Tag Archives: mob

Live by Night – Review

26 Jan

When it comes to movies he’s written and directed, Ben Affleck’s track record is one of the strongest in recent years. Movies like The TownGone Baby Gone, and Argo have enough intensity and depth to be remembered a hundred times over. When I saw his next project, Live by Night, was going to be a Prohibition era gangster movie, I was good to go. I’ve been looking forward to this movie after seeing the very first trailer for it months ago, and I felt even more hopeful when I saw that it was based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote the novel Gone Baby Gone. Now, while there are plenty of really great things in this movie that are worth mentioning and getting excited about, Live by Night is probably the weakest entry in Affleck’s directing filmography.

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Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a World War I veteran who makes his small living through crime as a thief. He’s also madly in love with a woman named Emma (Sienna Miller), the wife of his boss and and head of the Irish Gang of Boston, Albert White (Robert Glenister). After this affair almost gets him killed and results in him losing Emma, Joe joins forces with Italian mafia boss and enemy of White Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone). Pescatore sends Joe to the Ybor City in Florida to help run his rum importing business that is being threatened by White. While in Florida, Joe falls in love and marries Graciela (Zoe Saldana), who is a major component of the importing business. Not everything goes smoothly however as rival factions, a tragic run in with the local sheriff and his daughter (Chris Cooper and Elle Fanning), and the looming danger of the Ku Klux Klan threaten this entire business, which forces Joe to become the violent man he never wanted to be again.

I have really mixed feelings about this movie that came up as I was writing the summary. It reminded me the biggest flaw that this movie has, and that is that there is so much crammed into a run time that barely has the ability to hold it all. There is around 3 and a half hours worth of material here that’s forced to fit in a movie that’s only a little bit over 2 hours. This makes for some weird pacing, plot lines that don’t get enough attention, and some characters that unfortunately lack enough development. Let’s start with the pacing of the movie. A lot of times when someone’s talking about the pace of a movie, they’re going to say how slow it felt. On the flip side of that, I felt like Live by Night went way too fast. There was a part in the middle where it slowed down to a crawl, but then picked up so fast I thought it was going to break my neck. This is what happens when there are at least five different main plots happening in a movie.

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Let’s look at the positives for a bit because this movie does have very cool elements. Affleck has shown us time and again that he is capable of filming a beautiful looking movie, and Live by Night holds up to that standard. The color pallets and sweeping camera work got the better of me at times and I just had to watch in awe at how amazing everything looked. This also a movie with incredible sound design. Every gunshot felt authentic and blasted through the theater’s sound system for optimal escapist effect. Speaking of sounds, Harry Gregson-Williams’ score is absolutely fantastic. Finally, this movie handles violence in a very interesting way that I’ve been seeing more in movies as of late. The violence is strong but the scenes of it are few and far between. Instead of making the violence look cinematic and fake, there’s this realism to it that really hit me as I was watching it, and reminded me a lot of how Affleck handled it in The Town.

While that’s all well and good and does make the movie memorable in its own right, I still can’t help shake the fact that as time has gone on I’ve become less and less impressed by this movie. A big reason is because of the characterization and how the people in the movie develop. My biggest example of this is the relationship between Joe and Graciela. It has the potential to be a great cinematic romance, but it unfortunately isn’t explored enough and the events of their life jut kind of happen and then time moves on because there is so much left to cover. The same can be said about Joe’s partner in the movie. We briefly see him in the first third, then he’s reintroduced, but their relationship doesn’t really have a chance to go anywhere either.

I’ve been so excited for Live by Night, it kinda hurts to say that it disappointed me. It’s a beautiful looking movie with a great score and sound design. There’s also plenty of great actors giving quality performances. The problem is that so much is crammed into the movie that some plots are wasted and characters fail to develop fully which lessens the dramatic impacts of some scenes. I really wanted Live by Night to be great, but it’s a movie that fails to live to its fullest potential and I’m not sure I have any reason to see it again.

Final Grade: C+

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GoodFellas – Review

11 Oct

Here we go, ladies and gentlemen. This review is a doozy since I will be looking at one of the most acclaimed, praised, and altogether adored American films of all time. This, of course, is Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster epic GoodFellas. I don’t really know if I have any new opinions to add to table that haven’t already been said, so this review might just be a reiteration of many other critics and fans. What can I do, though? This film truly is a classic and I really had to review it eventually. Many people say that this is the best mob movie ever made, but I have to go with The Godfather: Part II. Even so, GoodFellas is an incredible movie and the landmark film of Scorsese’s illustrious career.

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For as long as Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) could remember, he wanted to be a gangster. He gets his wish at a fairly young age when local mobster Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) takes an interest in him and starts him off with a couple of jobs. As the years progress, Hill becomes a more respected member of the family along with his two best friend Jimmy Conway (Robert Di Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). The three have become accomplished professional criminals and enjoy living the luxurious life of a gangster. As time goes on, however, the three friends soon find out that this idea of mob life was just fantasy, especially when their friends begin dying at a much more rapid rate, drugs begin taking their money, and their family lives begin to crumble around them.

I felt like I said the word “epic” too much in my previous review for The Martian, and this is another one of those times where that word is going to be thrown all over the place. GoodFellas is an epic crime story that, to me, almost seems impossible to pull off. I think it would’ve been if it were in any other hands other than Martin Scorsese. The biggest feat that Scorsese accomplished with this movie was cramming thirty years into two and a half hours. All of the important times of these people’s lives are shown, but I never felt like I missed out on anything else because of the intelligent uses of montage to skim over more unimportant parts, but still give the audience the full story.

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Of course none of this epic storytelling would have worked if there wasn’t an excellent cast backing everything up. At the forefront, GoodFellas has Ray Liotta, Robert Di Niro, and Joe Pecsi. Ray Liotta gives the best performance of his career as Henry Hill. It’s interesting watching Liotta here because it shows a range that I haven’t really seen in his acting anywhere else. Di Niro works great as always, but Pesci really steals the show as the sadistic Tommy DeVito. Pesci took home the Academy award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as well. Other than the three leading roles, I have to also give a lot of credit to Lorraine Bracco, who plays Henry Hill’s wife. The arc her character goes through is great, and she remains consistently on point with her character as the years stretch on in the film.

GoodFellas, believe it or not, is actually based off of a true crime book called Wiseguy written by Nicolas Pileggi in 1986. Scorsese got into contact with Pileggi, and both of them excitedly began working on the screenplay. What I’m getting at is the brilliance with which they handle the writing. Scenes were written with action and dialogue, but they knew that they had to let the actors act as naturally as the possibly could. The actors that were assembled were so talented and the writing was so real, that a lot of improvisation and natural reacting took place, which makes everything really seem to jump from the screen. This isn’t a glamorized version of mob life, and that’s exactly what the intention was. The writing combined with the acting makes it seem real, gritty, and altogether miserable in the end.

GoodFellas may not be my favorite mob movie ever, but it’s certainly up there with my favorites. Looking back on this movie, there really is nothing to complain about. Everything is so spot on from the cinematography, to the writing, and the acting. Still, the most impressive thing is how much material is squeezed into this movie, all while keeping the pacing fast and exciting. GoodFellas isn’t just the high point in Martin Scorsese’s career, it also marks a high point for American film as a whole.

The Untouchables – Review

5 Oct

The 1930s was an interesting time in American history. The Great Depression hit in 1929 which forced many people to make money to provide for themselves by any means necessary. Since this was happening during the time of Prohibition, a lot of these people used the demand of alcohol to their advantage. One of the biggest names was Al Capone, who built an entire empire and was one of the forerunners of organized crime in the United States. This leads me into Brian De Palma’s 1987 film The Untouchables, based on a book of the same name and a television show from the 1950s. With source material like this, it’s no surprise that this film has become one of the most respected gangster movies of all time and, I think, Brian De Palma’s best film.

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In the early 1930s, Al Capone (Robert De Niro) practically runs the city of Chicago and makes millions of dollars through the illegal distribution of alcohol. He’s also a dangerous and violent criminal who uses intimidation and murder to force people into doing business with him. This causes the Bureau of Prohibition to create a task force just to bring him down and choose Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) to be the head of this group. Ness finds working with a whole task force to be dangerous and nearly impossible, so he makes up a team all his own. They are beat cop Malone (Sean Connery), new recruit George Stone (Andy Garcia), and accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith). The group is soon nicknamed “The Untouchables,” but they soon realize that’s not true as the pressure they put on Capone force him to put the pressure back on them.

I hate it when critics use the word “captivating” to describe a movie. It’s such a cheesy adjective and I simply don’t like it, but allow me to be a hypocrite just this once. The Untouchables is a captivating movie. Everything just comes together so well to make a movie that reminds me why I love movies so much in the first place. Normally I hate when a movie is based off true events and is completely inaccurate, but David Mamet’s screenplay makes me forget all that and just enjoy the story that he put together. With Mamet’s screenplay, Brian De Palma’s expert hand at directing, the cast, and Ennio Morricone’s note perfect and unique score, The Untouchables was practically sculpted by the gods.

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There’s a lot of great actors attached to this movie like Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, and Andy Garcia. While everyone does a fine job, there are a few stand out performances that exceed great and wind up in the territory of excellence. These exceptions are Sean Connery and Robert De Niro. Now, De Niro isn’t really surprising, but I never really looked at Connery as a great actor. He can act fine, but his performance in The Untouchables is the highlight of his talent. He brings humor and the right amount of sincerity and drama to the role of Malone, which makes this movie worth watching just to see him act. D Niro, on the other hand, while not being in the movie all that much, makes every scene that he’s in memorable. He plays Al Capone with viciousness, slime, and makes him a very entertaining person to watch.

Like I said before, this movie is pretty far from being accurate. For example, Eliot Ness and Al Capone never actually met face to face during the whole ordeal, and Capone never actually violently attacked back. Also, Frank Nitti wasn’t involved in things like he was in this movie. But, this movie presents a stylized version of reality that makes it so hard to look away. Brian De Palma is known for making highly stylized, but not over the top films. There are scenes in this movie that will be remembered until the day I die, like the shootout on the bridge and the slow motion gunfight in the train station. These scenes combined with Morricone’s score just get to me in ways that movies should.

Brian De Palma’s filmography has had some rough patches, but also some that define film making perfectly. I love Scarface just as much as the next guy, but when it comes to mob movies that De Palma has done, my favorite has to be The Untouchables. It tells a story so perfectly with characters and their arcs so defined, that it’s easy to care about what happens to all of them. It also is reality through a stylish looking glass that shows a world like our own, but somehow just a little different. That’s the magic of the movies, and that’s why this film is a must see.