GOODFELLAS (1990) and CASINO (1995): A DOUBLE BILL OF MOB MOVIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
I’ve been watching mob movies all Christmas. It might seem like a funny time of year to be watching movies about gangsters and the Mafia, but when else during the year would you have the time to relax and enjoy such long and intense works of cinematic art while scoffing mince pies and the yummy contents of entire selection boxes? Yet again, we have enough mince pies left over from Crimbo to set up a small confectionery shop. Why do I never learn from the mistakes of previous years?
Anyway, so far this Yuletide season, I’ve watched the GODFATHER trilogy in its lengthy entirety and chased it down with SCARFACE, GOODFELLAS and CASINO, the latter two of which we’ll be looking at today. GOODFELLAS and CASINO were both directed by Martin Scorsese and the screenplays were written by Nicolas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese jointly.
GOODFELLAS, based on a true story (and on the non-fiction book WISEGUY by Nicholas Pileggi), looks at the life and career of real-life mobster Henry Hill, brilliantly played by the handsome Ray Liotta.
Encompassing three decades of life in the Mafia, we see Henry rise through the ranks of his local mob- so local they were handily encamped across the street from his childhood home!- to go from humble messenger boy in the ‘Fifties and Swinging ‘Sixties to one of his crew’s biggest earners in the ‘Seventies and ‘Eighties.
His mob boss is the enigmatic man-of-few-words Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) and his two closest chums in his crew are Jimmy ‘The Gent’ Conway and Tommy DeVito. Jimmy is played by Robert De Niro. He’s a criminal mastermind for whom robbing is a joy and a pleasure and a way of life, not just a chore. He and Henry pull off many successful heists together.
Tommy DeVito (a magnificent Joe Pesci) is a headcase, a nut-job, a psychopath. He’s such a loose cannon that I would have considered him a liability myself, but in the Mafia that’s probably a flippin’ badge of honour, lol.
He shoots his gun off with as much regularity as his big fat mouth, as Spider the barman (Michael Imperioli from THE SOPRANOS) and Billy ‘Go get your fuckin’ shine-box!’ Batts, played by Frank Vincent (Phil Leotardo from THE SOPRANOS), each find out to their cost.
Remember the scene where Henry, Jimmy and Tommy stop off at Tommy’s sweet old Mom’s house in the middle of the night to borrow a shovel to bury Billy Batts? She makes them a full ‘Mob Mom’ dinner and berates Tommy for not having found a suitable girl to settle down with yet and, the whole time she’s talking, a severely battered Billy Batts is outside in the trunk of their car, banging away with his feet trying desperately to attract someone’s attention.
Billy Batts is a ‘made man,’ however, a fully paid-up Mafia guy who’s supposed to be untouchable except by Mafia family heads who have to ‘sit down’ properly and give official permission for anyone to ‘whack’ him or otherwise bump him off. This act of brutal violence by Tommy will cost Tommy dearly, if he but knew it, the cocky little fuck, lol.
Henry marries Karen (Lorraine Bracco from- you guessed it- THE SOPRANOS; she plays Tony’s shrink, Dr. Jennifer Melfi), a previously well-behaved Jewish girl who loves the Mafia lifestyle as much as Henry loves it himself.
The clothes, the furs, the jewels, the ready cash, the drugs, the guns, the star treatment everywhere they go, the ‘respect,’ which really means fear, with which everyone treats them, she digs it all. As Henry himself says: ‘For us to live any other way was nuts.’
Of course, she has a lot of shit to put up as well, as a Mafia wife. Henry’s out most nights with his mob friends, drinking and gambling or pulling off heists. When he’s not with his mates, he’s sleeping over with his ‘goomar’ or girlfriend Janice Rossi at the nifty little apartment he’s bought her. All Mob guys have a goomar as well as a wife. It’s just the way it is.
Mob guys also tend to go to jail for years at a time and, while it might be comfortable enough inside for them, with their vintage wine and lobsters packed in ice and their gourmet meals every night, the wives are the ones who are stuck at home, minding the kids and waiting for their criminal hubbies to come out. But this is the life they chose, remember?
A fantastic soundtrack from the times that were in it and electrifying performances from the leads make this one of the best Mob movies ever made. Samuel L. Jackson is in it briefly as an underling who screws up the one job he’s given to do and Tony Sirico, who plays Paulie Walnuts in THE SOPRANOS, has a small role as a mobster who hangs around Tuddy Cicero’s restaurant near the start of the film.
You can imagine therefore that, when THE SOPRANOS was being made, a whole load of the cast would have been able to say, aw, d’you remember all the fun we had when we were making GOODFELLAS…?
And all the cast members who weren’t in GOODFELLAS were probably all like, fucking hell, not GOODFELLAS again, do they ever stop going on about that fucking movie? Huh, just because they were in it and we weren’t, they think they’re so great…!
CASINO is based on the non-fiction book CASINO: LOVE AND HONOUR IN LAS VEGAS by Nicholas Pileggi. It sees Robert De Niro portraying Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, a Jewish professional gambler who knows everything there is to know about gambling and handicaps and related stuff.
He’s the head of the Tangiers Casino empire in Las Vegas because he’s such an expert on gambling and there’s a load of really in-depth stuff about gambling in the movie which I’m gonna gloss over because I know nothing about gambling. I bought a LOTTO ticket for New Year’s Eve but that’s strictly as far as I go.
Sam’s life is greatly complicated by two people. One of these is his beautiful wife Ginger, played to perfection by Sharon Stone, an actress for whom I don’t normally care much but she’s brilliant in this.
Sam marries her even though he knows she’s a casino hustler and good-time girl who’s been in love with her old pimp Lester (James Woods) since Lester ‘discovered’ her at age fourteen. I think we can all work out what that would have involved.
I love looking at all of Ginger’s fabulous outfits, jewellery and ever-changing hairstyles. (Long and blonde, good; short ginger mullet, bad!) She’s a mess, though, and clearly not suited to matrimony and motherhood.
She continues seeing Lester, drinking too much and taking drugs while she’s married to Sam, much to Sam’s disappointment because he really does seem to care about her, unlike some gangster husbands.
The worst thing she does, apart from running off with her’s and Sam’s daughter to be with Lester the Loser, is tying their frightened child to the bed before sneaking off by herself to be with Lester. Sam loves Ginger to bits, though, which is why he keeps taking her back after she screws up.
The other person complicating Sam’s life is his boyhood friend, dangerous Mobster (is there any other kind?) Nicky Santoro. Nicky, played by Joe Pesci, is pretty much the exact same character as Pesci’s Tommy in GOODFELLAS, a loose cannon and trigger-happy hothead who has the bad taste to sleep with Ginger behind Sam’s back. (Incidentally, Nicky’s sidekick in this film is Frank Vincent, Billy Batts from GOODFELLAS.)
Ginger refers to Nicky as her ‘new sponsor.’ Somehow I don’t think she’s talking about her new AA sponsor, whom she can call if she’s ever tempted to drink booze. Ginger is the kind of woman who’ll always need a man to bankroll her (and Lester’s) bad habits.
She and Lester come as a package, see? He’s had her all to himself and has conditioned her to believe his bull-crap since the age of fourteen. That’s a very hard habit to break.
The extreme violence in this film is bone-chilling. The scene in the cornfield always upsets me, it’s so vicious. And the guy who gets his head put in a vice which, if squeezed enough, will pop out his eyeball, that’s a heavy scene too.
The thought of all those holes in the desert where so many ‘secrets’ lie buried is a grim one. I learned a few things about burying my enemies from this film, though. Always have your hole pre-dug.
Don’t be bringing a corpse out into the desert and have to start to digging your hole there and then. That’s a good forty-five minutes of your time during which any Tom, Dick or Harry can drive by and say, whatcha digging a hole for? Pre-dug, people, pre-dug. That’s the secret to a good burying. Use it wisely.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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