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Dark Star (1974) – D. John Carpenter

It’s curious how little Dark Star is discussed in the canon of John Carpenter. It’s also puzzling given its rather large contribution to the sci-fi boom of the late 70’s that resulted in Star Wars (1977) and Alien (1979). Both franchises continue to dominate the market almost 40 years later. And Carpenter has never been hotter. He’s successfully parlayed his iconic status into successful second careers in music and comic books.

In recalling the time between the heady and serious 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and the more fantastical and forgiving world of Star Wars, it’s hard to think of any other title that perfectly bridged the two. Even in 1970, George Lucas would sear the sci-fi genre by releasing a dark, grim vision of the future with THX 1138, cementing his preferred sensibilities in the more sobering and academic and less in the pulpy adventures of Buck Rogers, something he admiringly mocks in the opening moments of the film. As the promise of the 60’s deteriorated and a public wanting more escapist fare, Lucas regressively stumbled backwards, awash in the nostalgia bug he picked up when escaping the realities of 1973 with American Graffiti. What he landed in, though, was Star Wars, a far sunnier vision of sci-fi that was bronzed with the American Western and Japanese Samurai films that informed Lucas’s creative mind.

So 1977 got space via the grand adventure films of Akira Kurosawa and 1974 got, according to Carpenter, “Waiting For Godot in Space.” Not only is that an apt description of the movie, it also is a dead-on example for the type of mindset that the defeatist and exhausted American movie-going public was in in 1974.

At the time of Dark Star’s creation and eventual theatrical release, Stanley Kubrick was still at the top of his game. Though his most recent film, 1971’s A Clockwork Orange (yet another sterile, grim look at the future), had been met with an alarming amount of controversy and wasn’t exactly embraced by all of the critics (Roger Ebert wasn’t all that hot on it), Kubrick’s reputation was still riding high from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a game changing mind-blower that still rendered him exciting and mysterious. And even though the worst of the Cold War’s nuclear fears were behind them, America still held Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove in high regard but, only 10 years old, more as a slightly older, yet still contemporary film.

Co-written by Carpenter and fellow UCLA alum Dan O’Bannon, Dark Star utilized the vision and satirical sensibilities of Kubrick’s freshest and exciting works as the foundation for a yarn about the crushing boredom and claustrophobia that is shared among the crew of a star cruiser, charged with destroying unstable planets.

Honestly, it’s totally fair to treat Dark Star as a collaboration between Carpenter and O’Bannon as O’Bannon’s contributions turn Carpenter’s budgetary shortcuts into imaginative miracles. Co-writer O’Bannon, later co-writer of the screenplay for Alien and computer animator for Star Wars, leads a crew including Bill Taylor (The Thing, Blade Runner), Jim Danforth (Twilight Zone: The Movie), Bill Cobb (Star Wars, Alien), Gregory Jein (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture), and John Walsh (Star Wars, Blade Runner, 2010). Perhaps only 1970’s Equinox, another backyard project that was stewarded to a theatrical release by Jack Harris, would prove to be as potent a mix for future sci-fi professionals, matching Danforth and future Star Wars alum, Dennis Muren.

And like Equinox before it and the surprisingly enduring Flesh Gordon, released the same year as Dark Star, the low-budget effects are more than worth the price of admission. Though it lacks the absolutely amazing stop-motion animation of those two films, Dark Star mixes models and animation with ingeniously crafted production design; muffin tins, beach balls, 8-track tapes, ice cube trays, styrofoam packing are all utilized to surprisingly brilliant effect.

But while the innards are dressed by O’Bannon’s gadgets and his clever gags, the visual flow and sound design are all Carpenter’s which makes his presence as equally towering as that of O’Bannon’s. The classical visual compositions and the gently fluid camera crawls all recall certain specific moments that would appear later in Halloween (1978) and the Thing (1982). And Carpenter’s electronic score is, if not one of his best, one of his more underrated; a menacing, droning wave of bad, electronic vibes that seems to elevate the film when its on the soundtrack.

Dark Star is also an excuse for Carpenter to indulge his inner Howard Hawks for the first time as he serves up a story that, however comic, is populated by Men in Extreme Situations. The interaction between the characters is interestingly humorous in the same fashion that the blunt dullness found in the uncomfortable silences of Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise (1984) is what makes that whole endeavor so hilarious.

As a story, there’s not too much to Dark Star. It’s a barely cohesive string of set pieces that build the framework of something that looks like a movie. And like both Equinox and Flesh Gordon, there’s not too much in the filler that sticks these moments together. But Dark Star is like raw, uncut magic. From Carpenter’s direction to the impressive number of special effect pros that sprang from it, Dark Star is like watching a visual resume. Funny, liberating, and fueled on sheer energetic talent, little wonder that the galaxy far, far away that was created from Dark Star’s potent elements was such a phenomenon in 1977.

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“Plenty of Time to Feel the Pain”: Last House on the Left (1972)

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by Patrick Crain

Sometime after moving into my grandparents’ house in 1986, I felt a great silence about me. I was no longer a little kid with parents doting on me or Saturday morning cartoons screaming at me. My parents were mostly busy dealing with the aftermath of my grandmother’s death, setting up a new house, and both working highly stressful jobs. I was mostly alone which, really, couldn’t have come at a better time. In the new house, I was between two great video stores; TV World and Appliance to the north and the mighty, regularly-frequented Bob’s Video to the south. Between the two of them, I could get about 90% of what I wanted to see and would also stumble upon a whole new batch of films that were ripe for discovery.

One of my earliest discoveries was Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left. I knew who Wes Craven was as his previous year’s Nightmare on Elm Street was about the hottest, most-discussed horror film since Friday the 13th. After hearing about Nightmare on Elm Street from the neighbor kids who dared see it in the theater (and called it the most frightening thing they’d ever seen), I couldn’t wait for it to come out on video. My reaction to it was positive but probably a little more subdued than my friends’ reactions, the reasonings and details of which are better left for another entry.

Suffice to say, Nightmare on Elm Street was my entry into the filmography of Wes Craven. So when I stumbled onto the Vestron Video box of Last House on the Left which had a quote from Roger Ebert’s three-and-a-half star review emblazoned across the top of the back cover, I was more than intrigued. I liked Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street and I loved Roger Ebert so this one was going to be a cinch. How had I not known about this film?

I watched with my jaw on the floor. What I saw numbed me. I remember wandering around the quiet house, still full of my grandparents’ furniture and bric-a-brac, in an unholy funk that I couldn’t process. A book I had owned since a little kid, a primer on the Universal Monsters that had images in it which frightened me, now seemed absolutely silly. What I saw in Last House on the Left was demoralizing and depressing and I hated it. I felt gross and violated. Where, in horror movies before, the antagonist was a monster or unstoppable killer, Last House on the Left made me feel like I had simply been kidnapped by really bad people. This was a new kind of horror.

Yet, still, I was still intrigued. Soon after seeing it, Roger Ebert’s second Home Video Companion was released which contained reviews for older films and I got my chance to see the full review. There was talk of Vietnam and its effect on America and there was much written about its plot; two girls who are kidnapped are taken into the woods where they are raped and killed after which they take refuge in one of the victim’s house wherein her parents exact revenge. This, I was told, the plot to Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 film The Virgin Spring. Even with this pedigree, it still felt cheap and I didn’t understand this kind of violence.

The Psychotronic Video Guide spoke about the film’s famous ad campaign (with its instructions for a squeamish you to keep telling yourself that it was only a movie, only a movie, only a movie…). I soon learned about the film’s release and, due to the result of differing regional moral thresholds and distributors who couldn’t find an appropriate name to get asses in the seats or cars in the drive-in, respectively, how a movie with the name Sex Crime Of the Century could open one place with a 90 minute running time and end up in another place as Last House on the Left with a 87 minute running time.

I thought about the movie a lot and was drawn back to it. I remember that when I would walk to Bob’s Video, I would pass a very 1960‘s style house with dark windows that sat on a corner that always seemed to be shabby and unkempt and I imagined that killers like the ones in Last House on the Left lived there. I once found $25 in various bills in the front yard and immediately thought it was due to someone they kidnapped dropping their cash in the struggle on the way from the car to the front door.

I rented it about three more times and likewise depressed myself about three more times before Bob’s stocked a whole other version of it. The same Vestron box art (though with an orange spine and slightly different text) but with MORE FOOTAGE, it promised. This blew my mind. I checked the back of the box and made a comparison on the running time with the original. One minute. That was enough. I rented this version and depressed myself all over again, only, this time, with the help of one more minute’s worth of footage (which, if memory served, was the insertion of more frames during Phyllis’s death scene and the infamous moment when Krug carves his name on Mari’s neck).

I would visit this film over and over and it became an obsession. Who were these actors? I recognized Martin Kove from the Karate Kid but what about the rest of these people? A classmate told me that if I liked Last House on the Left, I should also check out House on the Edge of the Park which also starred, in his words, “David Hessen.” I did so and that traumatic experience is most definitely for another entry (or, at the very least, should be articulated in a therapy session). I remember, at age eighteen, almost losing my mind when seeing a picture of Jeramie Rain with then-husband Richard Dreyfuss in the weekly Parade magazine. “THIS is THAT girl?!?!?” Fred Lincoln’s name popped up on the marquee in a picture of 42nd Street in a college textbook. Dick Towers (credited in Last House as Gaylord St. James, a name I’d use like a motherfucker) popped up unexpectedly credited as Greg Reynolds in a highly illicit viewing of Doris Wishman’s anti-masterpiece/Chesty Morgan vehicle Deadly Weapons. Pre-internet pieces of information would come my way and I’d eat it all up.

I also branched out and covered Wes Craven’s career to the best of my ability and was mostly underwhelmed at every turn. After having a decently successful run in the 70’s and early 80’s, Craven bottomed out after Nightmare on Elm Street and began to churn out films that ranged from unremarkable (Serpent and the Rainbow, Deadly Friend) to unwatchable (Hills Have Eyes Part 2). He then trafficked in the worst type of intellectual dishonesty in 1996 with Scream where, for a whole generation of horror fans, he carelessly presented John Carpenter’s Halloween as a cliche-riddled, hector-worthy slasher film it most certainly is not.

In most ways, Last House on the Left is Craven’s best effort because it feels as formless as John Waters’s early work. His utter lack of formal cinematic education, either academic or self-taught, gives it the raw edge it needs to get under your skin. Half the time, it sounds and feels like a porn film with its reverb-heavy, cavernous interior sound, blown lines, inappropriate jump cuts, bad foley, gate hair, and grainy, natural-light night photography. And, in fact, it was envisioned as a hardcore feature with honest-to-god pornographic elements to be mixed in with the violence; the ultimate roughie.

And like most porn directors of that time, Craven doesn’t know what he’s doing. Technically inept, the film also contains a number plot holes and problems. The Collinwood phone moves from being out of order to working seemingly at will, the film has remarkable tonal issues, and it runs out of gas once the killers get out of the woods.

A rape-and-revenge film is only as good as its two halves. The reason the somewhat similar I Spit on Your Grave holds up better is that the shocking violence in the front is matched in the back. If this isn’t equitable, there is a problem and, in Last House on the Left, the parents don’t much hold up their end of the bargain in the second half of the film. Not only do they lack a white-hot grief that would be burning their universe, they make stupid, impractical choices (why drag the corpse of their daughter onto the couch?, why choose oral-castration over a sharp kitchen knife?).

If Wes Craven was trying to tread through the territory cleared by Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, which was released the year before, he failed to capture Dustin Hoffman’s gradual transformation of man to beast, lifted to violent highs by forces both internal and external. Here, the parents seem to lurch from one emotion to the next, finally settling on the emulation of lurid pulp novel anti-heroes with more built-in ingenuity than they really would have (a trope Craven would use again in the final reel of Nightmare on Elm Street). The killers, too, don’t seem to have much of a plan that we can discern once they get in the house other than to allow the story to have its giant turnabout. The idea that they think they’ll be able to go to a garage and get their car fixed with an all-points bulletin out on them seems idiotic. That they just don’t tie up the parents right away, Manson-style, makes little sense. That they don’t do anything after they realize that these are the parents of Mari is even more baffling.

Much has been made of the inappropriate David Hess score but I’ve always kind of liked it. With its nonsense lyrics about wine, cherries, castles, and roads to nowhere, it is actually a great snapshot of the last remnants of hippie folk; the kind of ground John Sebastian basically owned for as long as he pleased. The rocked out, kazoo-laden traveling music is also a point of contention as its bouncy tone really undercuts the basic horror of these people with whom we’re asked to identify also have a couple of teenage girls in their trunk. I get that. I also get that the scenes with the buffoonish cops, hoofing it back to the Collinwood house after hearing the APB but running out of gas halfway there, kill the flow of the film and really don’t much add up to anything. But, to a 12 year old, those two elements saved the film from being relentlessly depressing and unapproachable (like House on the Edge of the Park was).

Rising above the film’s issues are the performances which completely sell it when it needs sold. The sequence in the woods still stands as the most incredibly horrifying piece of transgressive cinema I’ve ever seen. Completely stark in its realism, when Sandra Peabody’s Mari Collingwood says “I don’t want to do this” while being stripped naked and demeaned, the audience can tell that she means it. Likewise, when Lucy Grantham’s Phyllis Stone is asked to piss herself, she does so. And when Fred Lincoln’s child-molesting, rapist Weasel Padowski tells them both “You’ll have plenty of time to feel the pain,” we want to vomit. While the unknown things in the dark are terrifying, they’re trumped by the immediacy shown here; trapped like a rat in broad daylight and (admittedly conveniently and implausibly) mere yards from your front door. Where most horror films would later call on the heroine to take elaborate steps to come to a successful resolution and defeat the monster, Last House on the Left showed how, in reality, most people can’t even clear the most basic hurdle of getting free and running across the street.

The other performances are top-notch, too. David Hess, who, by all accounts was a very nice guy, gives one of horror’s greatest performances as the sociopathic Krug Stillo. One of the greatest heavies in all of the movies, Krug Stillo is a disgusting, amoral prick. Quite his opposite is Marc Sheffler as his son, Junior Stillo. A sympathetic and pitiful junkie whose introduction to heroin was courtesy of his father, Junior is one of the most complex of the bunch. Tortured by his implicitness of the crime but unable to break free of his addiction, his agonizing end is more heart-wrenching than the movie deserves. The same could be said for the moment after Mari’s rape when the killers realize they’ve gone too far and silently look at each other with total disgust; a powerful moment in a movie that only partly earns it.

Both Sandra Peabody (here credited as Sandra Cassel) and Lucy Grantham deserve much praise for being put through the ringer and being heartbreakingly real. While it’s damn near impossible to not feel for Peabody who was truly frightened throughout most of the filming, Grantham’s rough-edged, hood girl is no less sympathetic as we watch her wily and combative character meets a slow, torturous fate.

The film also scores points for its gross, realistic mise-en-scene. That dirty lake, the heavy wood-paneled interiors, the squat bathroom in the baddies’ apartment hideout, and the contemporary design of the Collinwood house are all wonderful touches that give the film its gritty texture and documentary-style feel. Like most low-budget horror films, it manages to get the exact era’s style absolutely correct due to the fact that these type films were shot in locations with minimal dressing and more “as-is.”

I‘ve oscillated over the years as to whether or not Last House on the Left was a good movie or not. There is an equal amount of repulsion and fascination in me that has caused me to go back and revisit it more times than I’d like to admit. I’ve looked forward to and purchased each release on whatever happens to be the latest format and have been justly rewarded with even more recovered scenes, commentaries, and documentaries about the film’s production. Each time I’m spending the weekend at his house in Dallas, I thumb through my friend Bradley’s copy of the David Szulkin book that chronicles every nanosecond of the film’s production and release. I probably know more about its history than any other movie. And, to be fair, it’s a powerful experience that still manages to get to me.

On the other hand, it’s something of a shame that Last House on the Left has to be included in the pantheon of pioneering horror films like Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Because, no matter what, Last House on the Left is a pretty shoddy film by a mediocre filmmaker. And while one could say that same thing about Tobe Hooper, it’s inarguable that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a beautifully made, full-on masterpiece that’s so good, it alone gets Tobe Hooper into Director Heaven regardless of the myriad disappointments that would litter his career.

Wes Craven never earned that kind of capital up front with anyone.

The Godfather Part III: 25 Years Later

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By Patrick Crain

Not too long ago, Michael Feldman’s weekly NPR radio program “What Do You Know” came to Oklahoma City and did their broadcast from Oklahoma City Community College (or, as we call it here, O-Triple C). One of the guests was Gray Fredrickson, erstwhile film producer and OCCC’s artist-in-residence. Oddly, Feldman began his interview by taking a tired crack at the Frederickson-produced Godfather Part III to which Fredrickson replied that, in 1990, it was a box office hit and was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture, and that he wasn’t too ashamed of it.

Good for him.

Today, Godfather III is the butt of some joke, remembered as a misfire, and seen as an inconvenient addition to the Godfather legacy. Some movies that are critically panned grow in stature over time. Godfather Part III seems to have suffered an reverse fate. Upon its release, it had its detractors but it garnered mostly very good reviews, Rolling Stone being particularly kind to it as was Roger Ebert. It grossed nearly $137 million (quite something in 1990) and was nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director making it the only three-part franchise in film history which has matched its Best Picture nominations with Best Director nominations. One of its more under-remarked milestones is that it garnered a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Andy Garcia which gives the franchise a mind-boggling seven nominations for Best Supporting Actor. So it’s not quite like Godfather III was equitable to, say, Going Ape with Tony Danza which is what its sullied, contemporary reputation might suggest.

I guess it’s important to say that I don’t find Godfather III a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination nor would I even suggest it’s even close to the level of the first two films. Riding hard against it are a number of issues. First and foremost, it’s a horrible period piece; set in 1979, Godfather III doesn’t look a day younger than 1990. There seems to be the most limited of care given to the just-barely dressed New York scenes evident mostly via a haircut here or a big, blocky 1970’s sedan there. In the face of the meticulously designed period detail in Goodfellas (also released that year), Godfather III couldn’t help but look a little embarrassing in its negligence.

Another flaw of Godfather III is the sense of disconnection. In one of the shrewder moves between Godfather I & II, Coppola refused to succumb to the outrageous demands of Richard Castellano, who played Clemenza. Coppola simply killed his character off and rewrote his story with a whole new character, Frankie Pantangeli (Michael V. Gazzo). We buy this because not only is Gazzo so good in the role but the plotting of his appearance seems reasonable. However, in Godfather III, Eli Wallach’s Don Altobello just never connects with us on a level of friend or foe. He oils the mob portion of the plot but he never quite hits the poetic sadness of Gazzo or, on the other side of the loyalty line, the serpentine coolness of Lee Strassberg’s Hyman Roth (another character who feels just as familiar in II as if he were a character in the original). Don Altobello simply feels disconnected from the other two movies, only tied up by loose lines of expository dialogue.

A raging issue with the film is in its casting, but I’m not fully in the anti-Sofia Coppola camp. When the film was released, she was raked over the coals many times over, almost to the point of cruelty. Even now, people lazily shrug the entire movie off while delivering an ad-hoc attack on her performance. All of this is incredibly unfair as its hardly Sofia Coppola’s fault that she had to step in when Wynona Ryder had to drop out at the very last minute. And, in any event, her character is supposed to be a naïve, clueless rich girl who is mercifully kept in the dark about most everything bad that’s ever happened in her family. And while a few of her lines fall flat and she sometimes seems a bit out of her depth, Sofia Coppola does about as fine a job as Wynona Rider probably would have at that point in her career (or maybe you think Wynona Ryder’s performance in Francis Coppola’s follow up, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is good). I find that Sophia has a real chemistry with Andy Garcia which is pretty crucial to the role. When he turns on her in the finale, it’s very apparent that she feels it deeply. She looks every bit like the crushed schoolgirl that she’s supposed to.

For my money, the biggest miscast of the film is Bridget Fonda. Even though she’s not in it much, her Grace Hamilton feels like her character from Singles plus five years into a newspaper job. Her tone, her timbre, and her asides are all wrong for the film and she ruins every second she’s on the screen (which, really, aren’t many seconds). Also, for the record, I kinda dig (and completely buy) George Hamilton as the ultra-chic corporate lawyer. And while I miss Robert Duvall, the notion of Tom Hagen having probably worked himself into an early grave is completely plausible (“that’s where sticking with Michael gets you,” is the implication).

And, true, Godfather III was a rushed production and it totally shows. It’s rife with tell-tale post-production tricks and editing tomfoolery. Running the gamut from copious amounts of ADR to wonky editing, this was a production somewhat on the fly which did result in many shortcuts. But, to be fair to Coppola, had the studio been a little more reasonable and not pushed the Christmas deadline on him, I’m certain that different choices would have been made.

So those are my biggest issues with the film. And even if giving Coppola a pass on the production pressures and the nepotism result in a soft sell, Godfather III has many more things going for it than against it. The story is compelling and works very well while adhering to the first two films’ soft tissue connection to real events. It’s also nice to see Al Pacino and Diane Keaton get to revisit their characters and their scenes have a quality to them and a plausible arc (though, Pacino seems a little more animated than Michael Corleone ever should be but, hey, he’s a guy with a new lease on life IN THE OLD COUNTRY!). And Gordon Willis’s cinematography (for which he was nominated for an Oscar) is like a big, warm blanket with the deep browns and the autumnal colors in the early scenes which open up to the long, golden hues of Sicily.

Andy Garcia is absolutely terrific as he brilliantly channels James Caan’s Sonny. Ditto Joe Mantegna’s John Gotti-esque mob boss who is in far too little of the movie. For me, Michael Corleone getting dragged into a blood war with someone like Mantegna is an appealing premise and it would have been interesting for Coppola to have Michael turn the family over to Vincent in New York and return to Sicily to work the political side of the plot, recalling the parallel narratives of Godfather II. Mixing everything up for the sake of having a big operatic showdown in Sicily makes a certain kind of narrative sense, but the film misses out on a great opportunity to explore a grittier mob atmosphere in New York that really could have cooked and been counterbalanced with the more mannered yet equally cutthroat world of Sicily.

But, as it stands, the political intrigue that exists between Michael and the Vatican is decent, if not immediately threatening, and the rustic blood feud that finds its climax in Sicily does feel at home alongside the Sicily sequences in the first two films. And all of these things result in some very striking moments that are worthy the franchise’s name (the archbishop’s body free-fall, the crooked accountant hanging from the bridge, Michael’s acknowledgment of his role in the murder of his brother, and the informal relinquishment of power from Michael to Vincent among them). The opera scene is decently clever and well-staged (though the inclusion of some horribly anachronistic-looking twin assassins is ridiculous) and the ending is bombastically great. And I think there’s a case to be made for the film through its ending. After all, there’s something very compelling in a final act of a three-act structure which would find a character like Michael who, despite his best intentions, is in an even colder, lonelier spot that he was at the end of Part II. It’s as tragic but it’s also necessary. Francis Coppola was right when he said that he didn’t feel that the audience got to see Michael suffer for what he did. And in Godfather III, boy does he ever suffer. But we’re also never asked to forget what he did so our closure with him is sad but somewhat satisfying as far as the traditional cycles of Greek tragedy are concerned.

But what finally strikes me about Godfather III, and what really fuels my love for it, is what it represents; the final shuttering of both Old Hollywood and the New Hollywood movement. It’s been said that Robert Evans was so perfect for his role at Paramount Pictures in the late sixties due to his age; he was old enough to have been part of the old-school Hollywood but young enough to seem like a teenager to the other studio bosses and executives that were his peers. In him, there was a perfect bridge between the old and the new. That blend is palpable in the movies he either produced (Chinatown) or stewarded as an executive (the Godfather) in the sixties and seventies.

1968-1980 were incredibly important years in Hollywood and they were filled to the brim with creative people who didn’t have equitable mid and late-career fortunes. Francis Coppola, one of the most successful of the New Hollywood movement, famously flamed out with One From the Heart in 1982 and was forced to take director-for-hire gigs for a 10 year term to pay off his debts (Godfather III being one such assignment though, admittedly closer to his heart than, say, Peggy Sue Got Married).

So it’s telling that Godfather III found itself being released a scant two months after the Robert Evans-produced, Robert Towne-penned, Jack Nicholson-directed Chinatown sequel, The Two Jakes. As a result of Paramount being highly nostalgic, both the Two Jakes and Godfather III managed the extraordinary by giving the fans nice visits to monumental cinematic landmarks while simultaneously creating compelling narratives all on their own. While the Two Jakes is really terrific, Godfather III is probably the more successful of the two as it truly puts the period on the cinematic story of the Corleones which also feels like the end of something larger (and, for the record, I’d be the first to see Gittes Vs. Gittes, the written-but-not-produced third film in the Chinatown franchise, if Jack Nicholson would see it for the great final role and salute to Hollywood as I’m sure it is).

Sure, Godfather III has its flaws and the poetic flow of the first two films feels copied and formulaic this time around. But what it needs to get right, it gets very right and in the face of the trashy sequel books that have been published recently coupled with the close-but-no-cigar GTA-clone video games the franchise has spawned, it’s easy to see that, at the very least, Godfather III is reverent to its vaunted pedigree and the era that gave birth to it. To me, this reverence can be found during the closing credits when the familiar strains of the Godfather theme melt into Harry Connick, Jr’s swooning ballad “Promise Me You’ll Remember” which audibly recalls Johnny Fontaine in his heyday. You can almost see him singing to Connie and the girls around her about to pass out. When the song ends and the credits roll to a close, you can almost hear the iron gates on the old Paramount Pictures lock shut.