“My father taught me many things here—he taught me in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
The Godfather was a cultural phenomenon when it came out in 1972 for many reasons. It was extremely well-written, and the cinematography and acting were great. Something that’s lost on modern viewers is how revolutionary the concept was. The Motion Picture Production Code, which was in effect until 1968, prevented things like violence and sex in movies, but it also forbid sympathetic portrayals of criminals. Some movies, like 1968’s Bonnie and Clyde, were quick to make use of this newfound freedom and featured criminals as the protagonists; but none had gone into as much depth as The Godfather. Showing a crime family as a real family, with family dinners and drama, had never been done before.
Two years later, The Godfather: Part II came out and delivered more of the same: fascinating character study and the smallest details of what had become the greatest crime empire in America. Once again directed by Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now) and starring Al Pacino, Robert de Niro, and Robert Duvall, this is a sequel that’s every bit as good as its predecessor—some say even better. It’s almost required to draw comparisons between the two, so here’s my take: the story was tighter and the quotes more memorable in the original, but the sequel goes into greater depth with the characters and has more emotion. For what it’s worth, I actually preferred the sequel, although both are amazing movies.
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“The Ring remains hidden. And that we should seek to destroy it has not yet entered their darkest dreams. And so the weapon of the Enemy is moving towards Mordor in the hands of a Hobbit. Each day brings it closer to the fires of Mount Doom.”
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the second film of the trilogy, picks up immediately where the first one left off. But with the groundwork of the plot and setting laid, it’s able to accomplish a lot more than its predecessor. The first film exuded a sense of wonder and magic as we discovered the world, got a taste of the power of Sauron and the orcs, and saw the heroics of its heroes. In this film, we see the full power of Sauron’s army and see the heroes begin to pull together an army of their own to counter it. The first film was magic and wonder, but this is pure, badass epic action, culminating in what may be the best battle sequence in any movie ever.
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“I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they’ll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they’ll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate; it’s the sand of the coliseum. He’ll bring them death—and they will love him for it.”
With a few notable exceptions, epic films set in ancient Rome were hard to come by, and good ones even more so. This is surprising—the setting is perfect for an epic film with amazing fight sequences, political intrigue, rich story and lore, and strong characters. In the year 2000, before Lord of the Rings reignited our passion for epics, Gladiator filled that gap with an amazing film. Directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) and starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, and Connie Nielsen, this is a film that brings the expansive and powerful Roman Empire to life like never before. I won’t say it’s a perfect film—it has its flaws. It’s stuck in a weird spot between a political drama and an action movie, and there are a few scenes that place dramatic flair above realism. But Gladiator is just so entertaining that it more than makes up for its flaws.
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“In the land of Mordor, in the fires of Mount Doom, the Dark Lord Sauron forged in secret a master ring, to control all others. And into this ring he poured all his cruelty, his malice, and his will to dominate all life. One ring to rule them all.”
In the 50s and 60s, epics were fairly common and frequently looked forward to. Movies like Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, and Seven Samurai are regarded as some of the finest films of their decades. But then began a long dry spell for epics through the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Some films came close, such as Dances with Wolves; but there wasn’t a good straight-up epic movie for a long time. Then Peter Jackson (King Kong, The Hobbit) got the green light for an epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with an epic budget (estimated at $93 million for the first movie alone). When the first of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, was a smash hit, it was clear: epic movies were back.
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“Don’t tell me you’re innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and makes me very angry.”
Truth be told, I’m a little nervous about reviewing The Godfather. What more can I say about one of the most famous movies of all time? Directed by Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now, and, come on, he directed The Godfather) and starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, this is considered not only the best crime movie of all time, but it’s also in the top three picks for best movie of all time (along with Citizen Kane and Casablanca). It’s so iconic and classic that it’s been referenced and parodied countless times, and phrases like “sleeping with the fishes” are now part of the common lexicon. And I had never seen it until this week. Did it live up to the hype? Yes, absolutely.
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“You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig.”
I’ll admit, until recently, I had never watched a legitimate western movie—they just didn’t really appeal to me. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, directed by Sergio Leone (Once Upon a Time in the West, A Fistful of Dollars) and starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef, changed my mind. It tells a great quintessential western story while turning many of the tired tropes, like the good guy in the white hat, on their heads. The story draws you in and the characters are fascinating. The tone is fun with just the right amount of camp. After watching this, I actually want to go and check out some more classic westerns, and that’s saying a lot.
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