Tag Archives: Robert De Niro

Top 100 Films #30 – The Godfather Part II (1974)


the_godfather_part_ii_wallpapers_4876#30. The Godfather Part II (1974)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola, Mario Puzo (based on The Godfather by Mario Puzo)
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, John Cazale, Michael V. Gazzo, Lee Strasberg

The second film in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic trilogy builds on the winning formula established in the first film, but raises the stakes even higher, this time challenging viewers and daring them to sympathize with one of film’s most complicated anti-heroes.  The Godfather Part II features two main story arcs, the first focusing on Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) after his rise to Don of the Corleone crime family, and the second taking place in the early 1900’s, seeing the rise of Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) upon his arrival to America.  Michael is attempting to expand the reach of his newly attained syndicate, but is held back by internal betrayals, assassination attempts, and government interference.  In order to be seen as a truly powerful and successful Don, Michael must decide what is most important: the syndicate, or his own family.  The Godfather Part II is easily the most complex and nuanced chapter in Coppola’s trilogy, introducing a wide arrange of new characters, all of whom have their own complicated allegiances and motivations.  The screenplay is masterful, advancing the character of Michael Corleone into territory rarely explored in films up to this point – transforming him from an ambitious, conflicted young man in the first film, into a full-blooded ruthless Don in Part II.  Al Pacino’s portrayal of Michael Corleone is perhaps one of the best performances of his entire career, perfectly capturing the stark transformation of his character – every minor change in personality and attitude makes sense and comes off as entirely believable.  The performance of Robert De Niro as the young Vito Corleone is also very noteworthy, serving as a perfect launching pad for De Niro’s career to follow. Vito’s character arc in the film’s flashback scenes is very similar to Michael’s between the first two films, which adds to the story’s underlying beauty and inherent tragedy.  Francis Ford Coppola’s incredible direction and writing featured in The Godfather Part II set unmatchable standards for sequels to follow, and many would argue that it is the greatest sequel ever made.  It raises the already urgent stakes found in the first film using Michael’s own justified paranoia and his internal struggle with advancing the syndicate.  Rather than simply continuing the story and delivering more of the same, The Godfather Part II feels like the next logical step in terms of character development, plot, and themes – it’s bigger, meaner, and more challenging than the original.  Part II brought home six Academy Awards, including Best Director (Francis Ford Coppola), Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro), and Best Writing (Coppola and Mario Puzo) – adding to the impressive three Oscars earned by the first film.  The Godfather Part II is intelligent, intense, heartbreaking, incredibly well-paced thanks to its script, features Al Pacino in a career-best performance, and a young and hungry Robert De Niro who dominates every scenes he’s featured in.  If you’ve never seen The Godfather trilogy, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.

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Top 100 Films #63 – Raging Bull (1980)


image-w1280-2#63. Raging Bull (1980)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Paul Schrader, Mardrik Martin (based on Raging Bull: My Story by Jake La Motta, Joseph Carter, Peter Savage)
Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty, Nicholas Colasanto

From a classic masterpiece to a slightly more modern one, Raging Bull is almost undeniably Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s shining achievement.  The bleak and often tough to watch look at the life of boxer Jake La Motta pulls no punches, but instead acts as an honest critique of the man’s life.  Raging Bull sees the aforementioned Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) as he rises through the ranks boxing in the middleweight division, his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) serving as his manager and assistant.  Jake falls in love with a teenage girl named Vikki (Cathy Moriarty), defeats the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson, being taken seriously as a legitimate fighter.  The film sees Jake La Motta’s intense jealousy over his wife Vikki, his tumultuous relationship with his brother Jake, his rise to title contention, and his very sudden and very sharp fall from grace.  The best part of Raging Bull is just how searing a look at its central figure it is – the man is rarely painted in an overly positive light.  The audience instead has to sit through difficult scenes of the La Motta family embroiled in domestic abuse, familial infighting, corruption, and serious embarrassment by the hands of fate.  Martin Scorsese’s graceful direction of the film is what makes Raging Bull special – he and cinematographer Michael Chapman shoot the movie in beautiful, but grainy, black and white.  The film’s boxing scenes are shot almost like professional ballet by Scorsese and Chapman, with each blow feeling like a true work of art.  It is Scorsese’s direction that gives Raging Bull its immense power over viewers, becoming a beautiful but disturbing look at a man who was no stranger to controversy.  The three lead performances by Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty are incredible, with each actor bringing their own take on the roles.  De Niro’s method acting techniques saw the actor gain a great deal of weight for scenes in Raging Bull’s last act, making it much more powerful and believable than prosthetics ever could.  His intense, angry performance as the jealous and violent La Motta is legendary, and earned De Niro an Academy Award for Best Actor.  Both Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty deliver more down-to-earth and level-headed performances as the two reasonable voices in the ears of Jake La Motta – Pesci being torn between feelings of loyalty and shame for his brother, and Moriarty the unsatisfied, unhappy wife of La Motta.  Worth mentioning also is the editing by Thelma Schoonmaker, which also earned her an Academy Award.  Schoonmaker experiments with slow motion and manipulation of sound during boxing scenes, making them all far more memorable and noteworthy.  Raging Bull is legendary from top to bottom, featuring the greatest modern American director in his prime, three extraordinary performances, and a hell of a script to deliver one of the most honest and painful character studies ever made.  

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Top 100 Films #76 – The King of Comedy (1982)


Film Tribeca Closing Night#76. The King of Comedy (1982)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Paul D. Zimmerman
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Tony Randall, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard

Martin Scorsese’s classic tale of a deluded wannabe comedian made an immediate impression with me, exceeding any expectation I held.  The King of Comedy tells the disturbing story of Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), a man obsessed with successful comedian and television host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis).  He fantasizes day and night about Langford launching him to stardom, even though Pupkin has no real comedic leg to stand on.  After facing constant rejection, Rupert decides to kidnap Langford in exchange for ten minutes on his program.  While Scorsese’s film has very funny moments throughout, The King of Comedy is a surprisingly dark affair.  It’s a deeply cynical satirical look at celebrity worship, taking it to numerous extremes.  The script by film critic Paul D. Zimmerman is tremendous, combining a sharp wit with a dark, cynical worldview, and terrific moments of character development.  His Rupert Pupkin is easily one of the most compelling characters ever played by Robert De Niro, who brings a deranged, clueless twist to the role.  His performance holds up the entire film, making the audience fear him and sympathize with him simultaneously.  Jerry Lewis’ performance as Jerry Langford is quite good too, and the fact that his character is hardly phased by anything really adds to the film’s comedic flavor.  My favorite moments in the film are the many times Rupert Pupkin’s name is mispronounced, and the nonchalant way De Niro’s character plays it off.  While The King of Comedy may never reach the dramatic highs of Scorsese’s Raging Bull or Taxi Driver, it serves as a compelling and at times disturbing character study, and its themes of celebrity worship and the desire to become famous really resonate.  

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Worst Films of 2016 (So Far)

While we’re taking time to acknowledge the very best films of the year before the prestige picture season, it’s also important to tackle some of the not so great movies we’ve seen, too.  Bad films aren’t without merit, and often serve as a great opportunity for studios, filmmakers, and audiences to learn from.  Why was it bad? Where did it go wrong?  How could it have been improved?  No filmmaker is perfect, and everybody is capable of turning out a less than stellar project.  The following five films are the worst, most disappointing releases I’ve seen this year.  If you feel I’m off on my assessment of a film, or maybe just plain wrong about something, let me know in the comments.

maxresdefault-15. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Gal Gadot

Superhero movies are, by their nature, formulaic almost to a fault in most cases.  It’s no wonder why somebody like Zack Snyder would want to subvert the formula and try something new and bold.  Unfortunately for Snyder and company, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice falls into the same pitfalls that 90% of big screen comic book adaptations fall into, only with more dream sequences and hokey allegory.  Henry Cavill, reprising his role as Superman, is as stale and uncharismatic as ever, having almost nothing interesting to play off.  His co-star in Ben Affleck is quite possibly the most brooding, generic portrayal of Batman seen on film yet.  Affleck, normally a competent actor, fails on nearly every level thanks to Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s embarrassingly cliched script.  By the time the two icons of pop culture finally come to blows, we just don’t care anymore because we’ve seen it all before.  The tension between Lois Lane and Clark Kent, the death of the Wayne parents, Alfred struggling with the dangerous behavior of Master Wayne, and an over-the-top supervillain chewing the scenery in an attempt to save the film (but seriously, Jesse Eisenberg is one of the film’s saving graces).  It’s tired, it’s boring, and it’s just too damn long.  Somebody ought to tell Snyder to stick to something he’s good at, because it sure as hell isn’t superhero films.

tumblr_nz47gl5pbf1uj9ivco1_12804. Dirty Grandpa
Directed by: Dan Mazer
Written by: John M. Phillips
Starring: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Aubrey Plaza, Zoey Deutch, Dermot Mulrooney

How the mighty have fallen!  Robert De Niro, star of films such as The Godfather Part II, Goodfellas, Casino, The Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull, was once known as the finest American actor to ever live.  That was back then, before the days of Dirty Grandpa.  It’s clear to me that De Niro feels like he’s earned his place in cinema history, because now every project he takes on is done in the name of the almighty dollar.  Dirty Grandpa is perhaps the ultimate example of this.  Featuring a cast of perfectly likable actors, an Oscar-nominated director, and a somewhat promising (if heavily cliched) plot, what could go wrong?  Well, everything it seems.  Dirty Grandpa is embarrassingly unfunny, almost as if it isn’t even trying to get a laugh out of the audience.  Zac Efron is an actor I’ve come to greatly admire over these last few years, but him playing the straight man to De Niro’s “crazy ol’ grampie” is just plain wrong, and completely unbelievable.  Efron’s straight man act ensures that the young actor can’t show off his true comedic skills, never giving him anything promising or subtle to play with.  Dirty Grandpa is lazy in the worst way, with a predictable script and lazy performances from a usually funny cast, there’s very little to like about this thing.  I tried, I really did.

160708_mov_ghostbusters_light-jpg-crop-cq5dam_web_1280_1280_jpeg3. Ghostbusters
Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth

Ghostbusters was my most anticipated film of the year, even amid all its controversies. While I don’t care about the original film in any way, I saw a great deal about it to be excited about.  Its director, Paul Feig, had previously released Bridesmaids and Spy, two hilarious female starring comedies featuring two of the hilarious stars of the new Ghostbusters in Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. Ghostbusters was the subject of months of debate over the all-female cast, prompting feminists and anti-feminists alike to fight tooth and nail to decade whose ideology is the “right” one.  I’m sad to report that this is not a hill I want to die on, nor should anybody else.  Ghostbusters is at best one of the more mediocre films ever released, and the amount of attention and controversy it garnered is baffling to me.  Its script is awful, providing almost no laughs from me or the audience in the theatre that warm Summer afternoon.  The stars, normally funny, are instead shovelled into straight-laced and unremarkable roles, destroying any charm they may have brought to the film.  Its co-stars, including Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, are embarrassingly bad, giving some of the worst comedic delivery I’ve seen in a film this year.  While they may be funny outside of Ghostbusters, this certainly wasn’t a showcase to be proud of in any way.  With the exception of some interesting special effects, this is a bland, dry, and soulless film.  I really wanted to love it, but instead I walked out wondering what all the fuss was about.


2. Mother’s Day
Directed by: Garry Marshall
Written by: Tom Hines, Anya Kochoff Romano, Matt Walker
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Timothy Olyphant

Poor, poor Garry Marshall.  The famous Happy Days creator and director of Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, The Princess Diaries, and other such beloved properties passed away in July of this year, leaving behind Mother’s Day as his final project.  While I can’t claim that I’ve ever enjoyed one of Marshall’s film, I certainly see value to the entertainment they bring with them, and I respect anybody who finds enjoyment out of them…but Mother’s Day is void of entertainment.  It’s a contrived mess of a film, even for Marshall’s famous late-career ensemble films.  Starring washed up names like Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, and Timothy Olyphant, there’s literally nobody to get behind in Mother’s Day.  Every single character is annoying, grating, or are just plain terrible people.  The plot is about as believable as any modern contrived romantic film, featuring twists and turns that come out of nowhere that the audience is somehow supposed to care about.  It’s bad in every single way, and I beg you all to stay far, far away from it, no matter how curious you may be.  It’s not even good enough for a quick “so bad, it’s good” laugh, because you’ll be too busy tearing your own hair out to enjoy this loud, pointless mistake.

maxresdefault-31. Ben-Hur
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Written by: Keith Clarke, John Ridley
Starring: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro, Morgan Freeman

Yikes.  1959’s Ben-Hur is the film that got me into the movies as a young lad, featuring excellent performances, a fully realized ancient world, incredible action set pieces, and a wonderful story loosely revolving around the last years of Jesus Christ’s life. Ben-Hur 2016 has none of these things, instead resorting to cheap, tired cliches and TV-level actors to somehow replicate the incredible Best Picture winning film.  Timur Bekmambetov’s films are usually quite brash and loud and meandering, but Ben-Hur absolutely takes the cake.  Instead of opting to faithfully re-tell the story of the 1959 film, it attempts to bring its own small unique elements into it, failing on literally every level.  There’s absolutely nothing subtle about Clarke and Ridley’s script, making the religious tie-ins much more eye-roll inducing than they should be, and transforming the character of Judah Ben-Hur into a completely unlikable, vengeful man.  The chariot race at the center of the film is unmemorable and unfocused, losing any of the grit and brutality found in the 1959 film’s epic race scene.  Don’t even get me started on Morgan Freeman, who is quickly becoming my least favorite living actor by taking roles such as these.  His role is forced and entirely cheesy, bringing nothing to the film except some laughs at his awful wig.  The man is a shell of a former self, much like director Timur Bekmambetov, who was once seen as an innovative mind. There’s nothing innovative about 2016’s Ben-Hur.  It might actually be one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, so I don’t expect it to be dethroned by anything in 2016. Only time will tell.

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Stardust (2007)

stardustStardust (2007)

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Writer: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn

Starring: Claire Danes, Ian McKellen, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro

Runtime: 127 minutes

Rating: 76% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Director Matthew Vaughn started his career with 2004’s indie-crime film, Layer Cake, which was released to both widespread critical and audience acclaim, and has gone on to become a cult film in the same vain as Guy Ritchie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  Since Layer Cake, Matthew Vaughn has gone on to become one of Hollywood’s most interesting directors, and easily one of the go-to filmmakers for action and crime films.  Stardust was Vaughn’s sophomore directing attempt, and Vaughn again manages to hit it out of the park.

Stardust is based on the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name, and is about a young man called Tristan Thorn (Charlie Cox).  Tristan’s father crossed over the wall into the10stardust-600 magical kingdom of Stormhold eighteen years previous, and met Tristan’s mother, an enslaved princess named Una.  The King of Stormhold is on his deathbed, and after deciding to let his sons compete for the throne, throws a ruby into the sky for his sons to retrieve.  The ruby collides with a nearby star, sending both crashing back down to the earth.  Tristan Thorn travels to the star, and finds a young girl named Yvaine (Claire Danes) who he precedes to take with him.  A group of three witches, led by Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) learns of the fallen star and decides to find the young woman and eat her heart, thereby recovering the three witches’ youth and magical powers.  With the assistance of his mother and a flamboyant pirate of the sky (Robert De Niro), Tristan must win his true love and save Yvain from certain doom.

Going into a film like Stardust is always a very intimidating prospect, because most films in the fantasy genre simply don’t turn out very well in the end.  In the years 500fullfollowing Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, many franchises and stand-alone fantasy epics were attempted, and mostly failed (with the exception of The Chronicles of Narnia), and Stardust looked to be no different.  Fortunately for audiences worldwide, Stardust is loaded with more than enough talent to make it work, and make it work well.  Director Matthew Vaughn knows how to pace a film of this proportion, and his direction is remarkable throughout.  His action scenes flow together incredibly well, and he commands his exceptionally talented cast to some very impressive performances.  Robert De Niro in particular puts in a very fun performance as Captain Shakespeare, the flamboyant sky pirate, easily giving the film it’s most heartfelt and tear-inducing moment towards the end of the film.

The only elements that don’t work for Stardust are its score, composed by long-time Matthew Vaughn collaborator Ilan Eshkeri.  It’s not that the score is particularly bad, just that it feels like and sounds very similar at times to Howard Shore’s score for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It took me out of the film in a few moments, and I felt that a less inspired composition might have worked far better.  Overall, Stardust is an incredibly fun and entertaining discovery for the fantasy genre, and a film that completely took many people by surprise.  A talented director and cast help this film rise from a mediocre and forgettable film to a cult favourite that will continue to entertain for years.  I highly recommend Stardust to anybody interested in epic fantasy films.  8/10.

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