Alfie (Lewis Gilbert, 1966)
Preparation for seeing and possibly reviewing the upcoming Jude Law remake. This film was not exactly what I expected - I kind of thought it would be a swinging '60s comedy, but it's actually pretty dark. Michael Caine is great as the title character, a London playboy and womanizer who refuses to settle down, but the movie is unfocused and the tone uneven. Alfie is an unrepentant douchebag, and although Caine does an excellent job of making him likeable despite all that, it's hard to watch a whole movie about a protagonist who refers to his various girlfriends as "it," abandons his young son and buys a back-alley abortion for one married woman with whom he has an affair. Interesting for the way it deals with the sexual mores of the time, but ultimately I was disappointed.
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
I know, I know, how can I be a film critic and not have seen The Godfather yet? So I've rectified the situation, and I'm glad I have, but I must say this wasn't the revelatory experience I was perhaps hoping for. Of course, the problem with seeing any iconic film after seeing and hearing references to it for years is that many of the powerful or shocking moments are simply cliches at this point. The horse's head in the bed? "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse"? Brando's entire performance? Parodied to the point of insignificance for any modern viewer, me included. That said, this is clearly a powerful and incredibly well-crafted film. The scene of Sonny (James Caan) being gunned down at the toll booth? Awesome. And I was really surprised at how small Brando's role was, and how this was much more Pacino's film than Brando's. I honestly almost didn't even recognize Pacino at first because his acting was...subdued! No "hoo ha!" moments in this film. So I'm glad I've seen it, and it's a great achievement, but honestly more of an academic exercise for me at this point. I've got to add the sequel to my NetFlix queue now.
Silver City (John Sayles, 2004)
I'm a huge Sayles fan, but was, like many, underwhelmed by this one. The problem isn't even necessarily the politics - what Sayles has to say about the Bush family is, ultimately, pretty mild. The problems for me were more in the structure and the characters. There are far too many minor figures that each get a few minutes of screen time, and the story meanders all over the place. The mixture of political satire and character development is clumsy at best, and Danny Huston, as the default lead character, is really awful. He seems like he's smirking his way through the entire film, amused that someone actually cast him in a lead role in a feature film. I must say I was as befuddled as he seemed to be. The discovery of a dead body that leads to the exposure of dark secrets and scandal was done much, much better in Sayles' 1996 masterpiece Lone Star, which remains my favorite Sayles film and one of my favorite films overall. This one is a minor work at best.