Wednesday, September 29, 2010

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster - Goodfellas

How do you even begin to write about something, anything that you love? It’s almost impossible, with the fear that you won't be able to express your true appreciation for it. But since it’s been 20 years since Goodfellas was released, I feel I have to at least pay homage to my favourite movie of all time. Directed by the genius 'Marty' Scorsese, it's hands-down my favourite gangster film, changing the genre into what we know it as today.

To commemorate the anniversary, GQ put together a feature interviewing 60 of the film's castmembers. Michael Imperioli who played Christopher on The Sopranos, got his start in Goodfellas, as 'Spider' in the memorable scene where he gets shot in the foot by the lunatic Joe Pesci ("..It happens"). He said it perfectly, that there would have been no Sopranos (or Boardwalk Empire for that matter) if Goodfellas hadn't come first.

Goodfellas did an amazing job showing the gritty, brutality of the lives of wiseguys. Although extremely glorified at times, it wasn’t about the Godfather-like grandeur of being up at the top, but about the low-level guys working the streets just trying to make it. Showing the anti-hero that you identify with even though he’s a killer, Henry Hill made way for characters like Tony Soprano and of course Dexter. You somehow want the bad guy to end up scot-free in the end.

Without going on a 10-page rant that ends up making no sense, let me just highlight my favourite scene of the film. Henry takes Karen (lovely and talented Lorraine Bracco, aka Dr. Melfi) for a night out at the Copacabana. First of all, the way Scorsese plays this scene out is intoxicating, in a long, uncut shot following them into the Copa. Who cares that there’s a mile-long line up to get in, Henry takes her in the back door, through the busy kitchen, and a table is set up for them right up front. All because people want to show him respect. It’s a great scene that not only conveys the glamour and style of the early 60s, but the authority and power that even a mid-level gangster carried at that time. It also explains why women are always flocking to guys like Tony and Henry on-screen, who aren't that good-looking, but possess a certain smooth power that women are attracted to. Whether it’s out of fear, loyalty or because he’s got money, it’s all the same that he has the ability to make stuff happen.

Watch this scene

Boardwalk Empire: 1920's Never Looked So Good

I love a good period-piece, getting a glimpse into a time and life I never got a chance to live through. Add Martin Scorsese to the background, and Steve Buscemi (best known for playing Mr.Pink in Reservoir Dogs and Tony B. on The Sopranos), and HBO’s definitely got a hit on their hands.

Buscemi plays this larger than life, high-rolling gangster. He’s a Government man and seems to have the public convinced he’s one of the good guys, although he’s got his hands in just about everything illegal in Atlantic City, from prostitution to gambling and of course, bootlegging. He’s the perfect anti-hero, a crooked wiseguy with a soft heart. And we see that sensitivity when he has a woman’s abusive husband killed. He’s obviously got a thing for her, which I’m sure will come up later.

The setting is perfect: The roaring 20s with Prohibition, post-war damage to the returning soldiers, and Womens' rights just starting to develop.  At a time when it was illegal to sell and consume alcohol. Talk about the golden age for gangsters. If there’s a demand for something and there’s no supply (because it’s outlawed in some way), it’s the perfect opportunity for gangsters to come in and do their thing. After all, that's the American Dream.
And with Scorsese’s deliberately tight, 'in your face' camera shots and freeze frames, you feel like you’re right there with them, experiencing it all.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Review: I'm Still Here. Or am I? (TIFF 2010)

I just caught the advanced screening for I’m Still Here, the mockumentary about Joaquin Phoenix’s retirement from acting. For two years, Joaquin and Director, Casey Affleck, tried to convince us that this transformation of sorts was genuine, all to come out after TIFF and admit that it was in fact, a hoax. But – do we really care either way?

After seeing the film, I still don’t know the answer to that, but it doesn’t really matter. The performance of this so-called hoax is one for the ages. Joaquin was almost unrecognizable, sporting his Unibomber-Charles Manson beard and all-around ragged look reminiscent of 90s grunge gone wrong. And talk about method acting, to actually personify a rapper, produce songs (no matter how bad they were) and put yourself out there to be ridiculed the world over!

Despite the film's extremely awkward scenes (unnecessary nudity of the male persuasion and excessive drug use from a guy whose own brother died of a drug overdose), the film was intensely funny and entertaining. I must admit, though, the comedy of it all made it hard to keep a straight face during more serious scenes. Joaquin was so convincing in this performance that it will probably be weird to see him return to himself, whatever that self may be.

Watch Joaquin keep a straight face and stay 'in character' in the now infamous interview on David Letterman:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: Dhobi Ghat - Mumbai Diaries (TIFF 2010)

Completely different from what we’re used to from Bollywood, Dhobi Ghat was refreshingly unique.  We were taken into the lives of four very different individuals in the city of Mumbai, Arun (an artist), Yasmin (a young, married girl), Munna (a clothes-washer), and Shai (a very wealthy Indian from the US, on sabbatical) and the way their lives intertwine.

New actor Prateik Babbar, who played Arun (was painfully shy on stage, by the way), was surprisingly very good, completely nailing the role of a poor, naive boy, aware of his status in life yet unable to adhere to it, innocent in life and love. He was absolutely adorable in this role (and oh, the smile!), completely stealing the show from co-star Monica Dogra, on more than one occasion.

Elements of the film included the idea of unrequited love (always present in Bollywood, of course, although in Bollywood they usually end up happily ever after), a peak into the caste system in India, and a very real look at the everyday lives of people in Mumbai, not the fairytale version, but the lives that keeps going, happily or not, once the cameras stop rolling.

Will you be my Blue Valentine?

So, it looks like the clip below is all the preview we're going to get from Blue Valentine. Starring the amazing Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson, The Notebook) and Michelle Williams (Dawson's Creek- I had to mention Dawson's!), this movie already has a ton of buzz, all without even a trailer to whet our appetites. It premiered today at TIFF (although I missed it!), and I've already heard good things about this one. So here's the only legit clip I could find to keep you going till it officially opens. Be prepared, it's pretty steamy.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review: Never Let Me Go (TIFF 2010)

I was unknowingly taken into a hauntingly-beautiful world, somewhere on the shores of England, between fantasy and reality. Essentially, this was a story about the relationship between three individuals, Cathy, Tommy, and Ruth, from childhood at a boarding school (or so we thought), to their short-lived adulthood. 

Throughout the entire film, I was left with a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat, spending almost half the movie on the verge of tears. Let’s just say it was a depressing concept: love unspoken, without enough time to make up for it.

At the heart of it all was this love story, unconditional, unrelenting and sadly, unfinished. Casting for the film couldn’t have been better, with very moving performances all around.  Andrew Garfield, who played Tommy, really left a lasting impression on me (not just because he was adorable, both on-screen and on stage!), but he really embodied the character of a cowardly and weak boy, unable to act on his feelings. The true hero of the film, Cathy (Carey Mulligan, who I loved-loved-loved in An Education), innocently and subtly captivated us. With no way her life could end well, she lived through a ‘lifetime’ of loss, and somehow, managed to stay graceful and at peace, even when facing her ultimate fate.