Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Film # 75: Taxi Driver (1976)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Initial Release Country: United States

Times Previously Seen: twice (last time about 8 years ago)

Teaser Summary (No spoilers.)

Lonely cab driver tries to maintain his sanity & humanity in the grunge of 1970s New York City.

Extended Summary (More detailed plot synopsis, spoilers included. Fair warning.)

In mid-1970s New York City, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is struggling. An honorably discharged Marine, Travis is now making a living as a cabbie in Gotham City, though the going isn’t easy. His insomnia and constant headaches lead him to add night shifts to his busy schedule. To take his mind off of his nagging unrest, he tells his dispatcher that he will go “Anywhere, anytime.”

As Travis works through his shifts, he sees some of the darkest aspects of humanity. Drug pushers and abusers, prostitutes and pimps, killers and victims. Travis sees it all pass both outside and inside of his cab. He feels a desire to do something about it, but he doesn’t know what or how, and he cannot articulate his feelings to anyone. Added to this is that he has no close friends. The only people he sees regularly are a handful of other cabbies, who are as jaded and he is becoming.

Travis one day sees a stunningly beautiful woman, Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) walking along the street. He becomes transfixed and begins regularly driving past her place of work, the campaign headquarters for presidential hopeful Senator Charles Palantine. He eventually musters up the courage to walk in, awkwardly introduce himself and ask Betsy to coffee. Betsy, seemingly intrigued by Travis’s unusual energy and intensity, agrees. Over coffee, Travis professes his loneliness to Betsy, but also claims that he senses the same loneliness in her. Betsy continues to be intrigued, though in a somewhat reserved way.

Travis and Betsy get to know each other a bit. Betsy is intrigued by the "contradiction" of Travis, never suspecting the darkness with which he is struggling.

A few days later, Betsy agrees to see a movie with Travis. Much to her surprise and disgust, the socially inept Travis brings her to a graphic, X-rated film. Betsy gets up and walks out. Travis tries to stop her and apologize, but she hustles away. Travis tries to call and make amends over the next several days, but Betsy does not return his calls.

Travis begins to grow more hateful towards the world around him, his personal failure with Betsy now piled on top of the degradations that he sees nightly in his job. He soon becomes totally insulated. He buys several handguns from an illegal dealer, and stays in his cramped apartment, fantasizing and acting out confrontations with invisible enemies. He even studies himself in the mirror as he vocalizes his delusional conversations.

Travis begins to focus on Senator Palantine in a strange way, noting his campaign speeches and their locations. He also goes back to the campaign headquarters, where he loudly berates Betsy and condemns her, only to be escorted out of the building. A few nights after, Travis accidentally stumbles across a robbery in progress. He guns down the thief and flees the scene at the shop owner’s urging.

Travis later has a run-in with a painfully young prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster), who tries to get into his cab. She is pulled forcefully out by a rough pimp named Matthew, or “Sport” (Harvey Keitel), who bribes Travis to stay quiet about the whole thing. Travis continues to dwell on this for several days, and he eventually finds Iris and talks to her. Travis learns that she is a runaway and is not even 13 years old. He tries in his clumsy if passionate way to convince her to leave her life in New York and return to her parents. Iris leaves, considering Travis’s urging. However, Sport smooth talks Iris into staying, with Travis watching through a window.

Travis, now gone completely off the deep end. He has taken on his "warrior" garb and prepares for his suicide mission to kill the Senator.

Now seemingly devastated, Travis goes home and loads for bear. He writes a farewell letter to Iris and puts it in an envelope with all of his remaining money. He then goes to Senator Palantine’s next public speech. Sporting a wild-looking mohawk and an oversized army jacket (hiding Travis’s veritable arsenal underneath), Travis makes towards the Senator and nearly has his chance to shoot him. He is spotted just before he pulls his gun, though, and flees the scene.

That same night, Travis goes into the lower East Side of Manhattan and confronts Sport. After a heated exchange, Travis shoots Sport, then continues to shoot his way past one of Sport’s lookouts, into Iris’s room. Travis also shoots the “john” that is with Iris, but not before being shot himself, once in the neck and once in the shoulder. Bleeding profusely, Travis sits on a couch while Iris crouches in horror next to it. The police arrive to find the bloodbath.

After a short time in a coma, Travis recovers his health. He wakes to find a letter from Iris’s parents, who explain that after the shooting, they came from their home in Pittsburgh and brought Iris home. Travis is also hailed as a sort of vigilante hero in the newspapers. Once recovered, he returns to his job driving a cab, and seems to be more well-balanced. One night, his fare happens to be Betsy. When she asks Travis about it, he denies that he was any kind of hero, and he quietly and calmly does not charge her for her fare.

Take 1: My Gut Reaction (Done after this most recent viewing, before any research.)

I remember a classmate of mine back in college once telling me that he would watch Taxi Driver once every year. He explained that this was so he could keep a certain perspective on everything. In keeping with this, I understand and agree with what he meant. Taxi Driver is an incredible movie that, while difficult to stomach in several ways, should be required viewing for everyone, at least once in their lifetimes.

Watching the mental fracturing of Travis Bickle is as fascinating as it is uncomfortable. Currently, in the year 2012, we are far more familiar with the psychological profile of the classic “loner(s)-turned-madman”, as in the cases of the Columbine or Gabby Giffords shootings, just to name a few. I have to guess, though, that on Taxi Driver’s release in 1976, this was very new and frightening territory. New because it made a homicidal man the protagonist, and frightening because of just how real it all seemed. Even more, it still has the same power, 36 years later.

I was hardly a year old in 1976, but I wouldn’t time travel back there if you paid me. My general impression of that short era, based solely on films between 1976 and 1978, is that it was hell on earth. The movies are always grainy and shrouded in shadows, and the themes were often doom-saying prophecies spawned by decades of Cold War paradigms and hopelessness. Taxi Driver is, for me, the epitome of it all, boiled down and distilled into the form of Travis Bickle.

An early shot in the film. The washed-out browns, shadows, fluorescent lighting, and disheveled humans are what seemed to be part of every U.S. film made between 1976 and 1978.

Travis Bickle, however, cannot be written off as simply a maniac. Faced with depravity and degradation at nearly every turn, Travis has a powerful desire to see it made better, but he isn’t equipped to enact it. Any attempt he makes at a positive connection is stymied by his own lack of awareness or social graces. His frustration simply fuels his hatred for the things that he sees, rightly or wrongly, as cancerous elements. Eventually, it erupts into the final shooting spree and killings.

What I picked up far more on this recent viewing were not the iconic scenes of Travis doing his “You talkin’ to me?” monologue or the visceral final shootout. Instead, it was Travis’s attempts at real human connection with people. Not only with Betsy and Iris, but even with his fellow cabbie “Wizard” (played well by Peter Boyle) and Senator Palantine, Travis makes a real attempt to communicate to people his pain and frustration at watching the world die around him. The problem is that either he isn’t able to articulate it, or his listeners aren’t willing or able to really hear him. Taxi Driver is easily as much about human contact (or lack of) as it is about social ills and mental instability. Again, this is not an amusing topic, but one that this film explores in an entrancing way.

What can I say about De Niro’s performance that hasn’t been said before? Nothing, really. While he had already made his name in The Godfather Part II, his role in Taxi Driver put him in rarefied air for actors. The man’s range even within this one movie is incredible. Bickle is terrifying at times, but the real power of the movie comes from the more delicate moments when he’s trying to reach out, in his confused and reserved way. As he would show in another Scorsese film, The King of Comedy, several years later, De Niro was equally effective at conveying the vulnerability that the role demanded. As someone who has grown disappointed in Robert De Niro’s roles in the last 10 or so years (don’t get me started on the whole Meet the Parents atrocities), I was glad to go back and be reminded of exactly why he is a film acting legend.

De Niro is obviously the big draw in the movie, but even the lesser roles played by familiar faces are great. A disturbingly young Jodie Foster is perfect, and Harvey Keitel is as I can’t recall seeing him in any picture – a street-jiving pimp, complete with red velvet bellbottom pants and wide-brim hat. Even Peter Boyle in his very small role as Wizard adds to the film.

Yes, that is indeed Harvey Keitel as the long-haired pimp, Sport. Keitel's is one of several excellent minor performances in the movie.

Scorsese’s direction of this movie is rock solid. I need to research it, but I can’t imagine that he had a tremendous budget for this movie. Either way, the entire tone of it is just right for the story it tells. Granted, most of us would want to take a shower after watching it, so grungy and distasteful are the environments and behavior in it, but this is exactly the point. It is this filth that sends Travis Bickle down the road of madness, and we are riding shotgun the entire way, as much as we don’t want to.

At this point, I have seen most of Scorsese’s feature films, and he’s one of my favorites. Seeing Taxi Driver again reminds me of the man’s strengths. While he’s clearly a director of the highest order, no matter what kind of film he decides to do, his greatest seem to come from his home – New York City. Sure, nearly all of his movies set there involve crime, insanity, depravity, and any number of other deadly vices, but the stories he tells of them have always been incredibly gripping. Taxi Driver was one of his very first in this vein. I come away from this latest viewing about the same way I went in: I’m glad I watched it again, and I was able to glean several more things from it than before. I will now let five, seven, maybe ten years pass before I feel the need to watch it again. Watch it again, I will though.

Take 2: Why Film Geeks Love This Movie (Done after some further research.)

This is another film that one doesn’t have to research much, in order to learn why it has been put on the “All TIME 100” and many other “best films” lists. The craftsmanship of the tale and the acting is superb, and critics early on proclaimed it an outstanding film. The public also appreciated it; while Taxi Driver was far from a smash hit, it did make a relatively nice profit, grossing just under $30 million. I would say that this is surprising for such a dismal tale of urban decay and insanity, but I suppose it struck a chord with people.

It’s interesting to learn how Taxi Driver was a sort of unintentional bridge between two high profile assassination attempts. To write the script, Paul Schrader researched the personal diaries of Arthur Bremer, who shot presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972. (Travis Bickle’s journal entries are fairly prominent as insight into his mind in Taxi Driver.) Fast forward to 1981. In a delusional effort to impress Jodie Foster, John Hinckley Jr. dons a Bickle-inspired Mohawk and shoots then-president Ronald Reagan. Life imitating art, imitating life, I guess.

Initially deemed too bloody and given an X rating, Scorsese washed out the colors a bit, lessening the visceral nature of Bickle's final suicide assault to rescue Iris. Still, it's plenty disturbing.

In researching the film’s influences, it’s hard not to think of several more modern movies that use a rough Travis Bickle template. The John Doe character in Se7en and even Tyler Durden in Fight Club are clearly cut from the same cloth. Those were also films of malcontented loners who first internalized their disgust at the world around them, and then lashed out with the force of a natural disaster.

Back to Taxi Driver. The ending is certainly food for thought. After the final, bloody shootout and Travis’s recovery, the final scenes at first seem out of place to me. Travis is back out on the street, driving his cab, seemingly in far better mental condition. After picking up and dropping off Betsy, there is a very brief flash of Travis’s face in the rearview mirror, reacting with surprise and anger to some kind of blurred motion. Before you know it, though, the moment is gone. I was left to wonder if I had even really seen it.
Well, it turns out that I did see it, and it is an allusion to the fact that Travis is far from OK at the end of the movie. This was something that sparked debate and confusion upon Taxi Driver’s initial release. However, Martin Scorsese and script writer Paul Schrader confirmed that the scene is, indeed, meant to show that Travis is still thoroughly unstable, and that final, lightning-quick flash of his contorted face portends another violent outburst sometime in his future. This also banished a theory that the final few minutes of the film were a dream sequence and we were seeing inside Travis’s mind for a short while. Not so.

And here’s a final perplexing oddity. In surfing around, I discovered that there are plans out there to make a sequel to Taxi Driver. In both 2010 and 2011, both De Niro and Scorsese confirmed this, and director Lars von Trier is rumored to be involved. Don’t ask me exactly how they plan to do this, as the only information out there says that it would be about an older Travis Bickle. If it really comes off, I don’t know what to expect. Scorsese is an absolute master, no doubt, but it’s hard for me to imagine him capturing the feel of the original setting and character without diminishing it somehow. We shall see.

That’s a wrap. 75 shows down. 30 to go.

Coming Soon: Star Wars (1977):

Talk about a thematic shift. I go from a violent loner in a scum-encrusted New York to an intergalactic hick getting wrapped up in a space opera and learning how to fight with a glowing magic wand. It goes to show how movies truly can take you anywhere…

Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Film # 74: Barry Lyndon (1975)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Initial Release Country: United States

Times Previously Seen: once (about 12 years ago)

*Weird, Egotistical Note: After now watching 74 shows from TIME’s “100 All-TIME Films” list, this is the first film released within my lifetime. Funny to think that, as viewers were seeing this movie for the very first time, I was wailing away in a crib on a military base in South Carolina.

Teaser Summary (No spoilers)

18th century Irish commoner spends lots of time on many rungs of the social ladder. Duels and massive decorative hats abound.

Extended Summary (Longer plot synopsis, including spoilers. Fair warning.)

What follows is a fairly complete summary. For a meticulously detailed synopsis, check out imdb’s version through this link.

Late 18th century Ireland. Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal) is a young lad whose father is killed in a duel. He soon falls in love with his cousin, Nora, who returns his affection readily. However, when Nora accepts a marriage proposal from a stately, if uppity, English officer, Barry becomes furious. He insults the officer to the point of demanding a duel. Barry shoots the officer, seemingly killing him. On the advice of his cousins and his second, an Irishman in the English army named Grogan, he flees his hometown for Dublin, hoping to escape the inevitable pursuit of the law.

Langdon getting held up as he flees from the English army.

On the way to Dublin, Barry is robbed of all but his clothing. Desperate for any kind of escape, he joins the British army and heads off to war. After a few brief skirmishes and witnessing the death of his lone friend, the rediscovered Grogan, Barry decides to desert his post. Using a stolen officer’s uniform and identification papers, Barry enters Prussian-controlled areas near Holland. His hope is to return to Ireland.

Instead, he is captured by a savvy Prussian officer, Captain Potzdorf (Harry Kruger), and forced to join the Prussian army. Barry spends several years with Prussian forces, among a regiment composed mostly of scoundrels and cold-blooded killers. From these, Barry learns the cold means of survival and the arts of deceit. In one particular battle, Barry saves Potzdorf. This act is rewarded with back-handed recognition, a reward, and some small measure of trust.

Barry is recruited by Potzdorf and the Prussian Minister of Police to keep tabs on a suspected spy, a gambler of Irish origin named the Chevalier de Balibari (Patrick Magee). Barry readily accepts; however, upon meeting the Chevalier, he becomes emotional in the company of a fellow countryman and betrays his true mission. The Chevalier takes him in and the two become co-conspirators. Barry helps the Chevalier cheat nobles in games of chance, at the same time feeding the Prussian government useless information about his new confidant.

Eventually, Barry and the Chevalier manage to concoct a ruse to escape from Prussia unscathed. They then spend several years traveling around Europe. The Chevalier continues to cheat wealthy aristocrats out of their money, and Barry assists by successfully dueling any reluctant debtors.

Barry plies his trade as a master duelist, a perfect profession for any amoral rogue with the necessary skills.

Barry eventually sets his sights higher – true wealth in the form of the English countess Lady Lyndon, whom he meets at a gambling table. Barry courts the married Lady, which infuriates her aged and decrepit husband. The Lord Lyndon is so enraged, in fact, that when he starts an argument with the calculating Barry, he dies of a heart attack. This leaves the way wide open for Barry to swoop in and marry the love-struck Lady Lyndon and assume his new title – Barry Lyndon.

Over the next several years, Barry’s married life on his wife’s English estate disintegrates. While his wife stays home and looks after her son from her first marriage, Sir Charles, and hers and Barry’s son, Bryan, Barry himself lives a life of opulent leisure. His excessive drinking and philandering does not go unnoticed by his step-son, Sir Charles. Though merely ten years old when his mother remarries, the boy quickly develops acute hated for his rogue of a stepfather. This hatred only grows stronger as time passes.

Within these years, Barry’s mother comes to live with them and she points out how Barry needs to attain his own title, thus decreasing his total reliance on his wife’s fortune. Following this advice, Barry begins to spend lavishly on art, parties, and greasing the social wheels for his ascendancy into “higher spheres” of social worth. Things seem to be moving in the right direction until, at a party on the Lyndon estate, Lord Charles bursts in and announces his utter hatred for his stepfather in front of the guests. The enraged Barry mercilessly attacks his step son and pummels him in front of their guests. Word soon spreads of Barry’s brutality, and his “friends” completely ostracize him.

Barry turns his attentions toward his natural son, Bryan. As opposed to his horrid treatment of Lord Charles, Barry showers Bryan with true love and affection. Unfortunately, Bryan suffers a terrible horse riding accident just before his ninth birthday and dies a few days after. Barry and Lady Lyndon are so distraught that Barry’s mother must take over the family’s finances. When she dismisses Lady Lyndon’s closest associate, the vicar Reverend Runt, word gets out to Lord Charles, who has been living away from his family’s estate after the beating received at the hands of his stepfather.

Barry in the center of the frame, Attempting to drown his sorrow over his son's death. Little does he know that things are about to get even worse...

Lord Charles, supported by some of his family’s close friends, seeks out Barry and challenges him to a duel. In a secluded barn, Lord Charles wins the right to the first shot, but misfires. Upon his chance to return fire and likely kill Lord Charles, Barry opts to fire his pistol into the ground. Lord Charles, instead of being satisfied, demands another shot. He takes it and hits his stepfather in the leg. Barry is taken to a nearby inn for treatment, while Lord Charles rushes back to his family estate and quickly reasserts control over the household.

Barry must suffer his leg being amputated. More than this, though, he is given an ultimatum from Lord Charles – leave England forever and accept a 500 guineas annuity from the Lyndon family, or stay and suffer arrest on the grounds of his massive debts. Barry leaves England, and we are told that he returned to continental Europe to return to the gambling profession, “without his previous success”.

Take 1: My Gut Reaction (Written after this recent viewing, before any research.)

A story about this viewing of Barry Lyndon:

My girlfriend and I sit down a few evenings ago to watch it. The film moves on at its’ leisurely pace and time clicks on. At roughly the 90-minute mark, the “Intermission” screen pops up. My girlfriend goes slightly slack, her eyes widen, her jaw drops, and she asks, “How long is this movie?!” With a semi-knowing grin, I turn and reply, “It’s three hours long. We’ve got 90 more minutes to go.” Eyes still wide, she shakes her disbelieving head. After hanging in for another 30 minutes or so, she gives up and goes to bed. I stay up and watch the full film, enjoying it right up until the end.

This little tale of our viewing I think sums up how nearly all people feel about Barry Lyndon – you either love it, or you see it as too long and dull to take. Clearly, I am in the former group.

I have to say that this is one of those movies that you have to know what you’re in for and be in just the right state of mind to watch. Barry Lyndon is slow. Extremely slow. Kubrick took the approach of relying far less on dialogue and far more on slow zooms of panoramic landscapes and interiors. If you prefer more kinetic action and emotional dialogue, the three-hour Barry Lyndon will be an effort in frustration. I, however, love watching the movie. The lush colors, attention to detail, and expansive wide-angle shots are like classic works of art slowly coming to life (emphasis on “slowly”). The beauty of the natural surroundings, castles, and costumes throws into contrast the dastardly deeds that people are committing throughout the film.

This is the very first shot of the film, both in filming terms and in dueling terms. The entire visual style and story theme are set up within this shot - breathtaking beauty wholly encompassing human destruction.

The story itself is epic in scale, and I’m a sucker for a good epic. Following the roughly twenty-year rise and fall of Langdon Barry is a spectacle, as it allows the viewer to traipse through the Europe of William Makepeace Thackeray (the author of the source novel). To be sure, there is some interpersonal exploration done, but the movie is mostly given to sweeping powers of the times - war and class distinction – and their effects on humanity.

One of the recurring themes in the film is the duel, and it is these scenes that are most striking and intense to me. While all of the duel scenes (three with pistols, one with swords) are incredibly hypnotizing, it is the final one between Barry and his stepson, Lord Charles Bullingdon, that is an absolute masterpiece. The measured ritual with which the scene plays out and the very visible terror on the face of Bullingdon are perfection. The scene plays out with agonizing deliberation, forcing you to get into the heads of those involved. Once you do this, it’s not difficult to imagine just how terrifying a prospect it must have been to stare at someone standing ten paces from you, and you stared into their eyes just before they killed you or vice versa. It’s a version of Sergio Leone’s extended western gunfights, though a far more chilling one.

Guiding us through Barry’s journeys is a bemused narrator. As a rule, I find narration in films to be something of a crutch, borrowed from the realm of literature. Films should be able to tell their stories through visuals and dialogue. However, there are a few films in which it can enhance, and Barry Lyndon is a mixed bag. At times, the narrator’s commentary is tinged with sly gallows humor that I can only guess was Thackeray’s and which adds some welcome levity. In other moments, it does indeed seem a cheap way out of conveying humor or emotion directly through the characters’ words or actions.

Barry, we are told by other character and the narrator, is a hot-blooded young man. You'd hardly know it from his face here, which is the same bland expression he wears through nearly the entire film.

This downplay (or lack of) emotional dialogue is probably one clear reason that people may not like this movie. There is an overall stillness to the movie, save perhaps a few scenes of warfare and brief fighting. Knowing that Kubrick was a meticulous perfectionist, I am quite sure that this was intentional, and this tranquility pervades even to the acting. Even during tense confrontations and emotional moments, everything is very placid. While this is soothing in most places, after about two-and-a-half hours, the characters almost seem devoid of any real feeling.

This sensation of dead calm would not be so obvious if not for the performance of the title character actor, Ryan O’Neal. Some of the film’s minor characters do actually show more spirit. In stark contrast, O’Neal’s facial expression almost never changes throughout the movie, which leaves the viewers to rely on the narrator and guesswork to glean Barry’s true desires. Perhaps we viewers are supposed to take this as an outward sign of Barry’s emotional detachment, but it really just comes off as flat and unengaging most of the time.

This brings up the other reason most people probably dislike this movie. The morning after I watched it, my girlfriend and I discussed it. As she considered how Barry is a mostly despicable character, she rightfully wondered, “What’s the point?” I imagine countless other viewers have asked the same question. When I ponder the answer, I always return to the epigram of the film:

With this final message, we are left to wonder perhaps not about the point of the movie, but rather about the point of all of the violence and pain depicted in the movie. Violence and pain that certainly was based on real actions of the times. In watching Redmond Barry get caught up in the materialism and territorial struggles of his age, I can’t help but think of a movie critic who suggested something very cogent about Stanley Kubrick’s films. Kubrick’s movies, while covering a vast spectrum of genres, including war, action, science fiction, horror, and drama, all had the same basic message underlying them: humans are not fallen angels, but rather ascendant apes. Barry Lyndon, like all of Kubrick’s other films, shows just how not just one person but an entire society can slip into barbarism. Even when the players are dressed in the finest of clothes, living in the plushest of mansions, and possessing the most stunning of lands, they are no less capable of the basest primitive cruelties.

A happy message, it is not. But it is certainly one worth pondering. Barry Lyndon gives you the chance to calmly mull it over while drinking in the cultural splendor of a bygone age. It’s not for everyone, but I’d recommend everyone at least watch the 90-minute first act and find out for themselves.

Take 2: Why Film Geeks Love This Movie (Done after a little further research.)

A few surprises on things that I’ve found (and not found) in reading up a little more in Barry Lyndon.

The movie was, as mentioned, based on a far lesser known novel my William Makepeace Thackeray, who is now far better known for Vanity Fair. Barry Lyndon, though, is often referred to as the first “anti-hero” English novel. Kubrick clearly kept this idea true to its roots. Kubrick also kept the setting and characters basically the same, though he took out a few family connections that were in the novel. One such is that the Chevalier de Balibari (as I probably should have figured, based on the name) is, in the book, actually an uncle of Barry’s who had fled Ireland. The novel’s tale goes that he was kicked off his land and dispossessed by the Lyndons themselves, into whose family Langdon marries much later. This is probably a more interesting plot connection, and I wonder why Kubrick left it out. Perhaps he felt it far too convenient, but who knows?

Another interesting departure from the novel is that the film ends significantly before the novel’s tale, with several notable differences. In the film, the story ends just after Barry is shot and loses his leg in the duel with Lord Charles, and he is forced to leave England, accepting his modest annuity. In the book, the duel does not exist, and Barry actually becomes a member of British parliament. He sends his step-son to the Americas to fight in the Revolutionary War, and is accused of trying to have his son killed. He is stripped of his title and forced out of the country. Eventually, he is jailed for debts and spends the final seventeen years of his life in prison, with only his elderly mother to attend him. Obviously, Kubrick couldn’t tell all of this story using the measured pace that he wanted, so he chucked it.

A fairly recent edition of Thackeray's original novel. Kubrick was faithful to most key elements, but made several notable changes.

Another interesting difference between novel and film is the tone. From what I’ve read on it, Thackeray’s novel is told in first person by Barry himself, with an overtly humorous tone. In it, Barry is an early example of the “unreliable narrator”, who seems oblivious to his own shortcomings. Kubrick eschewed this and achieved a much more objective look at the character and his world. This accounts for the very detached feeling of the movie.

When released, Barry Lyndon was something of a disappointment. While it did pull in seven Academy Award nominations (winning four in the technical categories of art direction, costumes, cinematography, and music) and received fair critical acclaim, it did not win over all critics or the public, especially those with high expectations of Stanley Kubrick. In his original review in 1975, Roger Ebert probably summed up a lot of the feeling of the day. He described it as having “the arrogance of genius” and lauds its many brilliant merits. He does, however, note of O’Neal’s performance that “Kubrick has directed Ryan O’Neal in the title role as if he were a still life. It's difficult to imagine such tumultuous events whirling around such a passive character.” This is really the only critical note I found of O’Neal’s flat-line turn as Barry.

In recent years, Barry Lyndon has gradually gained more attention as one of the greatest of films. More and more, critics seem to be willing to see its cold, calm tone not as an example of a bad decision on Kubrick’s part but rather a very unique and artistic way of observing and telling a human story. One can call it hopeless or dreary, and I can’t necessarily argue, but I have to say that I will always find it mesmerizing.

That’s a wrap 74 shows down. 31 to go.

Coming Soon: Taxi Driver (1976)

Oh, boy. Anyone who’s seen this movie knows that it contains every ounce of dark despair that the mid-1970s United States could muster. It’s also an incredible piece of film making, and the first of three Martin Scorsese movies on the list. Come on back in about a week or so to see what I make of my return to the sad tale of Travis Bickle.

Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Film #73: The Godfather, Part II (1974)

*This is, of course, the second of the Godfather series, which are considered one “film” by the fellows who put together the TIME magazine list of “100 great movies”. Here’s my review of the first movie, done a few months ago.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Initial Release Country: United States

Times Previously Seen: three (last time about 6 years ago)

Teaser Summary (No Spoilers)

Long before dying in an orange orchard in the 1940s, Vito Corleone immigrated to the U.S. and became a respected and feared crime lord. Four decades later, his son Michael struggles to maintain and expand the family’s criminal empire.

Extended Summary (Slightly longer plot synopsis, including spoilers. Fair Warning.)

This is a relatively short (used loosely – the movie’s 3 and ½ hours long!) summary. For a much more thorough synopsis, check out this one at the Internet Movie Database website.

Roughly 45 years before the events chronicled in The Godfather, a nine-year old Vito Andolini lives in the town of Corleone, Sicily in 1901. He must flee the country to escape murder at the hands of the local mafia head, Don Ciccio, who has already killed his father, older brother, and mother. A few sympathetic clergy members stash him on a freight ship, and he arrives in America a few months later. At Ellis Island, his named is inadvertently altered to “Vito Corleone”, which is the name he will use for the rest of his life.

A nine-year old Vito arrives at Ellis Island, quietly dealing with all of the chaos and change.

Nearly 20 years pass, and Vito (Robert De Niro) is living in a poor Italian district in New York City. He has a decent job at a grocery store, a loving family, and a small, barely adequate apartment. One day, however, his job is taken from him at the behest of Don Fanucci, the obnoxious, vain, and greedy mafia underboss who has the neighborhood in his grip. The quiet, meditative, and thoughtful Vito gently gives up his job, assuring his employer that there are no hard feelings.

Through a series of events and in order to support his family, Vito takes to crime with his friends, Clemenza and Tessio. The three lead a successful, if relatively small, thievery ring. When Don Fanucci finds out, though, he demands a cut of their action. While Tessio and Clemenza would like to bow to Fanucci’s wishes, Vito convinces them to let him handle it. They agree, and Vito “handles it” by assassinating the despicable Fanucci.

The three friends then continue to slowly build their criminal empire, with Vito as their head. Vito, not only interested in criminal profits, also develops a reputation as a man who will help any friends in need. Thus, he becomes not only feared, but also a highly beloved and respected figure in Italian New York.

Vito Corleone, ascended to successful, deadly, and highly respected crime boss.

Around 25 years later, the events depicted in The Godfather take place, with the mantle of “Don Corleone” passing from Vito to his youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino). The Godfather ends with Michael having his 5 main rivals assassinated and beginning to move the Corleone family to Las Vegas.

Seven years after these events, in 1958, the Corleone family is in Lake Tahoe, celebrating Michael’s son’s first communion with a massive party. As with his sister, Connie’s, wedding to Carlo ten years prior, this grand celebration serves as a front for Michael to conduct family business with other powerful people, including corrupt Senators and mafia bosses who work for him. Michael’s grand scheme is to partner with Hymen Roth, a very wealthy, long-time associate and financial supporter of his father in various illegal activities. They plan to bribe the president of Cuba into letting them open and run their own businesses in the Caribbean country. A monkey wrench exists, however, in the form of Michael’s underling Frank Pantangeli wanting to eliminate a rival New York crime family who is backed by Roth.

That evening, after the party guests have all left, an attempt is made on Michael’s life. In his very bedroom, where his wife Kay (Diane Keaton) is sleeping, a pair of assassins opens fire and riddles the room with bullets. Both Michael and Kay escape, unharmed, but Michael now must guess who sent the would-be murderers.

Over the coming months, Michael travels from Lake Tahoe to Miami and Cuba, speaking with Roth, Pantangeli, and his older brother Fredo, in order to determine who tried to kill him and exactly how they were able to get so close to him and his wife. In the middle of it all, Michael must face Senate questions about his alleged crimes. Pantangeli and his bodyguard, Cicci, have become witnesses to the prosecution, after the former survived an attempt on his life, seemingly ordered by Michael.

Through his own cunning and willpower, Michael learns that it was, in fact, Hymen Roth who ordered both his and Pantangeli’s murders. Not only this, but Roth obtained access to the Tahoe compound from Michael’s own brother, the weak-willed and petty Fredo. Added to this, any designs of the Corleone family in Cuba are crushed when Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries take over the government and oust the president. A final, more devastating and personal blow is given Michael by Kay. Michael had believed that Kay’s recent pregnancy had ended in miscarriage, when in fact it was an abortion. Kay explains to her husband that she has become disgusted at their lives and refuses to bring any more of Michael’s children into the world.

Michael in his fortress-like compound in Reno, dealing with some enemies while creating many more.

Michael resolves each problem in his own ruthless way. Hymen Roth is assassinated in an airport. Frank Pantangeli is coaxed into recanting his testimony against the Corleones, in exchange for assurances that his family will be taken care of. Michael completely shuns Fredo, cutting him off from the family. After their mother passes away, Michael has Fredo killed for his past treachery. As for Kay, she too is cut off from her own two children. The divide is so severe that, upon finding Kay secretly visiting their children, Michael coldly slams a door in her face.

The tale ends with a final flashback to 1941. All of Michael’s immediate family members are alive and happy, and they prepare to eat a surprise birthday meal for their father, Vito. Michael then reveals that he has enlisted in the Marines, much to the disgust and anger of his eldest brother, Santino (James Caan). When Vito arrives, everyone leaves the table to greet Vito. All except for Michael, who merely sits and contemplates his decision.

In 1959 in Lake Tahoe, Michael Corleone, now seventeen years older, sits in a similar thoughtful pose – completely alone.

Take 1: My Gut Reaction (Done before any further research on the film.)

Just as with my re-watching of Part I, this one was a treat, yet again. Part II is a seamless continuation of, and deeper exploration into, the epic and tragic tale of the Corleone crime family. This sequel/prequel combo may still be the only “great” movie that matches or surpasses its classic predecessor.

In watching these two films within about two months of each other, I realize that one is best served by watching them in rapid succession. The two really are one long movie, and should be watched as such. As excellent as Part I is on its own, my appreciation for it is so enhanced by watching Part II that I really can’t imagine watching one and not the other any more.

One of the early scenes of Vito Andolini, just before his mother is brutally gunned down. This camera shot is one of countless that could be stilled and hung on a wall.

On a few counts, it’s difficult to separate the merits of the two. Being created by exactly the same film-makers, based on the same source, using all of the same actors, and filmed a mere two years after Part I, Part II has exactly the same amazing aesthetic appeal. Whether it’s early 20th century Sicily, 1920s New York, or 1950s Lake Tahoe, Miami, or Cuba, many of the shots are studies in framing and composition. The panoramic shots give you so much to drink in that you can almost forget about the stories and plots unfolding.


I assume that Mario Puzo’s book tells the Corleone story in standard chronological order. By choosing to reshuffle the tale and go simultaneously backwards and forwards in time, Coppola did something that I can’t recall seeing in any earlier film. Or at least, not done so effectively. Watching the quiet boy Vito Andolini steadfastly overcome his hardships through his own conviction and willpower is the more enjoyable and entertaining part of the three-and-a-half behemoth that is The Godfather Part II.

Though it is the more pleasing of the two tales, Vito's story serves the greater purpose of casting Michael’s story into very dark relief. By the end, Michael is having to deal with all of the fallout of his own lack of the very thing that made his father a better man – genuine compassion. Michael gets respect from other powerful people because he has always had money and because he is clearly intelligent and capable. His father, however, did not initially have the luxury of financial might to impose his will; what Vito had was real concern for his family and his countrymen, and he had a sense of justice that weak and strong alike would support. As was developing in the latter half of Part I, the intellectual Michael understands these characteristics of his father, but he does not and cannot genuinely feel them.

The tone of the movie is also very much in keeping with Part I. There are intense moments of emotion, fear, and anger, but also moments of levity provided by taking a look at the “gangster lifestyle”, especially the far less polished under-bosses and henchmen. The drunken and obnoxious Frank Pantangeli and his body guard, Cicci, provide as many chuckles as Sonny or Clemenza do in Part I. The reverse is true of the flashback scenes with Vito – his tale contains more humor (we know he’s going to succeed, having seen Part I), but there are certainly moments of tension and bloodshed. Everything is balanced exceptionally well.

Speaking of the violence. It’s interesting to realize that, while there is certainly graphic violence in Parts I and II, alike, I never feel that it is gratuitous in any way. There is never any slow-motion photography, no stylization of it, or any music to try and intensify anything. A murder, even a fictitious one on screen, is intense enough. When I see a murder occur in these movies, my clenched teeth and cold guts tell me that these are the horrors that are part of this type of criminal life. The fact that the victims are often slain by those they know and trust is an even greater horror, and one that should leave a viewer no doubt as to whether the lifestyle is truly glamorous or noble.

One of the more iconic shots - Vito murdering the corpulent Don Fanucci. The unstylized presentation of this  killing gives a cold sense of just how matter-of-fact Vito can be about assassination, when it comes to providing for his family.

The acting is, as you would expect, perfection. All of the returning cast members continue to nail their roles, and I even see a little more depth added to the relationship between Michael and Kay. The newcomers to the Godfather story only enhance it. De Niro is incredible, as expected, but even the smaller roles of Frank Pantangeli and Hymen Roth are played expertly by Michael Gazzo and Lee Strasburg, respectively. As with Part I, even the tiniest of roles seemed to be cast with someone who could add some kind of memorable accent to the picture.

Probably the thing that I gained a better appreciation for upon this viewing came from the end of the movie. I don’t know that I ever fully grasped the comparison that the two movies were making between Vito and Michael, and just how aware Michael is that he does not have his father’s most valuable gifts of character. Nowhere in the movies is this clearer than at the very end, when we shift from Michael in 1941, sitting alone at the family dinner table, to Michael in 1958, having just had his brother killed for treachery. The divide between father and son is now all too clear, and Michael is left alone.

Take 2: Why Film Geeks Love This Movie (Done after a little research.)

As with Part I, the commentary on The Godfather Part II is almost limitless. The handful that I read was mostly unsurprising. The Godfather Part II was a very solid commercial and critical success, raking in 11 Oscar nominations and 6 wins. The reasons for this are the same reasons for Part I’s acclaim.

A few curious notes popped up in what I read, though. The primary one was that a handful of respected film critics, including Roger Ebert, weren’t completely enthralled with this sequel. In Ebert’s original 1974 review here, it’s clear that he recognizes several clear strengths, but he felt that the telling of the dual tales of Vito and Michael was a bit of patchwork job that weakened the picture. He wasn’t completely alone in his assessment. I myself did feel that the shifts, while not very distracting to me, were a tad abrupt at times. Still, I don’t know that there was a better way to tell the story and still provide the interesting parallels and divergences between Michael and his father.

Apparently, the slightly stilted nature of the narrative was not a figment of a few critics’ imaginations. The studio and advance critics’ protestations were enough that Coppola actually was in the process of reediting and restructuring the film so that the two different stories were more self-contained and impacting. However, he couldn’t get it done by the release date, so we were left with the greater number of flashbacks and forwards.

The other major area of interest is just how much reality provided the source material for The Godfather Part II. Even more than Part I, the sequel drew from very real mafia doings in Las Vegas and Cuba. The Senate hearings were based on actual hearings in the 1950s in pursuit of gangster Frank Costello (not to be confused with the character of the same name in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed). Hymen Roth was based on an actual major financier for the mob named Meyer Lansky. It’s a bit frightening to think that so many of these insidious machinations are not just the stuff of make believe. Just who do you think might own that nice hotel you’re staying in? It might not be some kindly hotelier, eh?

Hymen Roth and Michael in Cuba (actually filmed in the Dominican Republic), trying to outmaneuver each other and drop their dirty stakes into the country at the same time.

The final thing that dawned on me in these reading is something that I didn’t find mentioned, specifically. I was left to think about a rather understated comparison that one can make – it involves Don Ciccio, the Sicilian mafia Don in Corleone who brutally murders young Vito’s entire family. When the grown Vito comes to him and exacts his revenge, Don Ciccio is portly, hard of hearing, and, most importantly, he is completely alone except for his paid body guards. It’s hard not to see Michael Corleone as the very same man at the end of the movie. He has killed anyone who is his enemy, leaving him with no one left, for enemies are all that he has created for himself. The true tragedy is that this is exactly what his own father, who wanted Michael to be a great man, despised and sought to overcome.

*A final thought about The Godfather Part III (1990): In brief – if you’re thinking about watching it, don’t get your hopes up. Amazingly, it’s horribly inferior to Parts I and II. The visuals are great, and the plot is halfway decent, but there are some really bizarre shifts of character and laughably atrocious acting by a few “thespians”. The greatest offense was the notoriously bad performance by Sophia Coppola. Watching this third installment might give a bit closure, but realize that there are very good reasons that this one is never included in discussion of the “great series” that the first two films make up.

That’s a wrap. 73 shows down. 32 to go.

Coming Soon: Barry Lyndon (1975)

I don’t meet too many people who know of this movie, but I love it. It can be filed under “lesser-known Kubrick”. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a nice overcast day to kick back and drink in this meditative, visually lush epic.

Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Film #72: Chinatown (1974)

Director: Roman Polanski

Initial Release Country: United States 

Times Previously Seen: two (last viewing about 7 or 8 years ago)

Teaser Summary (No spoilers)

Cunning, 1930s L.A. private eye gets wrapped up in a knotted case of small- and grand-scale corruption. Shoots his mouth off plenty.

Extended Summary (A slightly lengthier plot synopsis, spoilers included. Fair warning.) 

*Note: this will be a relatively short summary. For a fully detailed recounting, you can check out this one at Internet Movie Database.* 

In 1937 Los Angeles, private investigator Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by a woman, Evelyn Mulwray, to tail her husband, Hollis. Jake is to find proof of an extra-marital affair. In following him, Jake soon learns that Hollis is a chief engineer on the city’s water and power commission and that he spends nearly all of his time inspecting the lands around the city’s reservoirs. Eventually, Jake manages to witness and take photos of Hollis meeting with a young woman with whom he seems very close. The photos soon go public in the newspapers.

Jake and the real Evelyn Mulwray. Like any good noir film, many a cigarette is smoked by both hero and heroine. 

No sooner is Hollis Mulwray’s seeming infidelity made public than another woman turns up in Jake’s office. This woman is the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), who threatens to sue Gittes over defamation. It is now clear that the woman who had hired Gittes was not, in fact, Hollis’s real wife. With his own investigator’s license on the line, Jake later makes an appeal to Evelyn and begins to investigate the case further. Evelyn agrees (suspiciously quickly) to drop any legal action against Jake, and Jake soon after discovers Hollis dead at one of the reservoirs that he would routinely inspect.

Over the course of the next several days, Gittes digs more and more deeply. Through his own ingenuity and brass, he figures out that Hollis was murdered by Evelyn’s father, Noah Cross (John Huston). The elderly Cross is exceptionally rich, but has grander designs on expanding his empire much farther. His plot involves having the very natural drought, along with his own hired thugs, spoil farmers’ crops to the point that their land becomes virtually worthless. Cross has been buying the land up cheaply, through false fronts, and plans to have the city build a dam that would bring water to his new properties. With a water supply, the land’s worth would grow exponentially. Hollis Mulwray, however, once Noah Cross’s partner on the water commission, was going to block the plan to build the dam, claiming that it would be unsafe. Hollis was, therefore, murdered by Noah Cross himself and brought out to the reservoir, to make it seem an accident.

In an even more sordid twist, Jake learns that the young girl that Hollis had visited before his death was not a mistress of any sort. She is, in fact, Evelyn’s illegitimate sister/daughter, Katherine, the product of a rape at the hands of her own father, Noah Cross. By the time Jake puts all of this together, both the police and Noah Cross are searching for Evelyn and Katherine, and they are hot on the pair’s heels. Jake decides to help them both escape to Mexico, and sets up a brief rendezvous in Chinatown. Noah Cross gets to Jake first, though, and forces him to lead him and his goons to Chinatown. Upon arriving, the police also show up and arrest Jake, who tries to explain all that he has discovered about the nefarious Mr. Cross. Evelyn and Katherine show up, manage to hustle past Noah into their car, and begin to drive away. The police open fire on the car and kill Evelyn. A screaming Katherine, staring at her murdered mother/sister, is pulled out of the car and taken away by Noah Cross. Jake, dumbfounded by the turn of events, is released by the police and slowly escorted away from the scene by his employee Walsh, who says merely, “Forget it, Jake, It’s Chinatown.”

The now-battered and weary Jake and Evelyn find brief solace with each other, shortly before it all comes crashing down. 

Take 1: My Gut Reaction (Done after this recent viewing, before any further research.) 

I really enjoy this movie, and I appreciated it even more this time than the previous two times that I’ve watched it. It stands out as a haunting classic which takes a genre that had been established several decades prior, molds it into a slightly different shape, and results in a familiar yet novel finished product.

The technical aspects of Chinatown are easy to laud. The sets, camerawork, and general look to things are flawless. Director Roman Polanski lent an attractive symmetry to many of the visuals, something that film noir movies had shown through a few outstanding movies like the Billy Wilder-directed Double Indemnity. The bit of spice added to Chinatown is the element of color. Color was nothing new at this point in movies, of course, but the splendor of the art deco Los Angeles in the 1930s is far grander when not limited to the black and white of the past. It also lends a sharper contrast to the far darker, more sinister deeds being done amidst this vibrant wonderland.

The acting is also top-notch, as can be expected from a cast that includes Nicholson and Dunaway. Nicholson, in one of his least “Nicholson” roles, shows just the right balance of weariness, heroism, cynicism, impudence, intelligence, and rebellion. The “wild man” roles he would become best known for are far removed from this far more restrained and highly effective one as Jake Gittes. Dunaway is equally potent as the infuriatingly enigmatic Evelyn Mulwray. The little cracks that she shows in her poise and grace are subtle hints at the horrors that she is working so hard not to reveal. In his more minor role, even John Huston is tremendous. There’s something truly terrifying about this tall, stooped, craggy old man and his dead black eyes that make me believe that Noah Cross truly is the embodiment of evil and greed.

He may look like a kindly old coot, but Noah Cross may just be the embodiment of pure evil. And it doesn't take long for Jake to realize it. 

The tale that these characters are part of is 99% the stuff of noir. A knowing, jaded protagonist gets hooked into a labyrinthine plot by a gorgeous woman. Said protagonist uses his own skill and wits to fight his way through various obstacles and find the truth behind the knotted lies and deceit, only to find that he comes up short in the end. And yet, the central figure, in his fatalism, somehow knew that such an end was fated for him. All of these things can be found in noir stories, classic and obscure, alike. However, these familiar elements are where Chinatown makes highly effective alterations. Noir protagonists and characters were often too slick to be real. They always have great, witty one-liners for all occasions. Jake Gittes certainly pops off at the mouth (with great wryness), but his sardonic wit and worldview seem more fleshed out. This was essential for a 1970s movie redoing a 1930s/’40s style.

The final component that I notice Chinatown remolded was just how dark it gets, figuratively. Certainly, all noir crime movies explore the seedier side of humanity. Chinatown, though, gets farther into the depths than any that I’ve ever seen. Beyond murders fueled by base greed, Chinatown gives you a look into the gaze of the devil himself in the form of Noah Cross – a man whose insatiable greed and utter lack of remorse for deeds unspeakable are appalling. Cross’s evils not only destroy the lives of his daughter and former business partner, his actions not only slowly crush the livelihood away from thousands of farmers, but also he shows not the least ounce of guilt. On top of it all, he actually gets away with all of it. There’s a dreary fatalism to it that hits far harder than other noir classics, in which the protagonist and any remaining sinister characters go down in flames. In Chinatown, though, you’re left with a voided sense of emptiness at the end.

If you expect a happy ending, just look at this last shot at Gittes's face and think again. 

So why do I like it so much? I guess it’s because it’s simply an incredible piece of storytelling, and its artistry is clear for all to see. And to be honest, I often appreciate stories that don’t give me the happy ending. Sometimes, there’s a sad beauty in destruction, as much as we might not want to admit it. And it’s this beauty that’s summed up at the end of Chinatown, with a defeated Jake Gittes walking away from the scene of the crime and the lonely trumpet wailing, signaling the final fade-out.

 Take 2: Why Film Geeks Love This Movie (Done after some further research.) 

Unlike a few other films on the TIME list, there is really no mystery as to why Chinatown is considered a great movie. There really are no weak points to it, and it created a novel concoction from familiar and enjoyable ingredients.

A few interesting notes, though. One is the script. In thinking about it after watching a few interviews with script writer Robert Towne and director Roman Polanski, it’s clear that Chinatown’s script is near perfect. I’m talking "Casablanca" perfect. Each line and scene flows smoothly into the next, burning the tale slowly into the conflagration in the end. Curious to learn two things about the original – one is that Towne wrote it with a happy ending, in which Gittes helps Evelyn Mulwray escape Noah Cross with her daughter. The movie studio was completely on board with this. Polanski, however, still in agony over the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, at the hands on the Manson family, insisted on having a bleak finale. Polanski won his argument, and even now, Towne himself admits that it was the right call. In a 1999 interview, Polanksi even said, “If it doesn’t end in tragedy, then what’s the point?” A really interesting question, and one that many viewers might ask in a contrary way: “If the hero and heroine don’t survive hardship and win in the end, then what’s the point?” It’s this conundrum that still has viewers mulling over Chinatown.

Another interesting observation was made clear to me by an earlier film critic. As I vaguely alluded to in my first take, Faye Dunaway’s Evelyn Mulwray is very much an exotic species in film noir, though a deceptive one. On the surface and throughout much of Chinatown, she seems to be every inch the femme fatale – beautiful, deceitful, and seemingly luring the detective into some sort of trap. While all true, Mulwray is, actually, totally altruistic. She lies only to protect Katherine from the evils of her brutal father. The females in other noir films are always selfish in their motives, while Evelyn Mulwray is thoroughly selfless. This is one of the more prominent of several creative adaptations to the noir genre, and it adds spectacular depth. Chinatown is, almost 40 years later, still an outstanding movie that has lost none of its luster. Film noir may not be explored much any more, but Chinatown is a brilliant pillar of its strong past. If you haven’t seen it before, you’d do well to try it.

 That’s a wrap. 72 shows down. 33 to go.

 Coming Soon: The Godfather, Part II (1974):
I know that Christmas of 2011 has come and gone, but I couldn’t resist this poster. I can’t wait to re-watch this rarity – a sequel to an absolute classic that equals, and arguably bests, its predecessor. Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.