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Schultz reviews: 'Tom and Jerry' and 'The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone'

Schultz reviews: 'Tom and Jerry' and 'The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone'

Carl Schultz

 

 

“Tom and Jerry”  Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, 101 Minutes, Rated PG, Released February 26, 2021:

“Frenetic” is probably the best word to describe “Tom and Jerry,” Warner Bros. Pictures’ new feature-length version of the popular cartoon series produced by MGM studios between 1940 and 1958.  The new movie revives for a new generation the familiar cat-and-mouse rivalry between Tom Cat and Jerry Mouse, beloved by generations of movie fans during what’s now known as the Golden Age.

In “Tom and Jerry” the title duo drift (separately) into New York City and take up residence at the Big Apple’s post Royal Gala Hotel while simultaneously streetwise and penniless young Kayla Forester (Chloe Grace Moretz) manages to bluff her way into a job as the hotel’s new concierge.  Kayla’s first assignment--to evict Jerry from the premises, a task she intends to complete by enlisting the services of the hapless but enthusiastic Tom as her assistant.

Written by Kevin Costello and directed by Tim Story (“Ride Along,” “Ride Along 2”), “Tom and Jerry” is probably closer in spirit to anything-goes dynamic of the Steven Spielberg-produced “Animaniacs” TV series of the 1990s than the original MGM animated short subjects on which the movie’s based.  Rich in sight gags, slapstick and in-jokes, the movie resists the temptation to update Jerry and Tom into a fully-CGI world...although integrating the team into a live-action feature produces middling results.

Still, it all goes down fairly easily thanks to the familiarity of the title duo’s hijinks, a judicious use of NYC locations, and appealing performances from the live action cast.  As always, Chloe Grace Moretz gives her role everything she’s got.  Michael Pena is a hoot as the hotel’s fussy events manager who’s usually at odds with Chloe, while Australian-born Bollywood superstar Pallavi Sharda and SNL’s Colin Jost are amusing as Preeta and Ben, a jet-setting celebrity couple whose impending nuptials are being hosted by the snooty Royal Gala.

Dizzying high altitude shots of New York City and elaborate Rube Goldberg-like contraptions designed by Tom to subdue Jerry sometimes make the movie more reminiscent of the cartoons of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.  The original Tom & Jerry cartoons of the 1940s and 50s were produced by the mammoth MGM studios to counter the popularity of the animated short subjects coming from “Termite Terrace,” the animation studios at rival Warner Bros. Pictures responsible for this picture.

Also containing a surprising number of product placements, “Tom and Jerry” is rated PG for cartoon violence and rude humor.

“The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone”   Distributed by Paramount Pictures, 158 Minutes, Rated R, Released December 04, 2020:

The new opening scene of “The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone” gets right to the meat of the matter.  

During a meeting in New York’s St. Patrick Cathedral, Roman Catholic Archbishop Gilray is offering redemption to the damned Michael Corleone...for a price.  Seems that as a result of some cheesy investments, the Vatican is in a financial pickle to the tune of some $700 million (“$769 million,” Michael helpfully corrects the clergyman).  And through some mysterious divine providence, that’s exactly the cost for the soul of a spiritually-doomed mob boss.

We can plainly see in his weary and wary eyes that Michael’s not particularly impressed with the church’s ornate gold trappings--it’s just the sizzle.  Despite engineering the murders of the heads of the Five Mafia Families of New York, bankrolling the corrupt Batista government in Cuba prior to the 1959 revolution, and ordering the hit on his own brother Fredo, the conflicted mob boss has somehow remained an ardent churchgoer.  But to Michael Corleone, the nervous, chain-smoking Archbishop is little different from any other low level flunky for a large business enterprise caught with his hand in the till.

The leader of the Corleone Crime Family of New York, Michael Corleone is also a remarkably astute businessman.  His counteroffer to Gilray is a gift of $600 million...in exchange for a controlling interest in Internazionale Immobiliare, a global real estate company affiliated with the church.  The sweating Archbishop reluctantly accepts Michael’s offer, pending approval from the Pope.  “It seems in today’s world the power to absolve debt is greater than the power of forgiveness,” he sadly notes.  “Don’t overestimate the power of forgiveness,” Michael amiably cautions the clergyman.

The original “Godfather” movies likely changed the course of motion picture history.  The story of the aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty who transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son, the historic success of “The Godfather” in 1972 was due at least partly to zeitgeist.  Appearing at a particularly cynical time in American history, the movie’s popularity was as much a result of the showmanship which led to its release as the filmmaking excellence behind the picture itself.  

Millions of people had read author Mario Puzo’s original novel, and casting “The Godfather” became as much a national pastime as it was for “Gone With the Wind” three decades earlier.  After it was revealed that 47-year-old Marlon Brando had been signed to play the aging Mafia chief, the actor’s modified physical appearance in the role became a secret as closely guarded as the elaborate makeup of actor Boris Karloff in 1931’s “Frankenstein.”  Aged thirty years by a combination of cosmetics, orthodontic prosthetics and plain old acting chops, Brando as Don Vito Corleone entered the lexicon of popular culture.

Co-written (with the novel’s author Mario Puzo) and directed by maverick 31-year-old filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, “The Godfather” reaffirmed Marlon Brando’s reputation as the premier actor of his generation after years of lackluster performances in inferior pictures, and turned much of the movie’s supporting cast--including James Caan, Diane Keaton, and Robert Duvall--into global superstars.  In particular, the film elevated actor Al Pacino, playing Michael, the reluctant heir to the Corleone family business, to an elite stature appropriate to the successor to the mantle of the great Brando. 

“The Godfather” premiered on March 24, 1972 in a handful of theaters in major cities, while the rest of the world waited straining at the leash for the picture to make its way to local theaters so they could see it too.  The picture won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay, and faster than anyone could’ve imagined rocketed to the very top of the All-Time Most Successful Movie charts, handily supplanting the previous champion, 1965’s “The Sound of Music.”  Virtually everyone associated with “The Godfather” was assured of a place in movie history.

Two years later, “The Godfather, Part II” appeared, reuniting filmmaker Coppola with much of the original film’s cast and adding Robert DeNiro to the mix as a younger version of Vito Corleone during extensive flashback sequences.  Combining the most compelling elements of European cinema with Hollywood magic, the 1974 sequel successfully navigated the Godfather franchise through the rarefied level of entertainment which separates international popularity from legend and acclaim from folklore.  At that point, the Godfather phenomenon likely became virtually impossible to exceed, or even persuasively follow.

Not that filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola didn’t try.  With the two films edited together in a chronological fashion and discarded footage and scenes restored and included to add depth and expand the story, linear editions of the Godfather films began to appear as early as November of 1977, when “The Godfather Saga” was edited into four episodes and broadcast as a television event on the NBC network.  So many reconfigurations, combinations, and new editions appeared over the years that even the most ardent Godfather fans had difficulty telling them apart.

All of which makes “The Godfather Coda:  The Death of Michael Corleone” a particularly bitter pill to swallow.  A slightly re-edited and reconfigured version of the already-disappointing “The Godfather Part III” from 1990, in “The Godfather Coda” (as in “Godfather III”) legitimacy and respectability are very much on Michael Corleone’s mind...and he’s prepared to go to enormous lengths to achieve both.  Now approaching age 60, Michael wants to transform his family’s vast and powerful criminal empire into a corporate establishment more synonymous with benevolence and philanthropy than bullets and bloodshed.

Besides riding to the rescue of the financially-strapped Vatican, also on Michael’s agenda for this installment are transferring control of the family business to his late brother’s illegitimate son Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia), quashing a takeover bid for his family’s fortune from rival mob boss Joey Zaza (Joe Mantegna), calming his own turbulent relationship with ex-wife Kay (Diane Keaton)...and discouraging the budding incestuous romance between daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola) and the hotheaded Vincent.  Along the way, the beleaguered mob kingpin also gets mixed up with the mysterious real-life 1978 death of Pope John Paul I (Raf Vallone).

There’s no new footage--repeat, no new footage--in “The Godfather Coda.”  In fact, during one key sequence--the event referenced in the film’s title--there’s notably less footage than in the original cut, and more ambiguity.  Although reportedly “Coda” is more accurate to filmmaker Coppola’s original vision of the 1990 sequel than the one released at the time by distributor Paramount Pictures, the movie still contains a host of structural flaws.  None are fatal in themselves, but together the weak spots contribute to the film’s feeling overblown, unwieldy...and even contrived.

Al Pacino contributes a studied performance as Michael, but his characterization shares little with the smooth-but-deadly, vaguely unholy incarnation he summoned during previous installments.  Venomous during her opening scenes, Diane Keaton as ex-wife Kay inexplicably transitions to a more romantic demeanor during the later Italian sequences.  And penny-pinching Paramount should’ve coughed up the necessary dough for Robert Duvall to return as consigliere Tom Hagen.  Duvall’s familial gravity was essential to the “Godfather” dynamic--replacing him with George Hamilton’s glib corporate bluster is just short of insulting.

“The Godfather Part III” was a flawed masterpiece--intelligent, compelling, and timely, but overcomplicated, and not particularly well-cast.  Rejiggering the beginning and end of the picture and tweaking some of the in-between stuff makes the movie flow more smoothly and corrects a few of its deficiencies, but that was never the movie’s biggest problem.  The fatal flaw of “The Godfather Part III” was always that the viewer needed to see the first two pictures in order to fully appreciate it.

In its entirety, it matters little whether the film’s called “The Godfather Coda,” “The Godfather Part III” or “The Death of Michael Corleone”--with a few exceptions, it’s a rehash of the stuff we’ve seen already.  Not that it’s a bad picture--it’s not.  It’s just...unworthy.  Had “The Godfather Coda” somehow been released before the 1972 picture or its 1974 sequel, the movie would likely have impressed a few critics, won a few prestigious awards, and quickly disappeared from theaters, ripe for periodic rediscovery at film festivals and eventual DVD release on the Criterion Collection.

In other words, it’s only in comparison with the mythical stature of the previous films in the franchise that “The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone” is a disappointment.  On its own, the film is intelligent and compelling entertainment, if ponderous and overlong even at its relatively svelte new running time of 158 minutes.  Is it filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola’s final word on the Godfather Legacy?  Don’t count on it.

Released on December 04, 2020 to a handful of theaters in major cities, “The Godfather Coda:  The Death of Michael Corleone” is now available for purchase on Blu-ray (but not DVD), and for streaming on some online pay-per-view venues.  The film is rated R for violence, language, and some sexuality.

 

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