Showing posts with label gangsters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gangsters. Show all posts

Friday, December 28, 2012

Signal Re-Watch: "Sunset Boulevard" and watching "Casino" on basic cable

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

I finally watched Sunset Boulevard about two years ago, and it's already become one of my favorite films.  I received a copy on BluRay for Christmas (thanks, Jason & Amy!), and gave it a whirl.  Frankly, I'm a bit shocked that I didn't do a lengthy write up of the movie during that time a couple years back when I first watched the movie in its entirety then went to the Paramount to see it, but I can't find a record of any formal prior discussion of the movie.

If you're not familiar, Sunset Boulevard opens on a murder in the Hollywood Hills (I guess, I don't know LA geography) and backtracks in pure noir style to how we got to this point.  A struggling screenwriter who tasted success and watched it fade stumbles upon the decaying mansion of a once great silent film star now living as a recluse, planning her return to greatness.  She has money, and plenty of it, and Joe is willing to take the money and deal with the insanity of the mansion and wretched screenplay she wants him to tidy up that will surely mean the return of Norma Desmond to an imagined legions of fans eagerly awaiting her return.

And then things get dark and weird.

The movie spawned a million quotes, and is best remembered for Gloria Swanson's stunning portrayal of Norma Desmond - a character that reflects what had happened to some extent to many stars of the silent era (and continues to happen to talent as they fade from the public eye in favor of the next new thing) - only, you know, amped up a bit.  Add on real-life former silent director Eric von Stroheim as Desmond's aloof butler, and you've got a really interesting dynamic going.

In general, I don't love movies about Hollywood making movies, but sometimes the industry turns the eye back on itself and is willing to admit a few things about itself that make for a great story or provide an opportunity for great performances - even if there's maybe not a sense of a universal human experience or some such idea.  But I do think the ideas about self-delusion, dreams of stardom and relevancy and what it means when it fades, what we're willing to do for a buck, and more... are recognizable if not relatable.

Plus, man, Billy Wilder's dialog.

"...we had faces!"

There are a LOT of extras on the disc.  Probably too many, but you can't say it's not fairly complete when it comes to talking about the film and reminds me of the difference between access to a film via a streaming service and why you might want to own a copy of your favorite movies.

The movie itself is one of those things that will continue to reveal bits of Billy Wilder's brilliance for several more screenings, and my appreciation for how all of the pieces fit together just grows with every viewing.  I appreciate the devotion to Hitchcock (and also received the Hitch BluRay box set for Christmas that I am dying to crack open), but I think film school could do worse than to point that eye at Wilder and his ability to leap from genre to genre and redefine it as it goes.  As they point out in the bonus features, he not only managed genre - he moved outside of genre and created his own kind of film with Sunset Boulevard.

Casino (1995)

Casino is not a short movie, clocking in at about 3 hours, but I've still seen it probably 8 or 9 times.  And, I argue, it's one of the best reasons to reconsider Sharon Stone as something other than the somewhat Norma Desmond-esque figure she's hellbent on becoming.

you kids who work with video will never know the night mare of lighting this for film

The movie rolls out DeNiro as DeNiro, Pesci as Pesci and a whole herd of hoodlum and thug stereotypes from the Eastern US and drops them in Nevada in the wake of the Rat Pack.

Based on something approximating the real-life events of Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal leaving Chicago and illegal gambling to establish mob foundations in a town where everything is legal - the movie presents the story using a fictionalized version in Sam "Ace" Rothstein (DeNiro) as a mobbed-up bookie who finds he can make a fortune as a legitimate businessman in the wilds of Vegas.  How much is true, how much is speculation and how much is fabrication - probably best Scorsese himself doesn't know.  Pesci, not so long since he tried mainstream credibility with My Cousin Vinny plays mob thug Nicky Santoro, the muscle Ace needs in the early days, but who becomes a liability the minute respectability becomes a necessity.  Stone plays DeNiro's showgirl wife/ greatest distraction and liability.

Fantastically shot, meticulously detailed, Scorsese captured the last of old Vegas before it was subsumed with Vegas' secondary major industry - construction.  (If you've never been to Vegas, it changes completely about every 8-10 years).

this one time in 1995, Sharon Stone made a movie in which she was terrific

It's an epic film that isn't shy about a sprawling cast and intricate relationships presented in sketchy detail, but Scorsese keeps it easy to follow, using the template started in Goodfellas as a jumping off point.  The story stretches over a decade or more, following the rise and fall of key characters who ignite the Vegas scene and make the world there possible before being subsumed by corruption outside, inside and something resembling the actual forces of the justice via the US Justice Department and a lot of bad karma.

Anyway, on this go-round I was really struck by how well the movie presents all of the characters, their motivations and points of view, and even if we want to root for Ace, he's maybe as bad or worse than Nicky in some ways - at least Nicky is honest about his nature and seems to want for things to work out - he just doesn't have the big picture vision that Ace seems to have in spades.

And, by the way, if you're a James Woods fan, this is one of his smaller, wonkier roles and every time it makes me laugh a little bit.

I did watch the movie on basic cable.  Why?  I don't know.  I have a copy on DVD.  But it was fascinating watching them edit the living heck out of Jos Pesci's dialog while allowing for bats to collide with skulls and running ads for The Untouchables where the ad was entirely the infamous "teamwork" scene.

Oh, American TV standards.  You are so weird.

The movie will also have my undying respect for casting Don Rickles in a straight role in a movie.  I mean, who does that?  Brilliant.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Signal Watch Review: Masks & Mobsters (from MonkeyBrain Comics)

One of the great things thus far about MonkeyBrain Comics has been the wide variety of genre content coming from the publisher.  Last week saw tweaky hipster/ swords & sorcery strip Wander hit the internets.  This week MonkeyBrain rolls out Masks & Mobsters, a book that's pretty well set on the Signal Watch Venn Diagram as it's crime/ gangster comics set in a 1930's-era urban center with wiseguys starting to feel the heat from mystery men with strange powers.

The book's title page promises that this will be less of a straight narrative, issue after issue, as it announces it's an anthology title (ie: a fresh story with each issue, I'm guessing), so we'll see where the creative team is taking it from here (or if the same creative team will even stay around).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Next week we head for Chicago - Expect low to no posting

Next week Jamie and I head for sunny Chicago, Illinois for a few days of vacation.  We're escaping the Texas heat in exchange for Chicago heat.

I'm definitely looking forward to it.  Somehow, Jamie and I have never been able to work in a normal vacation like humans are supposed to, especially if they've been together since the first Clinton Administration.  I know, it sounds weird, but we've had lots of extenuating circumstances and Jamie does not travel easily.  However, this year we made it a priority, and so off we go to The Windy City.

Anybody else have this poster?
My plan is to basically see a lot of museums and go to a Cubs game.  We've also got a Fodor's guide, and I have a couple of recommendations for some stuff to do at night.  We'll see.  But it does mean that early next week we'll be posting in an extremely limited capacity unless I decide to bother to bring my laptop (I probably will).

The 1908 Cubs look forward to what will surely be an endless string of pennants

Jamie has just informed me I cannot buy us tickets to see Ministry, who is playing while we're there.  Which shocks me, because I thought those dudes hung it up eons ago.  No rockin' out to "Stigmata" for us, I guess.  Nor is playing clips of Ministry from YouTube really winning Jamie over.

I may try to talk her into going to The Green Mill.  We'll see what happens.

So if you're in the Chicagoland Area and feel like coming pretty much to the dead center of town (we're staying right across from Grant Park, I think), give me a buzz.

Really, I don't know anything about Chiacgo.  I went there some as a kid, but we were mostly out in the suburbs.  My ideas about Chicago are formed by:

  • The Untouchables
  • The Chicago Cubs
  • The Chicago Bulls
  • Superbowl XXV
  • Ferris Bueller
  • John Hughes movies
  • Mr. T
  • street scenes in The Dark Knight
  • viewing WGN as a kid to watch cartoons
  • The Blues Brothers
  • I once watched "ER"
  • and their history of putting their politicians in jail (in Texas we just make whatever politicians do legal)

I am perfectly aware that Chicago is a great American city, and I look forward to gawking around like the idiot tourist I shall be.

Also, I'm totally looking up the "1920's Gangsters Tour" I've heard they've got.

Cubs Win!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

It'd been a good long while since I'd seen Bonnie and Clyde (1967), the Warren Beatty & Faye Dunaway starring film loosely retelling the story of the very real life depression-era gang that cut a path through the central united states, from Texas to Iowa.

It's a great piece of filmmaking and one of those movies that both said quite a bit about the time of its release and manages to act one of the points of demarcation between filmmaking that had preceded it and what was to come as the 70's roared into cinemas.

I've talked before about how much I love Gun Crazy (1950),* and its not hard to see a bit of mashing of the facts around the Bonnie & Clyde case and the spirit and plotting of Gun Crazy in this movie.  But, of course, unlike the 1950 film, Bonnie and Clyde is one of the earlier adopters of obvious violence on screen, not shying away from putting bullets in the faces of bankers or showing Faye Dunaway getting riddled with bullets (I'd say spoiler, but if you don't know what happens to Bonnie and Clyde, you guys need to seriously start watching more TV).  It's also beautifully shot, well edited and the audio of the film presages a lot of what I think you'll hear in films to come as the mix attempts for naturalism, blending in the wind of the plains, a score that's semi-regional and period.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Crank (2006)

I don't listen to the podcast How Did This Get Made? all that often, but I had to give the recent Birdemic discussion a whirl, and that rolled me into the discussion of 2006's Crank, a movie I had absolutely no interest in at the time of its release.

HDTGM covers movies they cannot believe were put together (see: last year's The Smurfs), but it also covers movies that the crew (all working in the industry) cannot believe happened to get made in the studio system for their sheer audacity (read: awesomeness).  During the hour-long podcast covering Crank and its sequel, they kept referring back to elements of the films that I couldn't believe had made it into a movie in wide release (maybe in the mid-90's, but no so much today in this era of watered down, PG-13, aim-it-at-15-year-olds homogeneity).

I have to say, from a certain perspective, Crank does not disappoint.

Monday, November 14, 2011

and then there was the time I found out my favorite movie was "heavily borrowing" from another movie

This evening I finally watched the 1942 film The Glass Key, a movie I've been trying to see since I first watched (and thoroughly enjoyed) the pairing of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in This Gun for Hire.  Ms. Lake would have been 92 today, and so TCM was showing some of her films.

all movie posters are better when they feature William Bendix playing a little chin music

At age 15 I rented Miller's Crossing from my local video store. I had just seen The Godfather for the first time the previous summer thanks to my uncle's remarkably good movie selection (he also showed me Das Boot) and I was young, impressionable and learning about both gangster flicks and cinema. And so when Miller's Crossing landed in my VCR, I simply had never seen anything like it.  My entire world of gangster movies came from Godfather I & II and maybe The Untouchables.  I was utterly unfamiliar with the topsy, turvy world of the likes of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, etc...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Special St. Patrick's Day Treat: Oh Danny Boy

And now: one of my favorite scenes in any movie, ever.

Decidedly Rated R for tommy gun-related violence.

And Shoemaker sends this along:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

So I Liked "Boardwalk Empire"

At League HQ, all Nations are welcome except Carrie.

A while back I saw an ad for "Boardwalk Empire" on HBO. Maybe five years ago HBO had the stanglehold on TV shows with short seasons, high production values, glimpses of nudity and people using the f-bomb, but Showtime has had its own programming for a while (I guess, I've never seen Dexter or Weeds), then AMC (of all networks) and FX got in the game. And, I guess, to a smaller extent, Cartoon Network and others.

To someone who grew up basically not feeling as if TV had much to offer that didn't feature transforming robots or a highly specialized strike-force battling a serpent-themed terrorist organization, these days, if you really sift through the chaffe, there's some good stuff out there. For example: Christina Hendricks Mad Men.

I think longtime readers know I'm not a Scorsese nut*, but I like the guy's work. Frankly, I hope he is involved beyond putting his name on the show. The first episode was ostensibly directed by Marty S., but I didn't really feel it except for a few moments. That's okay. What I'm really interested in is seeing Scorsese's feel for the expanse of time and the epic read of a character arc played out episodically over a few seasons.

Steve Buscemi as Enoch "Nucky" Thompson is an interesting choice. The show is basing itself somewhat on true-life crooks, criminals, politicians, etc... And according to the documentary HBO is running in connection with the premiere, its not actually clear that Enoch "Nucky" Johnson, the fellow who is the inspiration for Buscemi's character, was a true gangster so much as a particularly enthusiastic member of the East Coast Republican Machine of the time (see: Tammany Hall) and wasn't above using his position for profit. I'd expect that gray area is where Nucky's character is going to get interesting, and the pilot suggests Buscemi is up to the task.

Nucky Thompson doesn't tip

I was surprised the show went immediately for including such real-life luminaries of the underworld as Rothstein, Luciano and Capone, but, hey, it sets a tone.

I've never actually been to Atlantic City, and I have no idea how and where they're filming this thing, but as a period piece in a very specific urban area, the set and backgrounds when the characters are in exteriors (which I assume are largely CGI) are amazing.

Sure, it's only been one episode, but its a promising pilot as far as these things go. The pilot welcomes in 1920 as the temperance movement came to a head with the beginning of Prohibition, and explores how those with a mind for profit saw the new status quo as a golden opportunity before the law went into affect. The first episode sets multiple balls in motion from this single event as organizations fall into place, relationships are forged and tested, and the political machine of Atlantic City takes a step toward the shadier side.

Episode 2 runs Sunday evening.

Loyal Leaguers will note I've a fondness for the very wide category of gangster movies. Generally, I haven't been too interested in TV shows about ganagsters like Wiseguy, and I never had HBO during the period when Sopranos was on.  While I don't know what they'll be doing with the show, I do find the entire exercise of Prohibition such an interesting experiment in our concept of freedom as Americans, and, of course, the allegories one can draw to other and modern vices, it makes the "crime" story that much more interesting.
Due to cost restrictions, I don't think they've tried too many period piece crime or gangster shows (the only one that comes immediately to mind is Crime Story).  Its a gamble, but I think if they can retain the same level of detail from set design and costuming (heck Mad Men does it every week on a smaller scale), then they should be okay.

Seriously, will you look at that thing?

*do not dislike, which is what some numbskull will assume in the comments and I'll spend five comments saying "no, I like him fine, I just don't know his stuff that well"