James Woods

Once Upon a Time in America

Year: 1984
Directed By: Sergio Leone
Written By: Harry Grey (novel) six different men are credited with the screenplay including Sergio Leone.

RYAN’S REVIEW

One of my favorite things to do in the past was browse the movie sections of stores or stroll through a video store to look at all that was available. I loved looking at all the options and picking out something I wanted to buy or something to rent. Sadly as time has moved on this is something I have lost the opportunity to do. Movie sections in stores are shrinking at an incredible rate and video stores are all but nonexistent these days. The closest anything comes now is the recommendations suggested to me on Amazon. I find myself sometimes just scrolling through the images presented to me looking for something I want. I rarely find an older movie that I want and don’t already own but sometimes I see something that I think I should have seen and never did. That’s how this movie came into the collection. I was eventually worn down by Amazon and clicked that order button one day just taking a chance. It was a mob movie and it starred Robert De Niro, James Woods, William Forsythe, and Joe Pesci. Throw in Sergio Leone as director and I found myself wondering how I had managed to miss this one over the years.

Now, after spending three days to watch this movie that has a running time of 3 hours and 40 minutes I came away with only one thought in mind. If you want a looooonnngg and confusing mobster film then this movie is head and shoulders above The Godfather II. I’ll admit that after watching this movie I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened. That’s due in part to the fact I tried to watch it in three different viewings and truthfully when I was sitting down to watch it my attention wavered frequently because the movie is so slow. Nevertheless, even without knowing the ins and outs of the plot I still felt like this movie was better than De Niro’s more famous mob movie from ten years earlier.

I had never seen a Sergio Leone film. His trilogy of spaghetti westerns has long been on my to-do list and I have known his name and reputation for quite a while. When his name popped out to me on the Amazon image I thought it was high time I actually see one of his films. I found his film quite impressive truthfully. Far too drawn out at times and the story telling could have been better but all that was made up for in spades with savage and exciting action. I don’t care for the portrayal of rape in the film because it seems altogether too casual to me. Not necessarily the rape of De Niro’s true love Deborah but of the woman in the bank more so. What he did really offended me, and I specifically didn’t like how everyone was so nonchalant about it as the film went on.

De Niro is a great actor who does incredible in this movie playing varying ages but I don’t like how rapey he is. It was a bit of a shock to me to see De Niro raping women like he does in this movie. I don’t know why because over the years I have seen him do so many violent things in films but this seemed like a line I hadn’t seen him cross before. That’s not all that makes his opium smoking Jewish gangster an unsavory character among all the others he has played in his career, but it is what bothered me the most.

I specifically liked James Woods’ portrayal of Max and wish he had taken more mobster roles in the past. I like James Woods but more often than not he is playing the wrong character. The immediate parts that come to mind are the pimp he plays in Casino and the trainer he plays in Any Given Sunday. Not his fault because both of those characters were specifically written to be disliked. There are plenty of his films I have yet to see and roles like the one he had in this movie give me reason to look forward to them.

I was partially sold on this movie by presence of Joe Pesci in the cast. I am a huge Pesci fan and feel like I haven’t seen enough of him in his career. The opportunity to see him in another mob film was so appetizing but I have to report that I was let down. Pesci is awesome as ever in this movie but his role is merely a cameo. He is only in the movie for maybe 5, 10 minutes tops. A big disappointment but I’ll take anything I can get from Joe Pesci because he isn’t like to make more movies in the future.

I only bring up The Godfather II because so many people have the audacity to call it great. I call it confusing, slow, a weak story, and practically absent of anything exciting. This movie can be a bit confusing too as it is all over the place in both time and tone. However where this movie makes up for all its faults is in the action. When the fire gets lit in this movie explosions happen and it’s hard to predict what might happen next. The action in this film is graphic and worthy of praise. The movie sets the tone early by starting with a bang before it drags out hopelessly but when things do happen they happen in a big and exciting way.

I specifically liked the scene in which the gangster pulled the old switcheroo on the Police Chief’s baby. The whole scene is incredible. Danny Aiello is so good in the role as a father of four daughters who has had his first son. I love how excited he is to have finally had a son and how much of an ass he is in explaining to his daughters that they now more or less don’t matter because a boy has been born. The shock on his face when he opens up the diaper to see a vagina staring right back at him is hilarious. When De Niro calls with demands it is the easiest thing in the world to get done because he has all the leverage in the world against this man. The real punch line comes after De Niro hangs up the phone and his associate tells him he actually lost the list of baby numbers they used to switch the kids around. Even funnier, and horrible as the same time, is how De Niro just shrugs it off and they decide that any random baby boy will do.

Buying this movie was a shot in the dark for me. In the purchase I’ll call it a swing and a miss but it wasn’t a complete waste. I didn’t really like this movie but I liked enough about it. I am glad to have seen it if for no other reason than that one scene with Danny Aiello was awesome. I also love any opportunity to bash The Godfather II and this movie offers the opportunity to do so. I sincerely think that film is awful despite what anybody says. I loved the first one, it’s one of my favorites of all time but the sequel is garbage. The third film is even worse. There are parts of The Godfather II that are cool. The flashback scenes of a young Vito Corleone that were part of the original book were cool but as I said in my review, everything that happens at present time is awful. If you want a movie like The Godfather II that is better then check this one out. Otherwise I can’t say it is worth any of your time. However, there are few films that are this long that I will ever suggest are worth anyone’s time.

NEXT MOVIE: Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)

 

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Casino

Year: 1995
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Nicholas Pileggi

RYAN’S REVIEW

Naturally, I love mafia movies.  This isn’t the greatest mafia movie, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great.  It’s a movie made by people made to make mafia movies and that’s what makes it great.  This movie might remind people too much of Goodfellas but I can’t really see how that is a bad thing.  Goodfellas was a great movie and I for one really enjoy any opportunity to see more of Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci together, especially with Scorsese at the helm.  Goodfellas and Casino were both based on books written by Nicholas Pileggi, who also served as screenwriter for both films.  I have not read either of the two books but have researched Goodfellas to some degree and it’s not that far off  as far as accuracy goes but there is plenty of insight available into that one. Henry Hill is still very much in the public eye but as a celebrity instead of a criminal.  A celebrity for being a criminal.  Casino is loosely based on real events and people in Las Vegas but all the names were changed, including the name of the main hotel.

De Niro may have been the headliner in this film but it was Joe Pesci who stole the show.  I mean Pesci was scary as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas but he turned up the heat in Casino.  He was so violent and sadistic, and he is so good with the F word. I am a really big fan of Joe Pesci, he showed remarkable range throughout his career.  Pesci’s performance was great but that doesn’t belittle De Niro’s performance.  This was De Niro’s eighth collaboration with Scorsese, they knew how to get it done at this point. De Niro is an incredibly versatile actor and he can do anything but it is in this genre that he is really in his element.  At the end of the day he will always be the Godfather and he belongs in mafia movies. In the same notion Scorsese belongs behind the camera of mafia movies.  Scorsese is a fantastic director and I have always admired his films.  Scorsese has never been shy about violence and gore throughout his career and he isn’t with this film either. This is a graphic movie, it can be suddenly violent but that is part of the thrill that comes with a movie like this. It’s also heavy on the language, the F bomb is dropped somewhere far past the 400 times mark, mostly by Pesci.

This movie had a very rich cast beyond Pesci and De Niro though.  Sharon Stone is great in the female lead. You could really start to see her age in this movie but she still looked beautiful. Sharon Stone is a great actress and she has had a long successful career.  James Woods, Kevin Pollack, and Frank Vincent also play their parts respectively too.  I imagine it’s easy for great actors to shine when they are working with such an interesting story.  The history of Las Vegas is as dark as this movie would lead you to believe and there is a fascinating story there to study.

This is a long movie at just under three hours but still well worth your time.  The performances are great and the story is interesting.  Watching it now has actually inspired me to read the books by Nicholas Pileggi, so hopefully by the time we get to Goodfellas I can report the historical accuracy of the film. In the meantime enjoy this film, it’s a great movie.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I thoroughly enjoy this film. It is an intriguing tale and set in a time and place that most of us don’t really know that much about. Sure, some have visited Las Vegas, but have you ever ran a casino? Anyway, the voice-overs in this film are Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci. The combination of the two of them are great. It puts a dual perspective over the film. The story is really intricate and interesting, I really recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it. I know they often play it on network tv, but please don’t watch it there. Movies like this should never be played on network television. You need the extras like cussing to really drive this one home.

NEXT MOVIE: Chicago (2002)

Any Given Sunday

Year: 1999
Directed By: Oliver Stone
Written By: John Logan, Oliver Stone

RYAN’S REVIEW

When we started this blog back in March I had hoped that by the time we reached this film on the movie rack that the ridiculous NFL lockout would be over. I am a huge NFL fan, and this lockout has been difficult to endure. I would personally like to stick it to them when they come back and take a stand to not watch any of the games.  That would be pointless though and who the hell would I be kidding anyway? I couldn’t avoid it, I need football and the lack of an offseason has been driving me nuts.  I hope that the situation will be resolved soon, it’s disappointing to see what greed is doing to the sport.  This movie however is one of my all time favorites because I love football so much. I usually don’t like movies about football or other sports, they tend to all be the same, but this one is different.  I watch this movie annually during NFL preseason every year, I hope that I will be able to do that again this year come August.

For a long time Oliver Stone was my favorite director, and he still is to some degree, but this was his last great film.  This was the cherry on top of a great portfolio, it was all downhill after this, but I think this was one of his best. Oliver Stone has an incredible mind and the vision and ability to transition it onto the screen.  This movie is star-studded, fast paced, gritty, and awesome.  It portrays the game well on several different levels, it captures what super stardom can do to someone, and it tells an excellent story. Oliver Stone had a great quality in getting spectacular performances out of his actors.  This movie is no different, Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, LL Cool J, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Aaron Eckhart, Matthew Modine, and even Charlton Heston are all great.  Stone somehow manages to get them all a lot of screen time as well throughout the movie. Stone brought in several real current and retired NFL stars to play roles in the film too.  Lawrence Taylor, Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas, and Terrell Owens just to name a few, LT played his role exceptionally well.  Stone also puts himself in the middle of his epic football movie, as the play by-play commentator, I admire that.  Best place to be for a true football fan, I think it says something about him.

I say that it was all downhill for Oliver Stone after this movie because his next film, Alexander (2004), was apocalyptically bad.  I followed the production of that movie for over two years letting my anticipation build and I have never been so disappointed in a movie.  I haven’t seen anything Stone made since actually, but his magic was gone by then, it didn’t matter anymore.  If you have an opportunity to see this movie I think you should definitely see it. On second thought, if you are a football fan at all then go out of your way to get it and see it.  It’s a great movie.

AMBER’S REVIEW

I am a really big football fans and I usually like Oliver Stone’s movies but this one just doesn’t do it for me.  I know Ryan loves it and I know a lot of other people who love it as well but I’m just not a fan.  Also, just a note.  I have always heard people talk about how big the penis in that one scene was, I didn’t think it was that big.

NEXT MOVIE: Apocalypto (2006)