Thursday, November 17, 2016

Film Pairing — A Continuation of The American Mob

Moviegoers in the ‘last decades of the previous century found gangsters entertaining. And number of notable directors stepped up to the challenge — Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Brian De Palma to name a few. Here are two more.

Al Pacino

The Godfather, Part Two — It would seem damned near impossible for a sequel to The Godfather to stand up to the original.  And that remains true in my mind.  But the 1974 Part Two couldn’t have come any closer.  It is a fine, if not a great film. Al Pacino as Michael Corleone is every bit the equal of Marlon Brando as the original godfather. Michael is, in essence, the respectable, sensible, non-violent son, who reluctantly accepted the role of godfather when the dad dies. We watch as the poison (an all too familiar mix of unquestionable loyalty and violent revenge for those who violate it) permeates his life. There is also a bit of documentary about this film.  We witness New York City as it evolves over the decades and “the family” as it falls apart; and we gain insight into the mob’s move to Miami and the near disaster the Corleones experience in jumpin’ Havana as Cuba is about to be taken over by Castro and his rebels. Francis Ford Coppola directed both the original and Part Two, which, like its predecessor, was based on Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel. As in Part One, the cast boasts some of the country’s best actors – Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Lee Strasberg, Harry Dean Stanton, James Caan and, I have to mention, Troy Donahue, who is equal to his role.

Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro
Goodfellas — I had forgotten how brutal this film is.  Apparently my memory chose to retain the film’s outlandish dark humor instead.  Here we have the mafia of a later vintage than The Godfather and made perhaps a bit lighter, faster and livelier by the constant action and nostalgic period background music. Special kudos go to the casting director. First prize goes to the currently unknown Christopher Serrone, who played the main character, gangster Henry Hill, as a young man. The scene-stealer in chief was Joe Pesci (“Do I amuse you?”) who was hilariously nasty. Every actor hit his or her mark.  A warning though: Unlike The Godfather films this is a film completely about the guys. White guys. Jews, African Americans and women do not fare well in the world of thugs (hopefully not a preview of coming attractions in real life.)  Ray Liotta played the adult Henry Hill who was part of the big Air France heist in 1967. Paul Sorvino and Robert De Niro round out the cast. Samuel L. Jackson makes a brief appearance. And then there was a momentary appearance by Henny Youngman (Take my wife…please.”) Martin Scorsese directed the critically and publicly acclaimed 1990 film based on Nichols Pileggi’s, novel, Wiseguy.

What I’ve noticed during this series of films about the mafia is that there is a strong and currently reinvigorated theme that ran through the mafia sub genre of crime films and books — Family. First is blood relation. Second are those invited into the family (made men). These are guys who have proven over time and events their undying, unquestioning loyalty. They do whatever they are told. It is a closed society, and its members are untouchable. (Pardon me if I note this is reminiscent of our new first “family.”)

While viewing the double feature, an accompaniment — these films have red wine written all over them. What a great excuse to do a flight of various deep red, dry wines. Or several flights.  Pardon me purists, but for those who go alcohol-free, there are a number of such wines (getting better all the time) now in the marketplace.

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