By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
SHOWTIME'S BIG BONANNO: A GODFATHER'S STORY, a nearly five-hour dramatization of the century-spanning life of Mafia chieftain Joseph Bonanno -- "an epic miniseries event" is how the flacks flog it -- is in many respects a superior TV movie. The period work is unusually convincing; the players seem, largely, to occupy the actual past and not a studio backlot. (Montreal stands in handsomely for everywhere; Italy partially represents itself.) Its length allows for unhurried drama and realistic human detail. The acting -- Martin Landau and Edward James Olmos are the big American names in a mostly Canadian cast -- is generally fine. One might carp about the inconsistency of accents, but that's a small and common thing.
What is a problem, and one that becomes more apparent as the hours accumulate, is the film's uncritical partiality. Based on books by Bonanno and by his son, Bill (who serves here as an executive producer), along with interviews of old Joe by screenwriter Thomas Michael Donnelly (who wrote and directed the excellent A Soldier's Sweetheart), it offers itself, loudly and proudly, as an inside view of the mob, straight from the horse's head -- mouth, I mean. But the picture is all self-justification, a magnificent whitewash that does not so much glorify crime as minimize it; these characters hardly seem criminals at all, just a kind of especially proactive Rotary Club. Bonanno himself is played (by Bruce Ramsay and Tony Nardi in youth and middle age, with elderly Landau narrating the film-long flashback) as a mix of Buddha and Batman. And the moral superiority of his family and friends is underlined, in a cheesy but not unusual bit of dramaturgy, by making them handsome and dignified while their enemies -- from rival mobsters to the cops to the Kennedys -- are pictured as ugly and gross, or simply dishonorable. Honorand tradition are endlessly, talismanically extolled, as if they represented absolute goods and were not the cause of much of the world's bloodiest misery. A well-made but simple-minded movie. Take with a pillar of salt.
EMBRACE WHOLLY, ON THE OTHER HAND, RESTLESSSpirits, a "Showtime Original Picture for All Ages," in which a troubled Canadian teen endeavors to help the ghosts of two French aviators, downed in a pond near Grandma's house, complete their unfinished 1927 flight from Paris to New York. (There was such a flight, and such a disappearance.) While the film's underwiring is antique and its fabric familiar -- an unhappy young girl in new surroundings, a strange younger brother, some nasty kids across the way, a boy she doesn't like at first but will, spirits in need, adults who threaten to ruin everything, and a plot baked from equal parts E.T. and The Canterville Ghost-- it is uncommonly well done, with moments of real mystery, a clarity of image rare for television, and dialogue that resembles the way people actually talk (and don't always listen). Some fine actors speak it, including Marsha Mason and Lothaire Bluteau (Jesus of Montreal), but none better than 13-year-old Vancouverite Juliana Wimbles, all clouds and sunlight and just as natural.
THE TOM GREEN SHOW | MTV Thursdays at 10:30 p.m.
THE DICK AND PAULA CELEBRITY SPECIAL FX | Premieres Tuesday, July 20, 10 p.m.
BONANNO: A GODFATHER'S STORY Showtime | Sunday, July 25Monday, July 26
RESTLESS SPIRITS | Showtime Sunday, August 1, 8 p.m.
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