- 1"Las Vegas does for bookies what Lourdes does for hunchbacks and cripples."BUY @ amazon
Casino is the fictitious biopic - based on the mobs influence of early Las Vegas - of Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Robert De Niro), Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), and Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone). Ace is the bookie from Chicago "set up" in Vegas to run the Tangiers Hotel and Casino. He’s not the official boss but that doesn’t stop him from calling all the shots. Nicky Santoro is Ace’s best friend and big time muscle for the Chicago mob sent out to Vegas to "watch out" for Ace. Ginger is the prostitute hustler who wins over Ace’s heart. She’s the whore-with-a-heart-of-gold except she’s an evil psychotic bitch... but among gangsters and bookies that’s pretty much par for course.
Casino, in my opinion, is Scorsese’s best work, epic in scope but extremely intimate. The lavish glitz and glamour of a thriving Las Vegas juxtaposed against the personal story of two longtime friends and the deterioration of their friendship. Do not be fooled by its similarities to Goodfellas. This is not a straight up gangster pic. Yes Casino is made up of criminal elements but ultimately it is a story of trying to make an "honest" living in America but never being able to get away from your nefarious roots. The real tragedy of the picture is that corruption goes far deeper than the obvious street level criminals we expect it to affect.
From a technical standpoint the movie is a marvel. From the set decoration and recreation of 1970’s Las Vegas, to the "stellar" soundtrack, to the dynamic visual direction, to the virtuoso performances, Casino is the gold standard. As polished as the movie is Scorsese still infuses the picture with raw indie elements: The hot/blown out top lighting (now a mainstream mainstay), odd cuts to detail shots, the jump cuts and accidentally shaky shots, and the use of gratuitous and at times erroneous voice over.
Scorsese may be the last great director having full control of his movies and Casino is a perfect example of that. Good or bad he has a directorial voice that is his own and not affected by marketing or corporate interest. In the immortal words of Nicky Santoro, "This is the last time street guys like us ever got anything important to run ever again."
- 2"Clarence marries hooker Alabama, steals cocaine from her pimp, and tries to sell it in Hollywood, while the owners of the coke try to reclaim it."(True Romance, IMDB.com)BUY @ amazon
What you don’t get from this eloquently simple summation is the amount of star power (past, present, and future) wrapped up this underrated picture. Directed by Tony Scott, written by QUENTIN TARANTINO!!!, and starring: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, James Gandolfini, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, and Gary Oldman to name a few.
The picture creates a whimsical Hollywood underbelly of criminals, drug dealers, and movie execs. Our protagonist, Clarence, goes from Elvis worshipping comic book store clerk to Elvis worshipping, gun-slinging drug dealer after he falls for, yet another whore-with-a-heart-of-gold, Alabama. Clarence frees her from her bondage to Drexl (Gary Oldman) the drug dealing pimp, accidentally robs his drugs, then road trips to Hollywood to unload the goods.
Tony Scott has one of the most impressive resumes in Hollywood history. His movies, ranging from Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II to most recently Man on Fire and Unstoppable, not only entertain and excite but they set pop culture standards. Get what I’m saying? Or have you lost that loving feeling, Iceman?
This is Scott’s earlier work so it lacks his now signature frenetic camera movement but the style and pacing is as good as it gets. As far as Tarantino's involvement you can draw a Venn Diagram of True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp fiction and discover some startling similarities, references, and rehashes.
True Romance was a favorite of mine for quite some time and in my picture Green we were able to pay homage. The apartment the two main characters (Cole and Ripp) share is the very same apartment that was featured in True Romance. Specifically, the scene of Floyd (Brad Pitt) laying on the couch with the honey bear bong is loosely recreated in Green.
"They got everything here from a diddled-eyed joe to damned if I know."
- 3"Did the vault floor say Bellagio?"BUY @ amazon
Danny Ocean and his eleven slick, quirky, cool, crazy, skittish, flirty, tough, tech savvy, laughable, laudable accomplices plan to rob a casino- "Three casinos." "Three casinos?" "Three casinos." Plan to rob three casinos! This picture is the epitome of Hollywood cool and it most certainly makes you wish you were clever enough to be a high stakes flimflam, confidence man. Danny and the boys plan a near impossible heist of the Bellagio casino. Danny is motivated by one part revenge - to get back at the owner of the Casino, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), for stealing his wife - and one part reward - robbing millions of dollars of cash from a casino. Similar to the constellation filled night sky the cast of this picture sparkles in harmony (read: star studded awesomeness). George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts, the late great Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, the list goes on.
It would take a supreme gravitational force to keep all these stars in line (wink), luckily for Warner Bros Steven Soderbergh has that kind of pull (wink wink). Known for hard-nosed, gritty pictures with ominous political and historical overtones, Soderbergh, showed his versatility as a director, masterfully crafted this charming Hollywood heist picture. Soderbergh has the ability to choreograph mundane actions (turning on a light, riding an elevator) with such specificity that they speak volumes about the characters or the mood of the scene. A great example of this is in the now famous bar scene where Danny asks Rusty if they need one more accomplice. It’s a simple two shot and Rusty let’s Danny answer his own question but the spacial proximity and pace of Clooney’s delivery lends greatly to the history of these two characters.
"Cause the house always wins. Play long enough, you never change the stakes. The house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet and you bet big, then you take the house."
- 4"I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley."BUY @ amazon
Corruption runs deep in this in 1954 classic. Terry, a one-time-boxer-turned-enforcer for a corrupt union boss, witnesses a murder perpetrated by the very men he works for. When he realizes the victim is the brother of a former classmate, he begins to question his loyalties to the mob. Toss in a righteous and vigilant Irish priest and you have yourself a powerful story of redemption.
If you typically don’t watch old black and white pictures because, "they’re like old and stuff and hokie and like really boring and like corney..." this movie will change your mind, idiot! This picture captures the sometimes dark and gritty nature of city living. On The Waterfront has no campy sets; it was shot on location in New York City. The natural visual textures of the waterfront docks and rooftops truly come alive in the detailed black and white frames.
The director, Elia Kazan, rumored to be blackballed from Hollywood because of his alleged involvement with McCarthyism, takes a huge risk by showing the merit of being an informant. Luckily for Kazan, he had Marlon Brando - one of the greatest actors of all time - to win over audiences and emotionally invest them in a leg-breaker who rats out his bosses. Political and social implications aside, this picture is most fondly remembered for the concept of untapped potential. "I could have been a contender" The theme and character archetype was even reused in the Oscar winning best picture, Rocky. Contrary to most of the movies in this collection, On The Waterfront illustrates no matter how dark the path we choose there is always redemption through reconciliation.
"And every time the Mob puts the pressure on a good man, tries to stop him from doing his duty as a citizen, it's a crucifixion. And anybody who sits around and lets it happen, keeps silent about something he knows that happened, shares the guilt of it..."
- 5"We have known each other many years, but this is the first time you've come to me for counsel or for help... But let's be frank here. You never wanted my friendship. And you feared to be in my debt."BUY @ amazon
The Godfather is the story of the Italian Mafia in America. It is the definitive gangster picture and considered by many, including myself, as the greatest motion picture of all time. As far as illegal jobs are concerned these guys took it to a whole other level, creating a veritable corporation of crime. The Corleone family, led by Don Vito Corleone, operating under Machiavellian principles, controlled primary interest in America’s organized criminal element.
Like Casino, The Godfather has a much simpler underlying story. The story of a prodigal son, full of resentment towards the family business, eventually becoming what he hates and running the crime family.
This picture is a perfect storm of great artists all working together at their peaks. The end result is a testament to their collective skills: the long-term vision of producer Robert Evans, the bull headed direction of Francis Ford Coppola, the resurgent performance of a "washed-up" Marlon Brando, and the break out performance of, Michael Corleone himself, Al Pacino.
There is nothing I can write that hasn’t been written about this movie. No amount of flowery praise can do this picture justice. All I can do is implore you to see it as soon as possible.
"I’ll make him a offer he can’t refuse..."
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