California Literary Review

Movies

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Godfather, #1

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May 29th, 2013

The Godfather made careers, most notably those of Francis Ford Coppola and Al Pacino, despite the fact that both of them were almost fired during production. All these years later, it’s still thrilling to watch Pacino as Michael, the Don’s youngest son, evolve from an innocent outsider among his own family into a stone-hearted killer. Watch Pacino’s eyes deaden over the course of the 175-minute film as he becomes the man his father never wanted him to be. It’s why The Godfather is, ultimately, a tragedy.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Godfather: Part II, #2

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May 28th, 2013

Al Pacino reprises his role as Michael and offers us an Ivy League Machiavelli. He has his father’s cunning and guile, but somewhere along the way lost his compassion. How else do you explain his decision to have his own brother, Fredo (John Cazale), killed long after any damage Fredo has done to the family has been repaired?

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Goodfellas, #3

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May 27th, 2013

There is no romance here. No looking out for one’s people. No myth of a moral code. Instead, GoodFellas is about psychopaths who steal, kill and ultimately betray each other. It’s two-and-a-half hours of blood, depravity and—that most American of vices—greed. Director Martin Scorsese summed up his subjects’ wiseguy lifestyle in three words: “Want. Take. Simple.” Oh, and by the way, it’s a brilliant movie packed with dozens of colorful characters.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: On the Waterfront, #4

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May 26th, 2013

All these years later, On the Waterfront continues to work as a magnificent bit of drama—and as a gangster movie. The story of a little man caught between principles and loyalties always resonates. And, last we checked, the problem of mob influence on America’s labor unions hasn’t gone away.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Pulp Fiction, #5

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May 25th, 2013

Part of the joy is not always knowing who the good guys are. Tarantino shot Pulp Fiction as a time-twisting weave of stories where villains can become heroes, or a guy peppered with bullets in one scene comes back from the dead, so to speak, in the next. Behind it all is a hipness in everything from the wardrobe to the set design to the beat-heavy soundtrack that kicks off with Dick Dale’s guitar classic “Misirlou” in the opening credits.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Little Caesar, #6

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May 24th, 2013

Enrico Bandello was the prototype for every film gangster who followed. The tight-fitting three-piece suits, the high-collared shirt and tie, the fedora and the ever-present cigar—Rico brought it all to the big screen. There was also the tough-guy lingo, usually delivered out of the side of the mouth.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Departed, #7

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May 23rd, 2013

There are references to Hawthorne, Shakespeare and James Joyce. Conversely, and while we didn’t keep count, the IMDb website notes that the film also includes 237 uses of the word “fuck” or its derivatives. According to IMDb, that’s the most ever in a film that won the Best Picture Oscar.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Donnie Brasco, #8

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May 22nd, 2013

One of the reasons the movie works so well is the interplay between Pacino and Johnny Depp, who established himself as more than just a pretty-boy actor with his performance here as Joe Pistone. Using the undercover name Donnie Brasco (a name Pistone “borrowed” from a cousin), the street-smart, New Jersey-raised FBI agent manages to infiltrate a major New York crime family by posing as a jewel thief and hustler who knows how to make money.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: The Usual Suspects, #9

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May 21st, 2013

The genesis of this complex thriller was a magazine article, or—more accurately—the headline of an article. Director Bryan Singer was thumbing through Spy magazine in 1992 when he turned to a story entitled, “The Usual Suspects” after Claude Rains’ classic line in Casablanca. Hmm, thought Singer. Now that would make a good title for a movie.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Casino, #10

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May 20th, 2013

In the opening shot of Casino, a man in a salmon-colored sports jacket climbs into his Lincoln Continental. He turns the key and the car explodes. Then, as director Martin Scorsese explains it, “You see him in slow motion, flying over the flames—like a soul about to take a dive into hell.”

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Scarface: The Shame of a Nation, #11

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May 19th, 2013

Still, there’s something beyond the stereotypes and the arcane movie talk that makes this a great film. For one, the story it tells remains—as it was then—the American dream come to life: an immigrant from humble beginnings gets the money, gets the power, gets the women. The bad guy has always mesmerized audiences, and Muni is as magnetic as Robert De Niro and Al Pacino were a half-century later.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Once Upon a Time in America, #12

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May 18th, 2013

Once Upon a Time in America tells the lifelong tale of a clan of Jewish mobsters. It has two main chapters—set in 1920 and 1933—plus a third chapter, set in 1968. Each chapter deals with power and sex and treachery.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Léon: The Professional, #13

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May 17th, 2013

He’s a highly efficient—but in many ways naïve—hit man who drinks milk, exercises religiously and seems obsessed with the care and maintenance of a houseplant. She’s a 12-year-old who smokes, curses and is wise way beyond her years. Together they form an unlikely crime team in this fascinating and unusual look at the New York underworld.

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

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May 16th, 2013

By the end, Star Trek Into Darkness ends up feeling too much like a retread of the first feature without offering anything unique or different stylistically or intellectually. The characters are still likable, Abrams (and crew) knows that we like the characters, and Abrams (and crew) clearly likes the characters. Even Scotty’s little green friend returns. That pleasantness can and does cover up many flaws, even if certain moments dance dangerously close to cutesy and irritating.

100 Greatest Gangster Films: Mean Streets, #14

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May 16th, 2013

One of the best things about watching Mean Streets more than 30 years after its debut is that you know what’s coming after this. And so you look and you watch and you listen for little signs—small scenes that are the roots and the seedlings of the Scorsese/De Niro oeuvre.

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