The CineGuerrillas Episode 2: CASINO
Welcome to Furious Cinema’s movie commentary with Sebastian and Peter – your resident CineGuerrillas. This will be an ongoing series of conversations we have about movies we love. They will have a funny subtitle and include a favorite quote from a movie at the end that you can guess in the comments. They are virtual “beer and nachos” sit-downs, so you will have to imagine the smell of alcohol, the crunching of teeth biting on chips and the closing credits of the movie still rolling. Also check out Episode 1 HERE
EPISODE TWO or HOW TO RAM A PEN INTO AN INNOCENT BYSTANDER WITHOUT LOOKING LIKE A COMPLETE PSYCHOPATH
Goodfellas vs Casino: Movie Mob War
Pete: The big difference between these two to me is the worlds in which they take place. Henry Hill’s tale comes across like he’s your old friend telling it to you on a street corner. Whereas Casino is a bit more complex and takes you through the gambling and business side of the mob. That idea certainly comes across in the look of the films as well, one is steeped in that down on the street, urban New Yorker/Italian American aura (closer to Mean Streets) and the other is shown through the expansive, flamboyant and colorful setting of Las Vegas. You can even look at the openings of both movies (each of which deal with violence) and they’ll give you a little clue to the style. GoodFellas’ credits fly by like Hill’s live fast, die young existence. Casino is a more elegant, bright, operatic slow descent from the heavens to hell. Its also interesting that GoodFellas is solely Hill’s story (his wife Karen provides some insight for a few scenes as well) but Casino is told from both Ace and Nicky’s points of view. It becomes a combination of their personal outlooks on what they’re doing. One from the business side, the other from the gangster’s side. I actually think overall that aspect makes Casino slightly more compelling than GoodFellas for me.
Sebastian: I always preferred Casino over Goodfellas. To me it had more energy, cinematic grandeur (is that even a word?), and it was less of a realistic biography-type tale. To me it is a prime example of a really amazing experience, it has so much energy and the pacing is great, it just keeps you on the edge of your seat. Goodfellas also has too much bad makeup and hair effects. I am kidding. Casino is just a lot more serious and far-reaching I believe, but the two films exist perfectly next to each other. I have to say though, that rewatching it recently (for this conversation) made me realize that my love for Casino has slightly shrunk. Only slightly though, might have something to do with its length and the almost fast-forward way the story is being told towards the end of the movie. I guess it did not age as well as I had hoped. Then again, I haven’t seen GoodFellas in an even longer time. What Casino does for me is it ties me to my seat and shoves a shitload of cinema down my throat and I love it. Scorsese made it a tour-de-force, and Richardson’s cinematography makes it a shiny and epic throat-shovery.
Moving Pictures: The Direction
Pete: The way this film was shot is obviously another big reason why I love it. You can see some really amazing camerawork going on if you focus in on it. Like the steadicam shot when the mob’s skimmer/delivery guy walks into the count room also when Nicky and Franky walk into the betting parlor to collect some money from a mook. The camera dollying out over the entrance of the casino where Ace works and especially the tracking shots that move over the card tables. Also those aerial shots flying over the desert are just beautifully done. I think when we as viewers watch movies like this one you can often miss a lot of intricate details because of the fact it’s done so smoothly.
Sebastian: What I like about GoodFellas is the pacing and how economical it basically is. As a viewer you get to sink deep into the character’s life. It’s a bit different with Casino, which is a bit more splendid and Scorsese left lots of room for atmosphere and glitter. The cinematography might have a lot to do with it. I like how Scorsese in Casino basically lets the actors loose, like mad dogs. Stone is the maddest.
Shine A Light: Cinematography of Robert Richardson
Pete: First off Robert Richardson is one of the great visual artists in film and he’s worked with such people as Oliver Stone, QT and Scorsese. I think it’s obvious why he was chosen for Casino. The extravagant colors and styles of lighting he regularly employs gave the movie something it really needed to visually convey the big attitude and glamour of Vegas. The film just looks beautiful and romantic thanks to the way he chose to light it. This one certain effect is in a lot of the film, but I’ll give a couple examples. 1) in that club where the guy gets the pen shanking, and 2) when Ace and Nicky chat outside Vegas when he’s in the black book, you can see the trademark Robert Richardson “light from above” he loves to use. Do you have any specific scenes that stood out for you visually/lighting wise?
Sebastian: The opening credits already set the scene for something truly great, visually. I love the warm look of 70s Las Vegas, all the lights, funny carpets and people in costumes. Casino stuck with me ever since. However, I now need to watch this on a restored BluRay, as I said before, rewatching it on DVD, I think it did not age well.
Italian Food in Mob Movies
Pete: This is a subject that people don’t seem to discuss a lot when they review or analyze movies but something I happen to really love since I cook as a hobby. The food in these movies always looks delicious and brings a kind of added feeling of comfort to the whole thing. It’s a ritual I guess, especially with Italian families to spend time making great things to eat. In GoodFellas we saw them having lots of food, like in the famous jailhouse sequence for instance. That was really clever too because you expect them to cut to the typical miserable jail cell life (as in every other crime movie) but right away you see Paulie slicing the garlic and find out these guys are eating and drinking, playing cards, almost living like kings in their own dorm, its really great. Also when Henry’s making that meal during his running around while he’s all coked out. In Casino we also see some Italian dishes being made by Mrs. Scorsese in that backroom with those mobsters. In fact she made all the food in these movies.
Outlaws of the Desert
Pete: I know you’re a huge Western fan, as am I and I’ve always thought of mobster movies as sort of the final frontier of that kind of Wild West story. The characters Joe Pesci plays in these Scorsese films are basically inspired by those movies. In GoodFellas he makes several references to Westerns “That;s me, The Oklahoma Kid!”, “let’s cut up the loot you sidewinders!”. The final shot of that movie is a copy of the iconic one in The Great Train Robbery of the cowboy shooting at the screen. In Casino, look at the atmosphere and the name of his business: The Gold Dust. Nicky is just a modern outlaw in the Wild West of Vegas robbing and plundering with his gang of bandits. Another small Western touchstone: L.Q. Jones who plays a County Commissioner and he of course brings all those Sam Peckinpah movies he was a part of into your consciousness as you watch the film.
Sebastian: And there is an actual “outlaws in the desert” scene in Casino, a quite epic one, that basically sets the tone for how sour the relationship between Nicky and Ace had turned at that point. And the ridiculously huge sunglasses make it even more surreal watching it now. They face each other alone in the desert. You don’t know if Ace will get whacked, or if they’ll kill each other.
High Rock n’ Rollers: The Music
Pete: Music is always an integral part of Scorsese’s work and the songs he chooses heighten and compliment the sequences they’re featured in. In this movie we get a really incredible variety of genres. Everything from blues to classic rock and roll to New Wave. Some of the sounds that stand out for me: When Ace first sees Ginger, the song “Love Is Strange” by Mickey & Sylvia. The scene where Nicky is putting together his crew as The Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” plays. Also the whole card cheat sequence set to “I Ain’t Superstitious” by Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck. If you listen close there’s even a little nod to another classic Las Vegas movie, Ocean’s 11 (the original) with Sammy Davis Jr’s song “EO-11”.
Sebastian: I love the Casino soundtrack. It is almost as if they made a movie to the soundtrack. There is hardly a scene that is not filled with (then) contemporary rock and roll music, and I think Scorsese found back to this rhythm only with The Departed. It also helps set the scene for this incredibly wild atmosphere of the movie, it gives it a lot of energy, versus having a lot of quiet moments.
What A Pisser
Sebastian: One of the funniest moments is when Ace complains about the amount of blueberries in the muffins. In the voice-over he says “even back home, years ago..” and then a subtitle appears that says “back home years ago”. It’s not corny, it’s just the way these mooks would tell the story.
Pete: I love that BACK HOME YEARS AGO bit. There’s certainly a lot of humor in this film. A few examples: Joe Bob Briggs as Ward, the okie goon who runs the slots: “This is not how you treat people”. When the cops shoot “Blue” because they thought his hero sandwich was a gun. Every scene with James Woods as Lester Diamond, the golf hustler/pimp scumbag Ginger protects. When Nicky’s brother hocks a loogie in a sandwich then gives it to the cops. Just tons of hilarious stuff interspersed with the tension and violence as Mr. Scorsese expertly does often in his crime films.
You’re Acting Up Again
Pete: Sharon Stone was exceptional in her portrayal of Ginger, Ace’s wife. She’s extremely beautiful and charming but has such self loathing at the same time. We love and hate her throughout the movie, probably a lot like Ace does. The way she throws it all away and abuses herself and others is repulsive. When she flies into those rages it was pretty daring acting to me. Joe Pesci as Nicky: Joe is great because he can play comedic characters (watch The Super) or scary mob psychos like he did in GoodFellas and this film. He reminds me of James Cagney or Christopher Walken. They just do both kinds of acting with equal style/energy.
Sebastian: Sharon is great yeah, however I do prefer 70s Ginger to 80s Ginger. She is just not a very likeable character overall. The scene where Ace drags her through the house, that is a very strong scene. I think they really did an excellent job, Bob and Sharon, to portray this weird couple. I mean he loves her, but he also hates her, and he knew what he was getting himself into with Ginger. She’s just not very likeable at all. As a viewer, you root for Ace. He seems like the most sane guy in the movie.
Pete: Her early look is definitely more attractive but as she gets older she turns into a kind of psycho diva-witch with a drug problem. She gets dragged and pushed a lot in this movie too. Another scene I like is when she attacks Nicky and he pushes her down the stairs and she just goes limp. Then he throws her out the door and down on the ground as she rants at him. His response to her is “Yeah alright, whatever”.
Pete: After seeing most of his movies, I think this is Scorsese’s most downright violent film. GoodFellas had some nasty stuff in it but with this film he really took it to a pretty gory level. Watch the scenes when they put Charlie Dogs’ head in the vice, or when they beat Nicky and his brother to death. It was almost Fulci-esque to me.
Sebastian: Yeah the final beating scene was definitely a shocker. While the pen-stabbing scene was not a “whack” as such, I found it the most violent one in the movie. In terms of whacks, I always liked the guy they just cap casually in the streets with silenced guns.
Pete: What I also liked about that part is the scene leading up to it. The old mobsters sitting around deciding on whether or not to kill Andy Stone (Alan King). All of them vote against it except for Remo who says: “why take a chance?” it showed he was the most powerful of the group.
Say What? Edited for TV Version
Pete: In the USA, our cable channels usually overdub the foul language and often times they use really odd words that end up making you laugh. So when Nicky yells at different people it turns into lines like “You jew MONEY LOVER you!”, or “you called my friend a MAGGOT? You told him to go STUFF himself?”. When Ginger yells at Sam in a scene she says “FREAK YOU Sam Rothstein! FREAK YOUUU!”. One of the other weird things I’ve noticed is, they’ll overdub certain swears but leave in other epithets. For example, LQ Jones’ character says “We might have to kick a kike’s ass outta town”. In the redubbed version, they leave in Kike but switch Ass to Butt. Now thats just bizarre and shows how dumb it is to change anything in the first place.
Sebastian: I grew up with taped versions from German TV, which were only very slightly or not at all edited for some violence. But then again, all stuff on German TV is dubbed. I have to say though that I remember the German dub to be fairly decent – I have seen worse is what I mean to say.
Who Likes Voiceovers?
Pete: In the instances of GoodFellas and Casino I find the voiceovers work really well. They a) bring you right into the story and keep you interested and b) give you the feeling like these people are talking to you personally which also sort of includes you in their lives on-screen. Casino basically took what GoodFellas did and doubled it (Ace & Nicky VO) but it actually didn’t hurt anything at all to me. One thing that does strike me funny in Casino is when they even have Franky (Frank Vincent) on the narration. At that point you feel like: is EVERYONE going to narrate this movie? is Lester going to give his thoughts too?!” (laughs). It almost shouldn’t work but you just accept it on the films terms.
Sebastian: I like voiceovers in general. I just got out of seeing “On the Road”, which was one big voiceover. As long as people don’t mumble and it is not coming across like a lecture, it is okay. Casino almost has a tad too much voiceovers.
In general, I am realizing how badly I need to rewatch GoodFellas again. But, even more, I need to rewatch Casino on a huge screen from BluRay with a bunch of friends. To me it is part of the larger “Las Vegas” movie genre, which in a funny way is not limited to Las Vegas I think. I am watching this show “Magic City”, which takes place in Miami, and I think it is the same genre of hotel owners, or casino big shots or crime family chronologies. I love that sort of stuff. All the glitz and showbiz, the jazz music, the girls and the pools and the old cars. Man, and I love the fury of the classic Scorsese movies.
Pete: Well, I’ll wrap this discussion up with a quote from Sam “Ace” Rothstein: “And Thats That.”
See you for the next installment of CineGuerillas!