• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

200. Goodfellas – Summer of Scorsese (#17)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Jenn Gannon, with Andy Melhuish, Jack Hodges and others, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Colour of Money, The Aviator, The Departed, Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

As far back as he could remember, Henry Hill always wanted to be a gangster. However, the life that Henry leads doesn’t turn out exactly as the young hoodlum might have expected, as he finds himself navigating a web of betrayal and violence involving his closest friends.

At time of recording, it was ranked 17th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

Continue reading

“It Had Nothing to Do With Me”: The Moral Sloth of Henry Hill in “Goodfellas”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, continued our belated Summer of Scorsese last week with a look at Raging Bull. This week, we’re looking at Goodfellas. It is a fun and broad discussion that is well worth your time, but it spurred some of my own thoughts about Martin Scorsese’s 1980 black-and-white boxing film.

There is a long-running debate concerning the films of Martin Scorsese, one that arose most recently around The Wolf of Wall Street.

To his critics, Scorsese is seen as a director who glorifies and venerates a certain form of toxic masculinity. There’s a certain logic to this argument. After all, whatever Scorsese’s intentions may be, there is no denying that his films attract a certain unironic fandom that gets swept up in these stories of tough men who do terrible things. This is reflected in everything from the ubiquity of Goodfellas as a “dorm room poster” to celebrations of its depiction of masculinity to the fact that real-life gangsters reportedly love it.

This criticism largely derives from the fact that Scorsese effectively surrenders control of the film’s narrative to his central characters. His movies are often literally narrated by their central characters: Henry and Karen Hill in Goodfellas, Ace Rothstein and Nicky Santoro in Casino and Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. These characters are given ample room to espouse their worldview and their philosophy, to craft the story that they want to tell.

Scorsese undoubtedly pushes back against his characters in interesting ways – often ironically juxtaposing their conceited monologues with brutal imagery to underscore the dissonance between their narrative of events with the reality of the situation. However, Scorsese largely avoids overtly moralising. He avoids the easy route of having external characters comment too obliquely or too loudly on the moral decadence at play. Indeed, the most interesting thing about Karen Hill is her own complicity in Henry’s immorality rather than any condemnation of it.

To be fair, there’s a lot to recommend this approach. American cinema has come a long way since the days of the Hays Code and the Breen Office, and there is a lot to be said for the importance of treating an audience as mature enough to grapple with complicated ideas or giving them room to reach conclusions on their own terms. Psycho is a classic piece of American cinema, but it suffers greatly from a closing scene where a new character shows up to lecture the cast (and implicitly the audience) on the film that they just watched.

Indeed, this is ultimately the beauty of Scorsese’s approach to these characters. Scorsese gives them all the room that they need, and they still manage to incriminate themselves. Their robust attempts to glorify and mythologise themselves inevitably backfire. Like a good detective or lawyer, Scorsese shrewdly just allows characters like Henry Hill to talk and talk and talk, knowing that they have been given enough rope with which they might hang themselves.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: The Irishman

“Time goes by so fast,” Frank Sheeran reflects to a young nurse late in the movie. He adds, “You’ll understand when you get there.”

Of course, the nurse doesn’t quite understand the passage of time in the way that Frank does. “You’re young,” he explains. “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.” In contrast, Frank Sheeran’s entire life seems to be left behind him. When The Irishman introduces the audience to its central character, he is already well past his prime. He is resting in a retirement community. He begins to narrate his story through internal monologue, but then decides to directly address the camera. After all, there is nobody left who might be exposed or shamed by his reminiscences. They are all long gone.

The end is DeNiro.

The audience really feels the passage of time in The Irishman. It is revealing that Frank’s most prized possession appears to be his watch. The watch itself changes as Frank’s situation does, becoming more ostentatious has his stock rises, but there is always a watch on the bedside table and it is always fixed first thing every morning. Even more than the ring that signifies his acceptance into the underground criminal fraternity, Frank holds tight to that watch. It measures the seconds that make up the minutes, the minutes that make up the hours, the hours that make up a life.

It is a critical cliché to praise a long film by saying that it doesn’t feel long, that the time spent watching a story unfold “flies by.” In some cases, that is true. Of this year’s hyper-extended offerings, both Avengers: Endgame and Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood move breezily enough that they never feel their length. In contrast, The Irishman does feel every minute of its three-and-a-half hour runtime. That’s part of the movie’s power. By the time that the audience has reached that conversation between Frank and his nurse, they have some small understanding of what he is saying. They have lived that life with him.

Get Hoffa his case.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Casino

You didn’t see the scam? You didn’t see what was goin’ on?

Well, there’s no way to determine that, Sam.

Yes, there is. An infallible way! They won!

Sam explains how Las Vegas works to Ward

If you ask a bunch of people to name their favourite Scorsese film, you’ll get a bunch of different answers. Some will go for his iconic gangster tale, Goodfellas. Others will go for the superb drama of Raging Bull. Some might even opt for the unforgettable Taxi Driver. I, on the other hand, am probably the only guy in the room who is going to opt for Casino. Conventional wisdom would argue that Casino is merely a bloated and over-loaded attempt to re-tread ground Scorsese already covered in Goodfellas, but I can’t bring myself to agree with that. While Goodfellas feels like a personal tale of greed and corruption, and the implosion that inevitably followed, there’s something grander to Casino. Offering the social history of Las Vegas, the rise and fall of the mob’s empire, it feels like large-scale tragedy. There’s just such an impressively epic scale to Scorsese’s film that I can’t help but admire it.

No dice...

Continue reading

Start Spreadin’ the News…

It appears that Martin Scorsese’s on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again, on-again biopic of Frank Sinatra is back on again. I’ve been following the project during it’s languished history in, if not development hell, at least development limbo.

To be honest, I was most excited about the Robert deNiro iteration of the project. That supporting cast sounded fantastic. Now it’s been confirmed, how do I feel? Well, good, to be honest.
It’s odd that the end of a director’s career would show more breadth than the early years, but the last decade has seen an astonishing broadening of Scrocese’s pallete. We’ve had a Hollywood biopic (The Aviator), a historical epic (Gangs of New York), spiritual drama (Silence), a conventional thriller (Shutter Island) and even an old-style mob yarn (The Departed). Sure he’s experimented before – the seemingly anomolous Age of Innocence now makes sense as a precursor to Gangs of New York, The Doors still stands out as an odd choice in his career – but that string of wildly-variable-in-genre films seems unprecedented. Even the most conventional choice in that lineup (The Departed) seems oddly out of sync with his early mob exploits (Goodfellas, Casino). So, why is this relevant?

After so much variety, I look forward to a bit of vintage Scorsese. A biography of a Los Vegas lounge singer with ties to the mob seems to be relatively familiar ground. This doesn’t mean I’m writing off any of his impressive slate of Oscar-buzz-generating releases already on the horizon – the release of any Scorsese film is cause to celebrate – but this film has been discussed and talked about for so long that it’s hard not to especially anticipate it. Sure, his last “dream project” was Gangs of New York that met with a somewhat muted critical reception, but I felt the director’s love with the material in every frame.

The casting rumours have begun again with many media outlets suggesting Johnny Depp or Leonardo diCarpio. I’m happy with either – I trust Scorcese on this. Both are incredibly competent actors who would do the material proud. I think diCaprio has done his best work with Scorsese – though he did deserve an Oscar nod for Revolutionary Road – and I think that Depp and Scorsese would make a fantastic team. Hell, I’d even trust the director with John Travolta.

It is Scorsese’s dream project after all. I’m just tagging along for the ride.