This is the first of a series of blog posts I’m doing in conjuncture with a new list on my MUBI page. I hope you enjoy then
When you see a movie, there are actually two movies being experienced. The one the filmmakers made and the one you experience behind your eyeballs. Film is such an diverse and subjective form that no two people experience a movie the same way. What you might think is bold and innovative could seem arty and obscure to your friend. And what you consider a meaningless collection of random images cut together without form or reason, your friend could consider Michael Bay’s best film yet.
Let me blow your mind further, somewhere in the world is someone who’s favorite film is “Manos: The Hands of Fate”.
What follows is a list of my favorite movies along with the explanation why they occupy a large amount of my head space. There will be justifications but no apologies. No one should ever apologize for love.
(Unless you happen to be married to someone who likes to kidnap young girls and keep them chained in a shed in the backyard. In that case, you’ve got plenty to apologize for, buster!)
“The Red Balloon: (1956-Directed by Albert Lamorisse.)
I must have seen this film at least ten times between kindergarten and 3’rd grade. It seemed to be the go to film for teachers to play on a rainy day
to a bunch of unruly kids to keep them quiet.
And you know what, it usually worked.
It was my first experience with film in it’s purest form. It was french with no subtitles but I was able to follow it easily. It may have helped that I was about the same age as the young boy in the film and the idea of having a balloon as your best friend just struck me as the coolest thing ever. And yes, long standing fear of heights aside, the idea of being propelled aloft in a flock of balloons still has an undeniable appeal. (I can’t imagine the folks at Pixar didn’t have this film rolling around in their heads when they made “Up”.)
Also, one of those times I watched the movie, I held the hand of a girl I liked. So…there’s that.
Casino: (1995: Directed by Martin Scorsese.)
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t crazy about this movie when I first saw it.
Yeah, sure. I dug the filmmaking. DeNiro was still in his “Can Do No Wrong” period. But at the time, it just struck me as a “Goodfellas” redux. The tangential style of story telling, the voice overs (Although the the use of duel narrators was a novel wrinkle.) and even the big set piece of mob hits done to a rock song. (The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” subbing for Eric Clapton’s “Layla.) I enjoyed it but it did have a certain “Been there, done that” quality.
But over the years, I’ve revisited the film a number of times and it’s gotten under my skin in a way that “Goodfells” never did.
And I think it hit me the third time around during the Blueberry muffin scene.
Philip Green (Kevin Pollack.) is busting Sam Rothstein’s (DeNiro.) chops about how his fight with the Nevada gaming commission is bringing on too much heat on the bosses back east. And Rothstein is bitching back about how it’s his casino and he’s going to run it the best way he knows how…And then he notices the blueberry muffins they’ve both been eating. His muffin is berry barren while Green’s is over stuffed with them. And he runs back to the kitchen and totally bitches out his chief and orders him to make sure each muffin has an equal number of blueberries.
And I laughed because it a funny bit. But also, my years of working customer service kicked in and I thought, “He’s right. There should be the same number of berries in each one”.
And that’s when I realized something about “Goodfellas” that changed the movie for me.
Henry Hill is a fucking mook.
Seriously, the only reason Hill gets mixed up in the rackets is to make a lot of money for little effort. It about the flash and rich living. If hard work offered Henry Hill it’s hand, he’d shoot the thumb off. Ace Rothstein has hard work on his speed dial.
“Goodfells” as fun to watch as it is, is a film about about a schnook who become a rich schnook, then a drug addled schnook and then a schnook in hiding. And to quote Joss Whedon, that’s not much of an arc, now is it.
“Casino” on the other hand, is an tragedy dipped in a mob movie coating. Ace Rothstein is a decent enough guy as far as mobsters go. And he is very good at running his casino. He knows the angles, he knows the shot. He can calculate odds better than any one. He can get asses to the Blackjack tables and he knows how to deal with cheaters. And he will not tolerate incompetence, even when it’s in his best interests. So what if he’s a mobster. We like this guy because he knows how to get shit done!
If “Goodfellas” was about the seductive ease of crime, “Casino” is about the limits of perfectionism. When Rothstein sees his future wife, Ginger (In a career best performance by Sharon Stone.) lifting chips at a craps table, he’s instantly smitten. But his detremination to turn her from a slick hustler into the proper image of a respectable businessman’s wife pushes her into erratic behavior and into a self destructive affair with his boyhood friend, Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci.)(Sidebar: In this sense, “Casino” shares a kinship with one of Scorsese’s favorite films, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” as both films have protagonists who try to mold women to fit their own images. Both with tragic results.)
If anything, “Casino” to me is a cautionary tale about knowing what we can and can’t control. And in the end, it doesn’t matter how many blueberries are in the muffin if your best friend is banging your wife in the ass.