Cinema Station

100 CRIME FILMS: #36 The Onion Field (1979)

June 18, 2014
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I’m back with another video blog. This time I focus on The Onion Field, starring James Woods, John Savage, and Ted Danson. Check out my thoughts on the film here:


100 Crime Films: (Originals Versus Remakes) Bad Lieutenant, The Getaway and Breathless

November 18, 2012
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Here are the newest entries in my video blog series 100 Crime Films, finishing off my series of five original/remake comparisons. Watch these to hear my thoughts on both versions of Bad LieutenantThe Getaway, and Breathless.

-Travis Mills


Desert Island Movies: Raging Bull/Casino

March 8, 2011
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Desert Island Movie #5

Raging Bull/ Casino

 

Despite their differences I look at these films as a single entity. The one extending the other the way Dumas’ 20 Years After extends the story of The Three Musketeers.  The difference here being that Casino (1995) is not in any way a sequel to Raging Bull (1980). But there are many surface similarities. The most obvious is in the casting of Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Frank Vincent in principal roles that in some way echo the roles they played in Raging Bull. And in the case of DeNiro and Pesci that relationship could be extended to Goodfellas (1990) as well.  So why not add that film into the mix? Because to me that film is totally different in spite of the fact that both films (Goodfellas and Casino) were co-authored by Nicholas Peliggi. And both utilize a voice over narration technique. For me Goodfellas portrays (and brilliantly so)  an enclosed world of friends, girlfriends, residents and bad boys behaving and very much misbehaving  in what seems an almost hermitically sealed- in world  whose boundaries never extends much beyond the stores, homes and bars of their small neighborhood. In Raging Bull and Casino we never get much sense of a community. If anything both Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull and Ace Rothstein in Casino seem to be at odds with their communities in a variety of ways. What connects both films in my mind are the roles DeNiro and Pesci play, the volatile way they interact with each other along with Frank Vincent providing able support. And also the obsessive fashion in which both DeNiro and Pesci’s character pursue their separate goals in each film.

 

Visually the films are quite different from each other too. Raging Bull is shot in sumptuous black and white by Michael Chapman and the action of the film stays mostly in the tenements of the Bronx in New York. While Casino’s sun bleached look was provided by Robert Richardson. And that film stays mostly in the lush environs of Las Vegas, Nevada and the barren desert that surrounds it.

The casting of Robert DeNiro as Ace Rothstein whose Jewish background is mentioned many times in both the narration and in the dialogue was viewed as a mistake by many critics when the film first came out. And I must confess that I had a problem with it too. The main reason was because DeNiro had played so many characters whose Italian American personas were so pronounced. But with repeated viewings I think that his performance is so carefully nuanced and so well realized that it transcends any kind of ethnic scrutiny and stands out fully on its own merits. In both films he plays men whose narcissistic possessiveness make the sexy/beautiful women they marry crazy. And then they stand back looking at the women puzzled as to why they are acting the way they are.  I can think of no one else in the history of movies who has done this better than the way DeNiro does it in these two films. The result is both disturbing and funny at the same time. It is the same with the violence in these films. The acts are simultaneously horrifying and amusing. I know many people who are turned off by this mixture that Scorsese seems to be able to do better than any other contemporary filmmaker. I am not among their number. I love it so much that sometimes I ask myself; “Am I the only person in the world that think these films (along with Goodfellas) are some of the funniest movies that I’ve seen in the past thirty years or so?” Every time I see one or the other I laugh my head off at the dialogue exchanges, the creative use of obscenity, and the crazy behavior of the characters. I just have to think about the scene in Casino between DeNiro and Sharon Stone where he’s trying to figure out what Lester Diamond (James Woods) did with the twenty five thousand dollars that Ginger gave him. Or the early scene in Raging Bull where Jake tells his brother Joey to punch him in the face. It strikes me as a scene that Pinter might’ve written in his prime. This is the stuff upon which great comedy is constructed. Another is the head in the vise sequence in Casino.

 

And as always in a Scorsese film the acting by all involved is peerless. It begins with the casting of the secondary roles. Half the time the individuals who fill out those character roles don’t seem like actors at all. Just folks he picked up on the streets and told them to say those words. That’s how convincing they are. Most are old guys with faces that even a mother might have trouble loving. But boy are they good. So good that I now see them showing up in films by other directors and on TV commercials spoofing the characters they have so memorably created. Still we can’t just take for granted the excellence that DeNiro and Pesci brought to Raging Bull and then with the addition of Sharon Stone in Casino. For me it’s like watching fine musicians play to each other in perfect harmony.

 

For these and a multiplicity of other reasons these two films (counting as one) must hold a permanent spot on that shelf where I place my desert island choices.

-GE.