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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Goodfellas

by Andrew Hudak

Also: Fifty Shades of Grey and Selma are new to Blu-Ray this week

Movies don’t get much better than “Goodfellas,” Martin Scorsese’s 1990 masterpiece that helped cement him as one of the greatest directors of all time, introduced the world to Ray Liotta, and entered the question, “What do you mean funny? Funny how?” into our daily lexicon.

Based on the book “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi, “Goodfellas” tells the story of Henry Hill (Liotta), a half-Irish, half-Italian Brooklyn native whose biggest ambition as a kid was to grow up to be a gangster. We see young Henry, played by Christopher Serrone, as he gets in good with the mobsters at his local cab stand, headed up by Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino). He helps out in day to day activities like passing along messages, assisting in the numbers racket, selling stolen cigarettes, and starting fires. By the time Henry is in his twenties, he is a full-fledged associate and trusted member of the local mob outfit.



He also makes two close friends in Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci, who earned a well-deserved Oscar for this role), and Jimmy “The Gent” Conway (Robert De Niro). After Henry gets pinched (that’s arrested to you and me) for selling contraband smokes from the back of a truck, he refuses to point fingers and name names. He’s afraid that the mob guys are going to turn their back on him for getting arrested, but they don’t. They’re all there to greet him when the trial is over, and it’s Jimmy who tells him that he just learned the two greatest things in life: “Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.”

The genius of “Goodfellas” is that portrays a complete picture of mob life. Scorsese is honest about it in portraying both the good and the bad. On the one hand, there is the fun of drinking, drugs, and sex. There is a power that derives from knowing who you are, that others in your crew have your back, and that you can do what you want as long as you don’t upset those above you. No one else can touch you. Special treatment is part of the “life.” This is most clear in the famous “Copacabana” scene where an admirable and ambitious tracking shot follows Henry and his main squeeze Karen (Lorraine Bracco) from the street outside of the club, through the kitchen, and out into the main area where a table and chairs are delivered in front of the stage just for them.

As glamorous as all of the clothes, cars, and parties are, it’s not all fun. “Goodfellas” makes it very clear that there is a dark, violent flip side to the life. People get shot and beaten. Henry is arrested multiple times. He becomes complicit in murders, and he sees people who he cares for get murdered. He also develops a terrible cocaine addiction, which, as Jimmy points out, turns his brain into mush.

What Scorsese seems to be saying in “Goodfellas” is that joining the mob—even as an associate—is a deal with the devil. Yes, you will receive the pleasures that are promised, but it all comes at a horrific cost. After a while, the laughs stop for Henry and he starts worrying and looking over his shoulder. The price that he has to pay for living large for so long, ironically enough, is to live as small as possible. Going in the opposite direction from mob life becomes his only means for survival. The big question raised is “Was it worth it?” Scorsese’s answer, with his complete portrayal of the ups and downs of mob life in “Goodfellas,” is a resounding no. Buy It.


GoodFellas

Also New This Week:

Selma

I like movies that involve speechifying. There is nothing like seeing a great actor deliver a stirring speech. David Oyelowo, playing Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma,” is no exception. He delivers more than one and does it extremely well. Carmen Ejogo, as Coretta Scott King, has some shining moments of her own.

But movies cannot make their way on great speeches alone, and that is the flaw in “Selma.” It’s too reverent for its own good. King’s voting rights march from Selma, Alabama to the capital in Montgomery is an important historical event. “Selma,” however, gets so caught up in the importance and grandeur of it all that it becomes tiresome. A little objectivity would have served the movie better. As it is, we are constantly reminded of the seriousness of the situation and the importance of the event. The movie cares more about hammering home its historical talking points than it does about creating a compelling narrative. “Selma” is an historical biopic that tries to act like a documentary, and in so doing becomes too full of its own ideals. Still, it is worth seeing as an historical primer, and the performances truly are excellent. Rent It.

Mr. Turner

Director Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” tells the story of the last twenty-five years or so in the life of J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall), an eccentric and extremely talented English landscape painter best known for his marine pieces. Part of the reason for his enormous success, other than sheer talent, is that he would actually live in the elements he portrayed on canvas. At one point in the movie, he has a deck hand tie him to a ship’s mast in the middle of a snowstorm at sea. He struggles to see as he constantly wipes his eyes with the wind blowing the snow in his face. This is the fine line between genius and madness.

Turner frequently takes trips to a seaside inn, where he gets involved with the innkeeper, Mrs. Booth (Marion Bailey). An inland train could get him there, but he chooses to go by ship. This makes sense, given his penchant for marine scenes. It is interesting that for someone who enjoys painting pictures of the sea, travel by ship does not sit well with him. Throughout “Mr. Turner,” whenever he is asked about his journey, the answer is never that it was a pleasant one.

I know little about the real J.M.W. Turner, but I do wonder if he was given to grunting and growling as much as Spall does in his portrayal. Looking at him and hearing him, I couldn’t help but think what an awesome Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin he would have made in a Christopher Nolan “Batman” movie. Turner was certainly cantankerous enough to be a villain. He did, however, have his charms when he wanted to bring them out.

“Mr. Turner” portrays a man going through the two foremost complexities of life—love and loss. In regard to loss, it is not just the loss of loved ones he experiences, but also—and possibly more painfully—the loss of his talent. As he grows older and his eyes fade, his painting suffers. At one point, Turner attends a comedic play in which jokes are made at his expense. He is not amused. Luckily for the real life Turner, Mike Leigh is much more endearing in showing Turner’s life and work. It’s not all nice, but is ultimately a sympathetic portrait, warts and all. Rent It.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Since the books are largely considered “mom porn,” I get how this movie is not made for me. Still I had hopes that I would at least be tantalized in some way. But with laughable dialogue and no chemistry between the actors playing Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), this was a hard movie to get into, if you’ll excuse the pun. Speaking of, I can pinpoint the exact part where this movie lost me: While going over the contract of services, as it were, Anastasia says no to anal fisting. What? Why?! Pretty much two-thirds of the reason for a straight, thirty-something man like me to sit through this drivel is to watch a co-ed take it wrist deep in the two-hole. My hopes were dashed at that instant, and for that grave miscalculation, I say Skip It.

More New Releases: “Mad Max,” revisit the 1979 post-apocalyptic classic before the new one hits theaters; “Ladyhawke,” medieval adventure tale about two cursed lovers—Navarre (Rutger Hauer) turns into a wolf at night, and his lady Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer) turns into a hawk; “The Adventures of Ford Fairline,” Renny Harlin mis-fire about a private detective (Andrew Dice Clay) working in the seedy underbelly of rock ‘n roll; “On the Town,” high energy musical about sailors on twenty-four hour shore leave in New York City, starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra; “Road House,” the 1989 Patrick Swayze movie that taught impressionable young me that “pain don’t hurt”; “Showgirls,” a movie so bad it has to be seen at least once to appreciate its awfulness; “Red Dawn,” a two-pack so you can decide at home which is worse—the 1984 movie or the 2012 movie; and lots of Spielberg—“Always,” “Duel,” “Munich,” “1941,” and “Sugarland Express” all land on Blu-Ray this week.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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