GoodFellas (1990)


As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster. Martin Scorsese’s astonishing portrait of Sicilian-Irish Henry Hill’s 25 year rise through the ranks of Italian-American hoodlums – and his eventual fall – is re-released this month and it still exerts a visceral thrill. Between Coppola and Scorsese we have a reference book on this topic and so many of the tropes and lingo of this subculture are common parlance thanks to them. Nicholas  Pileggi adapted his book Wiseguy (with Scorsese) and with an exegesis on true crime and punishment, violence,  family, honour and dishonour, cooking, drugs and horrible taste,  it has a panoramic sweep we pretty much take for granted. Not for nothing did some of the cast become mainstays of The Sopranos, which wouldn’t exist without this. However it is not the sociological examination we think it was:  it’s a film of no particular depth or self-knowledge, not if we’re depending on Henry’s voiceover. Instead it’s a stylish compendium of cinematic vocabulary, with flourishes influenced by everyone from Anger to Visconti, boasting a particularly nice tribute to The Great Train Robbery in the closing moments. And there are a lot of great, queasy moments here, with gore to spare:  Joe Pesci has the lion’s share as the psychopath Tommy DeVito; Paul Sorvino as the main guy, Paulie Cicero;  and Catherine Scorsese has some nice bits as Tommy’s mom, a keen amateur painter; De Niro is good as Jimmy Conway, the other Sicilian-Irish guy who can never be truly Mafia; Lorraine Bracco is superb as the whining Jewish wife who develops a taste for cocaine; and Ray Liotta could never be better than here, even if he’ll never be a made man. A funny and scarifying tour de force of surfaces, textures and moviemaking.


Superstar (1999)

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I realise that not all SNL knockoffs are passable but this one makes me laugh like a drain. Molly Shannon is orphaned Irish-American Catholic high schooler Mary Katherine Gallagher, a bespectacled geek in love with Sky Corrigan (Will Ferrell), the dreamboat – wow! – and dreaming of, yup, superstardom. Mary’s the rewind girl in the video store and she’s obsessed with TV movies which provide a lot of her best lines – maybe the most apposite coming from Portrait of a Teenage Centerfold! (starring Lori Singer).[If this in fact exists…]  She’s relegated to the class for retards and befriends fellow loser Helen (Emmy Laybourne). She attracts the attention of Slater (Harland Williams) the mute rebel biker newcomer to the school which provides more backstory and permits her Id’s vision of Jesus to pay him a visit at this movie’s version of a crossroads. She tries to achieve her ambitions by competing in a talent show for VD (‘with an opportunity to appear as an extra in a Hollywood movie with Positive Moral Values’). Sky’s cheerleader girlfriend – the most beautiful, the most popular, the most bulimic – Evian Graham (Elaine Hendrix) is her main rival but wheelchair-bound Grandma (Glynis Johns) doesn’t want Mary to take part. The scene where she tells Mary the truth behind her parents’ death is screamingly funny – they weren’t eaten by sharks but stomped to death Riverdance-style. Reader, I howled. She and Sky both think The Boy in the Plastic Bubble is the 19th-best TVM and when he and Evian split she spots an opening…This high school movie parody is for that special person in your life – your irrepressible inner gummy child! The perfect comedic holiday comedown. Written by Steve Koren and directed by Bruce McCulloch. Shannon is great. In fact, she’s a Superstar!

Spotlight (2015)

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A tough story well told. Maybe there are those who would decry the eulogising of journalists doing their job – but as we learn, there were incredible pressures on their doing precisely nothing in order for an easy life in a city (Boston) run by Irish Catholics who apparently sanctioned child abuse on a grand scale (plus ca change). For people like myself whose home is a virtual archive of index cards, notepads, files, folders and reference books, there’s a lot of comfort to be had from the procedural side, which dominates the narrative. The ensemble works perfectly with give and take from everyone and Rachel McAdams’ clothes look like they were in my wardrobe at some point. A different story from All the President’s Men but no less effective with tension ratcheting on a human scale especially the ‘whodunnit’ (or didn’t) at the newspaper HQ itself ten years earlier when they had the opportunity.  I didn’t know Ben Bradlee Jr. managed the Globe at the time – effectively then, John Slattery is Jason Robards Jr Jr. An excellent film. Kudos to all but especially the writers, actor/writer/director Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer. This could have been prurient but is measured and sane and decent – unlike the criminal perpetrators who are still shamelessly among us, even with their dog collars covered up. (6% rape children, 60% are in sexual relationships.) The coda is stunning.

Finian’s Rainbow (1968)

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This adaptation by a young Francis Ford Coppola of the Broadway musical works mainly because of the songs. Why wouldn’t we all want to uproot from Glocca Morra like Finian and Sharon and Look to the Rainbow in Missitucky USA? Underrated and a lot of fun, especially if you like leprechauns. Definitely the end of an era.

Black Mass (2015)

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This has all the ingredients of a great gangster movie:  three childhood friends (in fact two brothers and a friend) grow up in South Boston to become an FBI agent, a state senator and … Whitey Bulger, the notorious gangster. He’s offered a deal to take down the Mafia and … everyone gets tainted. This is missing a few story beats which would have made it a classic but the real performance here is by Joel Edgerton as the agent. And what’s truly astonishing is … IT’S ALL TRUE. Wow.