Casino (10/4/12)

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Casino is based on true mob dealings in the 1970s Las Vegas scene.

Several midwestern mafia families decide to use Las Vegas gambling to their own advantage and leverage Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) to run the Tangiers casino. The bosses also send out Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) to have one of their own in Vegas. Ace runs into hustler Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone) and tries to lure her into a luxurious life away from her sleazy boyfriend, Lester (James Woods). As business is booming, profits are skimmed off the top and sent to the bosses but this eventually catches up to them and threatens their entire Vegas mob empire.

Casino is the longest movie I have watched to date (this year) at 178 minutes and as such, I feel like any abbreviation of the plot is a complete disservice to such a magnificent film. While I have long praised Goodfellas as my favorite movie of all time, I think Casino may be Scorsese’s most well-crafted film. Even in spite of its length the plot never veers away from being interesting or compelling and the story Casino weaves is mesmerizing. Goodfellas is still my favorite film (both of all-time and of Scorsese’s catalog), but Casino is truly a masterpiece.

Society’s inherent interest in the mafia plays such a strong role in cinema and oftentimes that love is masked behind fear. I’ve always wondered just how closely some of these shows and films capture the American mafia scene but I really think that Casino is probably one of the most realistic interpretations, largely in part to the actual events that it is based on. Frank Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotoro, the real-life counterparts of Casino’s Rothstein and Santoro, have an interesting story even without it being fictionalized and sensationalized. I’m sure some liberties were taken other than changing the casino’s name, and Ginger’s character seems largely fictional to me, but arguably the most interesting parts of the framework come from reality and to me, that makes Casino interesting by default.

The only things that could possibly detract from Casino for some viewers are the length, the violence, and the language – Casino is a movie with the fifth most frequent uses of the f-word. If you are able to look past those things, Casino is one of the greatest films ever made. I would be hard-pressed to defend my favorite, Goodfellas, against it.

I give it 5 Tangiers casinos out of 5.

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The Godfather Part II (5/18/12)

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The Godfather Part II has been heralded as one of the best sequels ever to one of the best movies ever, continuing the story of Corleone mob family.

The Godfather Part II is an incredibly ambitious film, if nothing else since it is essentially two films in one, both prequel and sequel to the original Godfather. The film starts in the early 1900s with a young Vito Andolini (we find out his famous surname, Corleone, was given falsely at Ellis Island), whose father is killed by a mob boss, and the young boy is shipped to America. We are then brought into the mid 1950s with Michael (Al Pacino) in Nevada, attempting to spread the Corleone empire into Las Vegas casinos. The film then goes back and forth between Michael’s “present day” struggles as he also travels to Cuba and tries to find out who is trying to assassinate him, and a young Vito (Robert De Niro) as he rises to power some 40 years earlier, paving the way for Michael.

Clocking in at 200 minutes, I obviously gave an extremely abbreviated version of the film’s events. There are really two full movies here, both would be incredibly interesting on their own but the way they are intertwined makes The Godfather Part II an incredibly powerful film. The struggles that Michael faces both internally and externally are riveting, especially since family plays such a large role. While I love both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, they are not my favorite mafia movies, nor do I think they are Francis Ford Coppola’s strongest films either. For their part, however, they are incredibly well-made, superbly acted films that securely own their place in the top of innumerable “favorites” lists.

The Godfather films have a legacy about them, even if you don’t think they are the greatest films ever made, it should be easy to see their significance. The Godfather Part II is a film that builds upon the original film in every sense possible. While the pacing and length can be a bit of a bear at times, I would call none of the film superfluous. The Godfather Part II is a film I’ve only seen once before, it is an amazing film, but not one that I feel the urge to watch often. I can wholly appreciate everything about it, but I’m in the camp that prefers the original, perhaps due to the pacing. Still, The Godfather Part II is an amazing film that requires viewing at some point in one’s life.

I give it 5 Vito’s flaming towel silencers out of 5.

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Goodfellas (5/16/12 and 7/15/12)

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Goodfellas is based on the true life story of Henry Hill, a former member of the New York mob.

Goodfellas starts with a young Henry (Ray Liotta) growing up working for mob boss Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino), first as a porter and errand boy and eventually one of the leading members. We meet other mob members Tommy and Jimmy (Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro, respectively) and the three have differing experiences with the mafia lifestyle. Life changes for all of them after a particularly large heist.

Some of the most dedicated followers may know that I consider Goodfellas my favorite movie of all time. My above plot synopsis doesn’t do the film much justice, it doesn’t touch on any of the characters, the humor, the dialogue, the violence, the allure of the mafia, the directing, the soundtrack, the acting…I could go on. Goodfellas is one of those films where everything just works and it is essential viewing for anyone that has heard the name, Martin Scorsese.

The legacy of Goodfellas has carried on through popular culture since it’s release in 1990. While some may argue The Godfather made mafia films “mainstream” but I would contend that Goodfellas played a bigger hand in our perception of the modern mob. It was even parodied on the children’s cartoon, Animaniacs and anyone that watched the HBO show Sopranos should recognize most of the cast from Goodfellas.

If I had my way, I could watch Goodfellas every week for the rest of my life. It’s one of those films that is just an absolute joy to watch and even though I’m trying to expand my viewing horizon this year, it has been a struggle to go five months without watching it.

I give it 5 Copacabana scenes out of 5.

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