Film Review: GoodFellas (1990)

Release Date: September 9th, 1990 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese
Based on: Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi
Music by: various
Cast: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Sivero, Tony Darrow, Mike Starr, Frank Vincent, Chuck Low, Frank DiLeo, Henny Youngman, Gina Mastrogiacomo, Catherine Scorsese, Charles Scorsese, Suzanne Shepard, Debi Mazar, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Imperioli, Illeana Douglas, Tony Sirico, Samuel L. Jackson, Vincent Pastore, Tobin Bell, Vincent Gallo

Warner Bros., 146 Minutes

Review:

“[narrating] I know there are women, like my best friends, who would have gotten out of there the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn’t. I got to admit the truth. It turned me on.” – Karen

This is a perfect movie in every way.

Motion pictures like this are hard to review because it’s just going to sound like glowing praise and lack actual objectivity. But man, this is a perfect movie and arguably Martin Scorsese’s best.

Revisiting it now, I’d have to say that it is, indeed, my personal favorite. Considering how great of a director that Scorsese is, this is a film that is in good company but still sits on the mountaintop of the auteur’s stupendous and legendary work.

The film is perfectly cast, top-to-bottom, and features a slew of iconic characters with dozens of memorable lines, which have transcended pop culture and for good reason.

The pacing of this film is perfect, as is the story structure. While I haven’t read the book it was based on and can’t compare the two, this just flows tremendously well from the early backstory part all the way to the end, which sees the main character, Henry Hill, rat out his friend and mentor, Jimmy Conway.

I love that this movie is also full of guys that would go on to star in one of the greatest television series ever made, The Sopranos. You’ve also got really small roles for other actors who would carve out nice careers for themselves like Samuel Jackson, Kevin Corrigan, Debi Mazar, Vincent Gallo, Tobin Bell and Illeana Douglas.

Additionally, one thing that really does wonders for this film is that it doesn’t have a traditional score. Instead, Scorsese filled the movie with the pop tunes of the time in which the scenes take place. The music added a lot to the movie and really made it feel more authentic and genuine.

This is also perfectly edited, never wasting a moment while also allowing you to get to know and like some of the more minor mobster characters… and there are many.

In the end, this is a fascinating crime story about a rat. It’s incredible seeing him go from being so loyal, to hitting the drugs hard and then selling out those closest to him over the course of his entire life. It’s also a true story, which just adds to the weight of it.

Goodfellas is a masterpiece, plain and simple.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: True Romance (1993)

Release Date: September 8th, 1993 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, James Gandolfini, Bronson Pinchot, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rapaport, Saul Rubinek, Conchata Ferrell, Chris Penn, Anna Thomson, Victor Argo, Tom Sizemore, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Beach, Ed Lauter (uncredited)

August Entertainment, Davis-Films, Morgan Creek Entertainment, 119 Minutes (theatrical), 121 minutes (unrated Director’s Cut)

Review:

“If there’s one thing this last week has taught me, it’s better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it.” – Clarence Worley

Since I just revisited Natural Born Killers, a film written by but not directed by Quentin Tarantino, I figured that I’d also checkout the other one.

True Romance was directed by Tony Scott using a script that Tarantino sold in an effort to get enough money to make Reservoir Dogs. That being said, out of the two scripts he sold, this is the one that was translated to screen the best. Also, Tarantino doesn’t disown this film, as he does Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

I think that Scott’s directorial style mixed with Tarantino’s writing was a pretty good match. Granted, this also benefits from having an incredibly talented ensemble cast and one of Hans Zimmer’s most unique but incredibly effective musical scores.

Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are f’n dynamite in this and despite the insanity of the circumstances they created, they were pretty believable, had superb chemistry and you really wanted these two kids, who had just found true love in each other, to make it though and have that “happily ever after” ending. They luckily succeed. Although, maybe they don’t but I’ll get into that towards the end of the review.

Beyond the two leads you’ve got so many notable people, many of which are in small roles or in the case of Val Kilmer, completely obscured to the point that you don’t even know that it’s him. The real standout scene in the film doesn’t even star the leads, though, it stars Dennis Hopper, who is only in a handful of scenes and Christopher Walken, who is only in this one iconic scene. And man, it’s one of the greatest scenes of Walken’s career. It happens midway through the film and it leaves you with a legitimate sense of dread, making you understand just how much trouble the young lovers are actually in.

The second most iconic scene in this is where Patricia Arquette enters her motel room alone to find James Gandolfini sitting in a chair clutching a shotgun. It’s an unnerving and extremely f’d up scene, as Gandolfini brutalizes Arquette. It’s a scene that Hollywood wouldn’t have the balls to do today due to how brutal it is. However, Arquette does get the upper hand in this ultraviolent fracas and makes Gandolfini pay in an even more brutal way.

That being said, this is an exceptionally violent film but those who have experienced Tarantino’s work, should know what they are getting into, even if the material is brought to life by another director.

So watching this film for the first time in a long time, I was left wondering about the ending. We see the young lovers leave behind the craziness that became their life for a bit. The closing moments show them on a beach with a child. All seems well and good.

However, I doubt that Christopher Walken’s very driven and cold mobster character isn’t just going to stop looking for them, especially after the crew he sent to catch and kill them were all taken out in a blaze of violence in the film’s finale. So there’s that bit of worry in the back of my head and it does leave the movie open for a sequel. However, I’d leave this alone and never attempt that. By this point, that ship has most definitely sailed, anyway.

True Romance is a great film, top-to-bottom. It’s built up a legitimate cult following over the years and being that Arquette’s Alabama is directly tied to Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White from Reservoir Dogs sets it in the same universe as that film and Pulp Fiction and just adds to the picture’s mystique and coolness.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The Departed (2006)

Release Date: September 26th, 2006 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: William Monahan
Based on: Infernal Affairs by Alan Mak, Felix Chong
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin, Anthony Anderson, Kevin Corrigan, Mark Rolston, Robert Wahlberg

Media Asia Films, Vertigo Entertainment, Initial Entertainment Group, Plan B Entertainment, Warner Bros., 151 Minutes

Review:

“My theory on Feds is that they’re like mushrooms, feed ’em shit and keep ’em in the dark” – Dignam

I probably would’ve enjoyed this movie a lot more had I not seen the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs first. Reason being, this is an American remake of that film and frankly, it’s nowhere near as good but I’ll explain why.

To start, the acting is superb as fuck and really, that should go without saying if you look over the cast list. And really, I think that’s the one part of this film that possibly exceeds the original. DiCaprio is solid. Damon is solid. Nicholson is solid. Frankly, so is everyone else and there isn’t really a weak link in this chain of talent.

I think that for the lesser known actors and those with smaller parts, working with these other legends really helped them rise to the occasion. But some credit for that obviously has to go to Martin Scorsese’s direction. Scorsese, time and time again, always pulls the very best out of his actors from top-to-bottom in every production.

But this doesn’t discredit the acting in the Hong Kong film, which was also top notch and pretty damn close to this one even with the language barrier and having to experience it through subtitles.

One thing I’m not super keen on about this version is that it feels like the least Martin Scorsese film that the man has ever made… or, at least, that I’ve seen. It’s like Scorsese really wanted to replicate the tone and style of the original and while he did a fine job in replicating it, it sort of loses his patented touch. I would’ve rather seen him really take this story and make it his own.

Speaking of the story, I found this harder to follow than its source material. The Hong Kong film developed the characters better, especially the backstories. This movie lacked a lot of the extra context we got in the original between the Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon characters. I think that context was pretty important and maybe those scenes were filmed but ended up on the cutting room floor.

What’s strange is that this movie is a whopping fifty minutes longer… fifty! Yet it feels like it has less story and the story that is present is a bit complicated. I feel like they tried to add extra layers into this where they didn’t need to be. While I don’t remember every detail of Infernal Affairs, as it’s been four years since I’ve seen it, but it did feel more streamlined and focused in spite of all the characters it had to balance.

It may seem like I’m shitting on The Departed but I don’t mean to. It’s just that I found a lot more value in the original.

This is still a damn engaging movie with characters you like, even the bad ones. It mostly moves at a brisk pace and as I’ve already stated, it’s a movie that’s greatly enhanced by its performances.

It was kind of cool seeing guys like DiCaprio, Nicholson and Damon come together in the same picture. It truly feels like a once-in-a-lifetime team-up and these guys worked together wonderfully.

Rating: 8/10

TV Review: Ray Donovan (2013-2020)

Original Run: June 30th, 2013 – January 19th, 2020
Created by: Ann Biderman
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Marcelo Zarvos
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Paula Malcomson, Eddie Marsan, Dash Mihok, Steven Bauer, Katherine Moennig, Pooch Hall, Kerris Dorsey, Devon Bagby, Jon Voight, Susan Sarandon, Graham Rogers, Susan Sarandon, Elliott Gould, Peter Jacobson, Denise Crosby, Frank Whaley, Hank Azaria, James Woods, Rosanna Arquette, Sherilyn Fenn, Wendell Pierce, Ian McShane, Katie Holmes, Leland Orser, Aaron Staton, Fairuza Balk, Embeth Davidtz, Richard Brake, Lisa Bonet, Stacy Keach, Tara Buck, Ted Levine, C. Thomas Howell, Donald Faison, Lili Simmons, James Keach, Adina Porter, Jake Busey, Sandy Martin, Zach Grenier, Alan Alda, Lola Glaudini, Kerry Condon, Kevin Corrigan

David Hollander Productions, The Mark Gordon Company, Ann Biderman Co., Bider Sweet Productions, CBS, Showtime, 82 Episodes, 45-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Lots of people talked this show up for years like it was the second coming of The Sopranos. I wanted to wait for it to end, as I typically binge things in their entirety. With this show, that was probably the best way to view it, as so many things happen with so many characters, that it would’ve been hard remembering all the details over seven years.

I wouldn’t say that this is anywhere near as good as The Sopranos and I also don’t have as high of an opinion of that show as most people do. Granted, I did still like it quite a bit when it was current.

Ray Donovan follows Ray Donovan, a badass uber masculine guy that works as a Hollywood fixer. However, his entire family is complex and interesting and this isn’t so much about Ray being a fixer, as it is about his family’s criminal behavior and their turbulent personal lives.

The show does a remarkable job of pushing its characters to the point of you hating them but then finds a way to make you realize you love them. It’s a show that actually has a lot of mini redemption arcs but it also shows, within that, that people tend to surrender to their nature even if they want to work on themselves.

Ray is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever seen on television but that can also be said about several other core characters, here

I think in the end, my favorite character ended up being Eddie Marsan’s Terry, the eldest Donovan brother, as he was always trying to do the right thing by his family, even if they often times found themselves doing really shitty things.

I also liked Bunchy a lot but by the end, his constant bad luck and terrible decisions became exhausting.

The first five seasons are really solid, even if the fourth was a bit weak. The show kind of lost me in season six, where it moved from Los Angeles to New York City and didn’t feel like it had much of a point. Plus, there are things that happened in season six that made the show jump the shark for me.

The only thing that really saved the last two seasons was how damn good Sandy Martin was once she entered the show.

Overall, I enjoyed watching this and if anything, it showcased incredible performances by stellar actors playing really fucked up but endearing characters.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Sopranos, Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Justified.