Tuesday, January 1, 2008


One of the most interesting comebacks of a sort in 2007 was that of the director Francis Ford Coppola with his first flick in like ten years, Youth Without Youth. Though it got mostly horrible reviews  (one of the funniest criticisms of it was written by Tim Robey in the Telegraph it might as well have been written in Klingon”) it’s good to have the portly master back on the promotional circuit talking about films.

He caused some controversy when he apparently told GQ Magazine that once great actors Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson have gotten lazy (later he kinda retracted the statement).  Basically he seems to be correct. Let’s take a look at the director and the three ham actors and see if we can spot when they got “lazy”


The great documentary Hearts Of Darkness: A Film Makers Apocalypse was finally released on DVD, and though the transfer is not great, it’s still an amazing account of Coppola’s troubled production of Apocalypse Now

Check this out: When the DVD release was announced, one of the documentary’s co-directors George Hickenlooper explained in the comments section of Hollywood Elsewhere how he was kept out of the DVD loop by Coppola. He then continued on through the comment section to answer questions and explains who Coppola’s wife who original on set footage was the basis for the documentary, tried to get all the credit. It’s a fascinating read.

So you know the story of Francis Ford Coppola and the fabled filmmakers and actors of the justifiable worshipped decade of the 70’s. They were "The Movie Brats" of the “Easy Riders Raging Bulls” period (1969-80). That corny term coined by the title of Peter Biskind book which though much beligned by the filmmakers it profiled, I think is an absolute blast of a read, couldn’t put it down.

There’s a doc based on it that tells the story  Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (Bowser 2003)

Also made the same year for the IFC was the much longer A Decade Under the Influence (Demme, LaGravenese 2003).

Coppola worked under producer Roger Corman directing the boring Dementia 13 (1963), he made some personal films including the pretty funny  You’re A Big Boy Now (1966),  and the pretentious The Rain People (1969). He worked for the studio on the horrible “musical” Finian's Rainbow (1968). He won an Oscar for writing Patton (Schaffner 1970). And won more Oscars and made a lot of money with The Godfather  and The Godfather Part Two (1972, 1974). Also in ‘74 he got more indie and critical ‘street-cred’ with The Conversation (that year he also was the credited writer of The Great Gatsby (Clayton). Then in 1979 the monumental Apocalypse Now (1979). 

 Also during the seventies he played big brother to the younger and also bearded nerd George Lucas, producing his first two features THX 1138 (1971) and American Graffiti (1973) before he created his own monster Star Wars (1977) and all that crap that followed (actually Raiders Of The Lost Ark (Spielberg 1981) is pretty fantastic).

Then things get interesting... his epic ‘musical’ One From The Heart (1982) though respected as an experiment in style, it’s abysmal as entertainment, bankrupted the director

He then directed the two two Tiger-Beat films The Outsiders (1983) and Rumble Fish (1983). The first being a overly colorful cheery picture with a greased up Soul Man and The Karate Kid  trading elocution's on poetry. The second being a dour black n’ white exercise in mumbling. Both are fascinating and enjoyable.

The Cotton Club (1984) his next picture, apparently a troubled production, and it shows. It’s kinda all over the place. There are some great scenes and nice supporting turns, but it suffers and is eventually killed by a couple of sucky lead performances. 

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) is memorable for Nicolas Cage’s bizarre, brave performance. 

Though I remember seeing Gardens of Stone (1987) in the theater everything about it has been erased from my memory,

Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) was memorable, maybe his post-Apocalypse best.

For New York Stories (1989) he joined Woody Allen and Martin Scorcese, to tell three stories. Coppola’s segment “Life Without Zoe” was the worst of the three. 

The Godfather Part III (1990) was an unnecessary embarrassment.

His 1992 Bram Stoker's Dracula was a big hit and worth a look. I never saw Jack (1986) but I’m gonna go out on a limb having read the reports of some witnesses and guess that it sucked.

The Rainmaker (1997) has a wonderful performance from Mickey Rourke buried under some John Grisham dribble.

Since then he tinkered with some earlier films turning them into Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) and The Outsiders: The Complete Novel (2005).

He talked about making some kinda Sci-fi flick Megapolis, instead settling for Youth Without Youth.

He’s served as a producer or executive producer on about a dozen films including his daughter Sophia’s overrated Lost in Translation (2003) and her misunderstood Marie-Antoinette (2006).

And he earned back the money and some, from his One From The Heart flop with his hugely successful northern California winery.


After a couple of years of Roger Corman flicks and the early comedies of Brian De Palma, before he found his commercial footing ripping off HitchcockDe Niro had a couple of breakthrough roles. Maybe the best work of his career, he’s brilliantly dangerous and out-of control in Mean Streets (Scorcese 1973) and the same year he played sweet as a dying retard in the Brian’s Song-like baseball tear-jerker Bang the Drum Slowly (Hancock 1973). 

After auditioning for The GodfatherCoppola cast the future lazybones as the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part 2, he justifiably won an Oscar for his work in what prove to be the best “sections” of the epic film.

A couple of low points he was acted of the screen by his co-stars in Bertolucci’s 1900 (1976) and was miscast in House UnAmerican Activities rat Elia Kazan’s final film The Last Tycoon (1976). 

More interesting The Deer Hunter (Cimino 1978) is part masterpiece and part bullshit, but incredible film making and De Niro powerfully leading the young cast. 

He made three classics with Scorsese,  giving three incredible performances in Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980) and The King Of Comedy. Though the director and star struke out with the almost unbearable New York, New York (1977), De Niro’s performance is incredibly annoying, his worst of the period.

De Niro would go on to work with Scorsese three more times, Goodfellas (1990) may be the directors best film. Casino (1995) feels like an overlong rehash of Goodfellas and Cape Fear (1991) is a relentless pointless remake. 

In between in the eighties a new “De Niro film” continued to feel like an event, such as Sergio Leone’s final film Once Upon a Time in America (1984), the beautiful epic The Mission (Joffe 1986)  and the very funny Midnight Run (Best 1988). 

He also took supporting roles perhaps to work with some top directors, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985), Alan Parker’s Angel Heart (1987) and reteaming with his early director De Palma in The Untouchables (1987),

Throughout the late eighties and nineties there are a number of forgettable pictures, does anyone remember the Night And The City (Winkler 1992) remake? A couple of good ones This Boy's Life (Caton-Jones 1993), Heat (Mann 1995), Wag the Dog (Levinson 1997). 

His last great performance coming in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997).

The movies no longer feel like events and De Niro no longer seemed to give a shit who he works with, did he do Hide and Seek (Polson 2005) because he was dying to work with the director of Swimfan (2002)?

Al Pacino seems to be a little more picky then De Niro and he continually returns to the stage, so he seems to enjoy but early on he didn’t appear in as many seminal films as De Niro.

Of course he had his two Godfather flicks with Coppola and early on he was fantastic in two Sidney Lumet flicks Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Serpico (1973) but otherwise...

In between those four classics and say the boring The Godfather: Part III (1990) he made less then ten films. But since he he made about twenty films.

He had the great yelling speech (“No you’re outta order!”) in the otherwise silly film ...And Justice for All. (1979)

With De Palma he had fun playing latino hamming it up in the hyper blood baths Scarface (1983) and Carlito's Way (1993).

In Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990) he was very effective and entertaining playing a cartoon character 

He won an Oscar yelling and grunting in the lame Scent of a Woman (Brest 1992).

Maybe his best performance since the seventies was in Glengarry Glen Ross (Foley 1992) where he seemed to be more under control, more trusting of the material not overplaying his voice.

He’s fine as Lowell Bergman in the great movie The Insider (Mann 1999) and he gave a nice twist to the mobster roles of his past in Donnie Brasco (Newell 1997) and he received much acclaim playing scum-bag Roy Cohn in the HBO version of the play "Angels in America". But most of the other stuff on his resume... Has anyone sat through Bobby Deerfield (Pollack 1977) or Author! Author! (Hiller 1982) a second time?

PART 2 You don't know Jack


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