Sunday, June 06, 2010

Oeuvres: Francis Ford Coppola

Since Coppola's latest film, Tetro arrived via Netflix, I decided to catch up on a couple more of his films that I hadn't seen: Rumble Fish and Peggy Sue Got Married. And since I did that, I decided to write this blog post. reviewing all of his films I'd watched. Here's a man with one of the most diverse - and frustrating -filmographies.

Finian's Rainbow: Not even the presence of Fred Astaire can rescue this mess of a film, made especially intolerable by Tommy Steele, playing the single  most annoying character in any movie musical. With misfires like this, Camelot and numerous others, it's no wonder musicals died in the late 60s. GRADE: D+

The Godfather: Absolutely deserves its reputation, even if I like Goodfelllas better as far as Mafia pics go. GRADE: A+

The Conversation: Gene Hackman delivers a masterful portrait of a lost soul as a surveillance expert who gets in way over his head, and Coppola masterfully builds tension in this paranoid thriller. And to my ears, this is the movie that most owes its success to its amazing sound design, created by the great Walter Murch. GRADE: A+

The Godfather Part II: I don't take the oft-held position that this film is superior to the original, but it's still excellent. It's even better in the Godfather Saga edit, which assembles the stories chronologically. Unfortunately, that version is not available on DVD.  Coppola was on a real roll here. GRADE: A+

Apocalypse Now: Flawed? Yes. Still a spellbinding, shattering experience like no other? Absolutely. It was so shattering in fact, that I still believe Coppola left a part of himself in the jungle, as he has not made a masterpiece since. The Redux version, though fascinating, drags too often, so it's worth an A-, but the original still rates an A+. (For more fascinating viewing, see Hearts of Darkness, one of the best filmmaking documentaries ever made.)

One from the Heart: Neither the horrendous misfire critics initially said it was, nor the misbegotten masterpiece revisionists have claimed, this ambitious musical stumbles as often as it impresses. I'd much rather see a film that suffers from trying too hard (which Coppola often does) than one that suffers because it doesn't try hard enough. GRADE:  B

The Outsiders: Visually powerful but dramatically uneven, the movie is most notable for kick-starting the careers of so many actors, including Patrick Swayze, Diane Lane and Tom Cruise. GRADE: B

Rumble Fish: Beautifully shot in black and white and well-acted by a great cast, but a bit too self-consciously pretentious to be fully effective. GRADE: B-

Captain EO: Minute for minute, I believe this 3D Michael Jackson extravaganza is still the most expensive movie ever made. Eat your heart out, James Cameron. Overwrought and dated, but fun. GRADE: B+

Peggy Sue Got Married: Kathleen Turner's strong performance overcomes a muddled script, and an awfully misguided performance by Coppola's nephew, Nicolas Cage, whose character might have actually been touching had he not sounded like he had clothespins pinching his testicles. GRADE: B

Tucker: The Man and his Dream: One of Coppola's better late-career efforts, aided by a great Jeff Bridges performance, and the subject of a derailed dreamer, with whom the director obviously identifies. GRADE: B+

New York Stories: Alas, Coppola's contribution to this omnibus film, "Life Without Zoe," is without much merit. Pretty but pointless. The Scorsese and Allen shorts far outshine it. GRADE: D+

The Godfather Part III: No, it's not nearly as good as the first two, but it's also not the lamentable misfire many make it out to be. It's still very powerful on the whole, even with Sofia Coppola's miscasting. GRADE: B+

Bram Stoker's Dracula: Worth it for the grandiose visuals, but not for the muddled story. And Coppola's gift for directing young actors thoroughly deserted him when it came to Keanu Reeves. GRADE: B-

Jack: Coppola's nadir. Not only is the film an unfunny spin on Big, but it bears none of  the director's hallmarks at all. It's hackwork that might as well have been directed by Dennis Dugan. GRADE: D

John Grisham's The Rainmaker: Not terribly memorable, but it was one of the better Grisham adaptations that were ubiquitous at the time. GRADE: B

Tetro: Coppola returns to form, making the sort of independent, offbeat film that his protege George Lucas has always said he wanted to make. It's not completely successful - I'm still reeling over the way Coppola stacks the deck a bit too high in the third act. Still, as so many Coppola films are, this one is about the trials and tribulations of a broken family - and it's beautifully filmed and performed. Even with the film's shortcomings, it thrilling to see Coppola reinvigorated. GRADE: A-

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