the olden days. Just let me kids tell you about how inconceivable the twentieth century was.

A couple of years ago, I read a couple of Blondie paperbacks from the late 1970s (Blondie #1 and Blondie “Celebration Edition”, from during my lifetime and after Chic Young’s–he passed away in 1973, so the comic was then in the hands of his heirs and their hirelings. Well, I guess the first gathered some Chic Young comics, too, but most of my experience comes from the daily strip which I am sure I read at times in my youth.

These comics are of the older set, where Dagwood is rushing for the bus instead of a carpool. Blondie is a bit more ditzy, into shopping and mid-century women’s things. And Dagwood, if you can imagine it, has some more depth. The stories have more length than a daily strip, so I’m not sure if they collected several days’ worth of strips or if they were written for comics. But they’re amusing at times, especially for a former resident of the 20th century and someone who has read enough older books to understand the time before he became self-aware absorbed.

This comic, along with the Sad Sack comic, have short stories in them. Short-shorts, one page blocks of prose, interrupting the comics. They have a message–a girl reluctant to go to school has fun in one such here, which presupposes that a four-year-old or five-year-old going off to school would be reading this comic and would learn a lesson from that story. Here in the 21st century, I would guess not many kids starting school know how to read short short stories. And here in the 21st century, the most popular children’s books are large font sentences broken up with cartoons.

So maybe I am still a resident of the 20th century in exile.

As for the nostalgia, well, it smells like an old comic, and it’s full of ads for the things comics used to have ads for. Novelty items, selling Grit, muscle-building programs. So, yeah, it made me feel twelve again for a minute watching it.

In very tangentally related news, I am sure I mentioned that Blondie over its career has been on radio, in movies, and on television off and on for decades. Not long after this comic came out, television made another short-lived series starring Patricia Harty as Blondie.

Continue reading “Brian J. Is Back On The Comics: Chic Young’s Dagwood, #136, April 1964”

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“So have you written anything?” I’d ask.

Back when I was at the university, getting my writing degree, I’d encounter people, mostly students but sometimes adults, who said they wanted to be a writer. So I would ask if they had written anything. In a lot of cases, the answer was no.

I don’t know what being a writer meant to them, then. A lifestyle of sleeping in, drinking coffee at a desk with a typewriter or a word processor, or something. But they weren’t writing, and they weren’t submitting things for publication. And I was.

Oh, it was so easy for me then. I was blatting out short stories, poems, personal essays, and articles, and I submitted them to magazines by the score starting with a short story I wrote from my dog’s perspective in the eighth grade. McCall’s passed on it (and where are they now?). As a matter of fact, most magazines passed on most things, but I have a collection of contributors’ copies, and I once got paid for a short story (“Reading Faces”) by a Kinko’s-produced magazine called Show and Tell. I even had an agent at one point, although I’m not sure if they actually submitted my first novel anywhere for publication.

Somewhere in my twenties and thirties, though, my writing tailed off. I wrote a couple of poems. I wrote a novel that I couldn’t place and self-published to no great success. I held a couple of technical writing positions, so I was a writer professionally, but not in the writer sense.

So I eventually stopped considering myself a writer. I don’t even think of myself as a blogger even though I’ve been tapping at this for almost twenty years. I’ve written and published some professional articles in periodicals, on QA Web sites, and on LinkedIn, but that’s more akin to technical writing than creative writing.

A couple of times at career crossroads, my beautiful wife asked me if I wanted to focus on writing another novel, but I’ve demurred. I did not have much luck with that first self-published one, and I have not been completing even short stories with any regularity.

So I don’t consider myself a writer, and yet within the last year or so, I have finished, what, five or six poems (and I’ve submitted them and gotten rejected from the local university’s literary magazine and sent them off to another literary magazine, but using the online submission system is less interesting and even colder than form rejection letters). And….

This year, I finished two stories.

The first, I wrote completely from start to finish. The second I finished from a draft I started probably not long after I read The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia. Reading that and watching the old episodes of that program stirred my creativity a bit, and I guess it’s coming to fruition.

I actually submitted that story for publication the other day.

So do I want to be a writer?

I guess time will tell. I didn’t have much success with it earlier in my life–the stack of contributors’ copies and a couple of appearances in national magazines notwithstanding.

But I have written something.

I’ve tucked the first short story, the one I wrote completely this year, under the fold. It’s a short military sci-fi thing, just a run through a draft, but it’s something that I powered through. Like I said, I used to blat out things like this all the time, and I need to get disciplined and used to doing it again, I suppose. If I want to be a writer.

Continue reading ““So have you written anything?” I’d ask.”

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