Glimpses: Short Reviews of “Goodfellas” and “Million Dollar Baby”

Just One of the Guys: Goodfellas 

After pushing myself through three Godfather installments and three hours’ worth of Scarface, Goodfellas seems like a less intense crime caper. In some way, it is. Instead of concluding with a bloody end, Goodfellas does it differently. Based on the true story of mobster turned whistleblower Henry Hill (Ray Liota), the movie deals with his story– going from teenaged mafia lackey to experienced smuggler in a span of three or so decades. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci costar as Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito, respectively, fellow smugglers Henry meets on his way to the top.

Just like any other crime film, Goodfellas deals with its own unique form of organized crime. But the time and place are the same– the fifties and New York City. Instead of a strong, punctuating instrumental, Goodfellas makes good use of some very good rock in order to set it apart, making some musical movie magic in the process.

Despite his good looks, Liota is no charismatic protagonist. Nor is his voiceover halfway pleasant than it is intended to be. De Niro and Pesci give the film its much needed personality, with Pesci playing a character that echoed Tony Montana in his no nonsense use of the ubiquitous mob word f@$k (you know what I mean). Again, women play second fiddle here. Henry goes from his awkward blind date turned wife Karen to first mistress Janice to second mistress Sandy (an underutilized Debbie Mazar). Thankfully, some acting standouts emerge here– Lorraine Bracco’s turn as Karen Hill could almost have been the inspiration for Jennifer Lawrence’s role in American Hustle almost a decade or so later.

Goodfellas is a welcome relief from cookie cutter mafia films in the sense that it dares to be creative, employing elements that would seem out of place in crime film classics. Its use of dual voiceover, breaking the fourth wall and a catchy rock soundtrack are risks that don’t work for everyone, but are risks to be applauded nonetheless. These elements weren’t employed to their optimum levels, but hey, it’s not like Scorsese cut out the essentials in exchange for these oddities. The blood is there, the gore is there, and so is the  drug use. Mob film junkies will be freaked, but they will, at some point, feel at home. This is Scorsese, after all.

 

You Got Me There: A Review of “Million Dollar Baby” 

I owe the biggest apology to Clint Eastwood. Honestly, I didn’t expect much from this movie and I pegged it to be just another Rocky-esque sports drama that decided to turn things around with a female lead. In fact, I found myself pleasantly surprised it even took home accolades at the Oscars– including Best Picture. ‘Is it really THAT good?’ I wondered back then.

Well, needless to say I was wrong. I’d rather not go deeper into the plot because I want those who haven’t seen it at all to be just as pleasantly surprised as I was when I watched the movie from start to finish. Ladies and gentlemen, this is more than just a sports drama– trust me.

Since I don’t want to go into the plot, I’ll just talk about the acting. Eastwood is still as manhid as ever– it seems like he’s embraced his typecast role as mean old man to the point that he’s actually willing to put himself in the part in his own movie. Needless to say, he’s a better director than an actor here. Morgan Freeman is another one who seems to have gotten his typecast part down– it would be too early to say, but he could give James Earl Jones a run for his money in the voiceover department. I would’ve wanted to know more about his character, though– Freeman may embrace the background roles, but he doesn’t always deserve them. Swank is real as real should be as Maggie Fitzgerald, playing her with so much realness and reliability that I could almost call her one of my favorite actresses. I love how raw and real she is as Maggie Fitzgerald– it reminded me a lot of how Lupita Nyong’O managed to transcend the movie screen and reach me emotionally as Patsy in 12 Years A Slave. Swank played Maggie with the same kind of gripping emotion.. and I loved every minute of it. I wasn’t too fond of the Southern accent though, but it was the least of her problems  (Al Pacino sounded much worse trying to be Cuban in Scarface, to be honest).

I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again: this is MORE than just a sports drama. It may deal with a fighter’s rise to the top of the ranks and to the top of her game, but it also includes much more elements that set it apart from the Rocky movies of this world. Themes like family, religion, death and morality are dealt with at some point during the film, brought out at just the right moment in order to give them time to simmer and boil. In short, it’s a more complex movie– one that goes beyond the punches, the wounds, the wins, and the terribly cliche fight quotes.

Plus: Swank makes the female sports lead a worthy headlining star, a formidable precursor to later characters like Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games), Tris (Divergent), Jasmine Francis (Blue Jasmine), and so on.

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