The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
Obviously with my relatively recent viewing of The Godfather, I had to see this as well. It's got a reputation as being better than the original, so my interest was certainly piqued. While expectations were higher in one sense, they were also lower, since this doesn't have the same number of iconic lines and/or scenes that you are just waiting for to come around. In fact I only recognized two well-known lines ("We're bigger than U.S. Steel" and "You broke my heart") and one iconic scene (taking Fredo out to the middle of the lake), and none of those are as well-trodden as the horse's head in the bed or "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse." In fact that last one must have gotten into the pop culture lexicon really quickly, since De Niro does a variation on it that has to be a little jokey. As for the actual movie, I did think it was very good, and I like how it showed the outside consequences of mob life (Congressional hearings, dealings with foreign governments, going to jail and so on), but I still prefer the first one. Michael's journey in the original is very powerful, and while he's still fascinating here (and the flashback at the very end shows just how far he's come), I think the first film is richer in many ways. This is more of an ensemble piece and an epic, and it's a brilliant one, but I like the original's narrower focus.
When Will I Be Loved (James Toback, 2004)
I absolutely loved Toback's 1997 film Two Girls and a Guy - it was one of those movies you flip past on TV, think looks interesting, and before you know it you've seen the whole thing. Sure, it was overwritten and unrealistic, but it also had wonderful dialogue and great performances and a certain undeniable emotional truth behind it. The films that Toback's made since then, this one included, have gotten atrocious reviews, and he really seems to be a love-or-hate filmmaker for most critics (with the majority erring on the side of hate). So despite the fact that this got mostly bad reviews, I wanted to see it because of my love for Two Girls and a Guy, and the isolated good reviews, including from Roger Ebert and one of my favorite critics, Ed Gonzalez of Slant. First off, Neve Campbell is indeed wonderful, and between this and Robert Altman's The Company she's really turned into a daring and accompished actress. But the plot is paper-thin, and, unlike Two Girls and a Guy, the overwrought dialogue doesn't always carry things. Toback is either a radical feminist or a rampant misogynist, depending on who you read, but I think it's more that he's just self-centered and likes the idea of telling hot chicks to get naked and masturbate in the shower. Which is all well and good, but you need more of a story to cover up putting your sexual hang-ups onto celluloid.