92: Goodfellas

pigeonGoodfellas, 1990

From Jon:

I would love to figure out a way to calculate the exact amount of people it takes to tell me, “you have to see this movie,” or, “you have to read this book,” or, “you have to go on this ride,” before I have absolutely no chance of actually liking that movie, or book, or ride. I know it exists, that tipping point where an enthusiastic suggestion raises my expectations to a point that no form of entertainment can reach or makes me want to hate the experience more than like it. Imagine how valuable it would be to know the exact comment that is going to ruin an entertainment experience for you. You could stop people from changing your disposition from, “I’d love to see that,” to “I want to hate this movie just because everyone won’t shut up about it.”  Whatever the number may be, I’m sure I reached that tipping point with Goodfellas five or 10 years ago. Is there anyone who finally sees a ICBYNS movie and actually enjoys it? I guess what I’m building up to saying is, in my mind, I was totally validated going the last 26 years without seeing Goodfellas.

Part of the problem of seeing an iconic (I use that term begrudgingly, but unfortunately I can’t deny the public zeitgeist) movie 20 years after it grabs the world’s attention is that, if you’re paying attention to pop culture at all, you have already seen large portions of the movie without having ever seen the movie.  I ran into this problem with The Godfather and Casablanca, and I imagine I’ll run into it again with The Shining. When a movie has been parodied and alluded to and ripped off a million times it becomes part of the pop culture conscience and you can’t help but avoid it.  I watched Animaniacs. I worshipped Swingers. I knew Goodfellas without seeing Goodfellas and it really isn’t the type of movie that can overcome that. I’ll never know what my response to the movie would have been without this influence, but I see why The Godfather is considered one of the greatest movies ever made, I get why Casablanca is one of the most quoted movies ever, I realize it’s blasphamey, but I don’t get the appeal of Goodfellas.

I feel like I’m missing something by being so critical of Martin Scorsese. He obviously knows a lot more about film than me, and people who know a lot about film love this movie, but I couldn’t click with what he was doing here. I found it very hard to take the movie seriously. Every character seemed to be a silly over-the-top caricature. Scorsese seemed to be making a serious portrayal of the gangster life but populated it with a bunch of ridiculous characters. Some might try to argue that they aren’t caricatures, but I would point to The Godfather movies or The Sopranos which were both able to take Italian gangster stereotypes and not make the characters seem silly. I also hated the voice overs, granted that could be in part because of my love of “The Goodfeathers” which spoofed that device to perfection. Jenny pointed out part way through the movie that it has no plot; it’s all about telling us how it was without telling us an actual story. The plot diagram that we all learn about in school is nowhere to be found, with the resolution coming so abruptly there is no sense of tension or fear for what the characters are going through.

I can’t help but feel that this movie is more in line with Scarface than The Godfather. This movie is about image and lifestyle. The people who love this movie like the way it glorifies the gangster lifestyle. That doesn’t make it a great movie.  Scarface is not on the AFI Top 100 list, yet every college dorm has at least one Scarface poster.  I really find it hard to argue that Goodfellas is that much different. There is an aspect of movie making that relies on the cool factor, but there needs to be other components there as well.  Goodfellas is full of cool, but has no plot or story or likable characters or a dozen other things a great movie needs. I can’t help but think that this movie will gone from the next AFI list that comes out.

On a side note, I couldn’t help but think of The Wolf of Wall Street as I was watching Goodfellas and how that movie was all about image and excess and then I realized it’s the same movie. Why didn’t more people mention this when The Wolf of Wall Street came out? Scorsese just remade Goodfellas in an updated setting. They are both about a criminal who steals money from people to live a life of excess. The main characters get wrapped up in money and drugs and womanizing. It even ends with them failing to feel any remorse for the life they lived. That’s more of a comment on The Wolf of Wall Street being a total rip off than Goodfellas not being a great movie, but I guess you can’t really rip off your own movie. What bothers me more is that in both instances I feel like Scorsese set up the characters to be tragic heroes but they both lack the self-awareness and self-realization of fault that comes with the tragic hero’s downfall. In my eyes, this is a major flaw in both films.

I give Goodfellas one out of five bowls of pistachio gelato. Other people keep telling me I have to try it but gelato just isn’t my thing.

From Jenny:

I really don’t have much to say about this movie other than I disagree with every accolade it’s ever received.  I saw it years ago, probably in college, and after becoming a huge fan of The Godfather movies, I thought Goodfellas would be an easy movie for me to enjoy. Wrong.


The structure of the movie starts out fine– a story is going to be told, I’m in– as far back as he can remember, Henry Hill wanted to be a gangster. The music and the scenes from his childhood totally drew me in. His family life being so different from what he wanted– what he put up on a pedestal, his icons, gangsters in 1950s New York. Henry’s transformation from spunky promising kid, being taken under Paulie’s wing to become a successful and deeply entrenched mobster happened quickly.

Where the movie goes awry for me is that the early days end quickly, and the parts of the movie that cover 1967 to when he gets out of jail in 1978 are awful. The guys hanging out at the Copacabana, living this supposedly glamorous criminal life– but way less classy than anything ever portrayed in The Godfather— just got old for me really fast. I feel like the movie is divided into three parts: 1) the early days full of hope while he’s looking up to his icons, something glamorous and promising about that time, then 2) a very long period of Scorsese just showing us that life– for way too long– not so much plot, just more scenes of the guys hijacking trucks, armed robbery, living it up at night, beating the crap out of people, taking what they want– but all of it falls short on my “cool” list- – there is nothing about all of it that is appealing in any way to me; it all just feels so empty, unlike other movies where the criminal activity is portrayed as worth it for all the riches and luxury that comes as a result. 3) The third and worst part of the movie reminds me of when Boogie Nights passed from 1979 to 1980 and all that was exciting and enticing and wild and unraveled into the shitter. (I love that movie, until New Year’s Day, 1980.) By the time Henry Hill gets out of jail in 1978 and begins trafficking drugs, I’m waiting for the movie to end. I am no longer interested in anything left resembling a plot, and he’s so messed up, his life is so messed up, everything is about to break and it’s just a matter of when. Watching the scenes just before he and his wife Karen enter the witness protection program are just awful and the feeling of desperation, dead end, and hopelessness take away any value of the movie for me.  

I think if I were better at this, I might explain that it’s because I was never given any cause to care about any of the characters. In fact, I hated all the characters.  I really have a hard time looking at Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci was so dumb and one-dimensional, and Jon’s influence on me has me realizing that Robert De Niro didn’t really do much for this movie at all, and he does seem to be the same character in many films.  

When we sat down to watch this again, I thought maybe I had been wrong the first time I saw this, and immature comparing it to The Godfather–it’s its own movie, and that was probably the reason I didn’t give it a chance, so I was prepared to do so this time. But I found the whole experience of watching it again taxing. I just wanted it to end, I felt bored or annoyed, or sad imagining that life. The experience of watching Goodfellas is a negative one for me. I don’t really have time to understand why every other human on Earth thinks this is an amazing movie. I don’t really care, and I’m just glad I don’t have to write about it again.

Oh and, like Jon, I will always prefer “The Goodfeathers.”

I give Goodfellas one out of five Drumsticks: looks like a good idea but hollow inside.

Up Next: Sophie’s Choice

Jon says: Good, I’m need something uplifting.

Jenny says: I hope the movie isn’t as long as the book.

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99: Toy Story

Toy Story, 1995

Jon…

Toy Story is one of two animated movies on the AFI top 100, the other being Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Snow White was the first full-length animated movie and created a genre and style of filmmaking that is hard to imagine not existing today.  That says something obvious about Toy Story’s importance as well.  Animated movies, like comedies and horror films, are not given a ton of credibility when it comes to handing out awards and developing these types of lists.  So, to make AFI’s top 100, Toy Story has to be more than your average animated movie.  It’s a movie that revolutionized animation and the stories that can be told.  The crazy thing is, almost 20 years after its release, it doesn’t feel so revolutionary.

We’ll have to wait and see how Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs plays when we get there, but the animation in Toy Story felt clunky and out of date.  Even if Snow White feels just as dated, we would be talking 77 years later, not 20.  In all honesty, I think that has more to do with the amazing technological advancements made in the last few decades than some lack in the making of Toy Story, but it still affects the viewing of the movie.  I find it interesting to have found Toy Story so visually revolutionary when it came out, to have watched all the Pixar movies that have followed and find them to be similar in appearance, and now return to the original and find it so stiff and lacking.  The problem sometimes with revolutionary technology is that it doesn’t stand the test of time, its methods get improved, wrinkles get ironed out, new tech gets added to it, and the original gets left behind.  I can’t help but feel that Toy Story is moving towards that fate.

Don’t get me wrong, Toy Story is a great movie and I absolutely feel that it should be on this list, I just wonder how long before its place in history gets forgotten or surpassed by better animation.  I talked about it with Ben-Hur and I’ll talk about it with other movies on the list, movies like Citizen Kane, that I certainly feel that historical perspective is important to this list but that it has to be weighed with how the movie would be received if it were released today.  Toy Story has more going for it than the way it looks and I feel that is important to it’s placement on the list.  It’s a fun story that has a great pace.  It is written in a way that entertains and mesmerizes kids but still pushes the envelope in a way that does the same for adults.  It’s funny in a timeless way.  It gave us great characters that have become a major part of the Disney lexicon.  If Toy Story came out tomorrow, it might not blow people’s minds with its animation but it would certainly be talked about as a great movie.

Toy Story ushered in a whole new era of animation and pretty much took hand drawn movies off the map.  It opened the door of possibilities for what an animated movie could look like.  And it wasn’t just with the animation, it changed the game as far as direction, point of view and cinematography as well. Add all that to a timeless story and there is very little doubt that this is a landmark film deserving of a place on AFI’s list.  My question is, how much longer are we going to think that?

 

I give Toy Story 4 out of 5 bowls of Cookies and Cream ice cream.  It’s a revolutionary take on a classic style that just may get forgotten over time, but it’s still one of my favorites.

 

Jenny…

I think that a critic can be truly good at his job regardless of personal preference.  I imagine a food critic has the ability to judge a quality meatball, even if he doesn’t care for meatballs.  But he knows about cooking: how the flavors work together, how the quality of the ingredients and the timing is so important, and about presentation of a finished product.  Since I’ve already made clear that I’m no movie critic, I probably shouldn’t have to re-explain that, but watching Toy Story sort of made me feel like the only person in the room who didn’t get the joke.  I really didn’t enjoy it, and I’m trying to figure out why.  

Toy Story is one of the most critically-acclaimed animated films of the 20th century.  If you read its reviews, you’ll see that it received 9 out of 10 “whatevers” across so many boards.  It was called innovative, a work of genius, and it was praised for being one of the best-voiced animated movies ever, besides being one of the top-grossing animated films up to that point in 1995.  

So why did I sit, stone-faced, through most of the movie?  I didn’t go into watching it with a bad attitude.  OK, that might be kind of a lie.  I definitely was not looking forward to watching it, mostly because I don’t really love animated movies.  I think they are FINE for other people, and I don’t think that I’m better than them or something, I’m just not so interested.  And this one came out when I was a senior in high school.  I guess other people my age were enjoying animated movies, either with younger siblings or just because they liked them, but there was no way I was watching Toy Story in high school, or in college for that matter. It made no sense to me.  Since I’ve grown to view much of the ways of my past to be closed-minded, I’ve been working to change that over the years.  But still, Toy Story quickly became a “ICBYNS” movie for me.

I really had no idea what the story was about before I saw it, which is usually how I go into movie watching situations, either out of purposeful or unintended ignorance.   But let me try to turn this around a little:  here is what I DID (sort of) enjoy about this movie– I appreciated the beginning, watching Andy play with Woody, throwing him around the room in a kind of kid-chaotic ballet of sorts. I liked the way the movie captured the way little kids’ imaginations work while they’re playing. I vividly remember this kind of scenario: a friend and I are playing with dolls, Barbies, funny little action-figure type people, or some kind of crafts. We get everything set up, put the way we wanted, whether it was their home, their vehicle, the exciting scene we’d cut to (“In Our Last Episode, our hero was…”) or what their “issue” was going to be– we’d play for about 11 minutes, then I’d say “let’s do something else!”  Even as a kid, I got bored noticeably faster than, like, anyone, and depending on who I was playing with, we’d play a little longer, me losing more and more interest by the second, or I’d win, and we’d abandon everything we’d set up, and move on to the next mess-making endeavor.

I could relate to how Andy played, and that was cool. A good memory.

My problem with animated movies is, and even used to be, when I was little, that I found too much of it unbelievable.  Even within the scope of “this is imaginary– go with it,” I remember thinking, “how could that character live a good life, when he only has tiny little arms,” or “how can those birds really function when they have such a small nest?” and “why do Chip and Dale only have CERTAIN pieces of furniture and not others?” I guess, as sad as it sounds, I was a weird realist at a young age.  I would see a character’s limitations, and that really bothered me. Or I would think, “this can’t last,” and I would feel distraught.  What reminded me of this was Toy Story’s entire premise — the idea of favorite toys, the idea that toys have feelings, the underlying knowledge that someday the kid will stop playing with them.  It just makes me feel sort of sad, and not in an enjoyable way (you know what I mean).  I also found the rest of the toys’ disloyalty to Woody distressing. How long had they lived together before they were ready to blame him for throwing a shiny new interloper off the window ledge? Sheesh. 

I realize the animation was groundbreaking at the time. I know the audience in mind was not me. I (kind of) see why it won awards.  But I didn’t lose myself in the story, the setting, or the characters.  It made me think too much about my own memories, instead of the movie, I guess because it just didn’t really appeal to me, or maybe I was trying to escape. Who cares? This post is too long as it is. However, I enjoyed watching Sid’s mishmash of toys in their demented cuteness, and how they all cooperated at the end. I also liked watching Jon laugh at certain parts he knew were coming; that was cute. And I was happy that he seemed to be enjoying himself, and that it was a Friday evening.  I’m ready for Yankee Doodle Dandy, and a different flavor of ice cream.


I give Toy Story two out of five bowls of bubble gum ice cream I’d be happy to share with someone else, but I’m fine, I just ate.

The Beginning of the Journey

From Jon…

When Jenny and I started dating we went through all the normal getting to know you conversations.  What kind of music do you listen to?  What’s your favorite TV show?  If stranded on a deserted island, what five books would you want with you?  And of course, what are your favorite movies?  Our society has developed in such a way that movies have become an integral part of dating another person.  It’s a shorthand way to establish common interests and upbringings.  It’s a shared experience that opens discussion.  It’s about as cliche a first date as one can find.  Pretty early on in our relationship, Jenny asked if I had ever tried to watch all the movies on the AFI top 100.  I said no, but I had the list printed out and had always wanted to try.  So we decided to try together.  We took AFI’s tenth anniversary Top 100 American Movies list and made the agreement that we would start at #100, Ben-Hur, and work our way to #1, Citizen Kane.  But of course, that wasn’t enough.  Being that we both enjoy writing, being that we already both had blogs of our own, being that we needed something to keep us on task and make this whole experience a bit more enjoyable, we decided to create a blog that showed two perspectives on AFI’s list.  We will watch the movies together and then write separately about our experiences and reactions.  Hopefully, you guys, the readers, will get two different view points and two different reading experiences.

 I’m a self-proclaimed movie buff.  I didn’t go to film school and I haven’t kept up with the latest trends in Iranian cinema, but I enjoy watching movies, analyzing the story and film-making techniques, and discussing them with people.  I’ve watched a ton of movies and enjoy nothing better than sitting down for a few hours and losing myself in a world of someone else’s creation.  Some may say that this is a form of avoiding my own existence, but really that’s neither here nor there.  I’m not going to change the world with my thoughts on a movie or a director’s style, but I have my opinions and I love to share them and hopefully they cause someone out there to think or agree or get really pissed off.

 I’ve learned quickly that watching movies with Jenny is a different experience than I am used to.  At times it will take a month to watch something that should really only last two hours.  I’ll be sure to include when I think that has changed or affected my thoughts on a film.  I’m not saying this is solely a negative.  Taking time to digest certain scenes may enhance the viewing experience.  We will have to wait and see.

From Jenny…

I like movies enough.  But compared to Jon,  I’m no movie buff, not even an amateur one.  I won’t comment on cinematography or light or the repeated use of oranges in various scenes unless it’s something that has been pre-brought to my attention, and it’s relevant to my review.  I won’t fake any knowledge here.  Still, I will try to provide a thorough and sincere write up of each movie from my perspective.

 Fact is, I do get bored easily.  Jon and I have watched movies that are a little on the slow side, and a scenario like this might play out: I’ll begin by looking around the room, thinking about other things I need to do, when was the last time I saw my checkbook, or where the Christmas tree should go this year, and then I start to notice Jon and how much he is still watching the movie.  Then I wonder how long I can stare at the side of his face before he notices I’m staring at him.  Then I realize that he already knows I’m staring at him, but he’s doing his best to ignore me and concentrate on the movie.  And I don’t say that to be mean, he doesn’t generally ignore me, but he knows that I’ve begun to lose interest in the movie, but he’s very good at concentrating (he does it all the time!) and can do it even with someone staring at him blinking loudly, such as during a long movie or a four-hour lecture on classroom management and the dangers of over-lecturing.

 It’s usually at that point that Jon and I come to terms with our take on the movie to that point.  His, “slow, building, intense” is usually my “good God when will this end?!”

 Jon is always very kind when he finally does acknowledge me and my face staring.  He has also never argued with me when I can’t take it anymore and must go to bed and finish the damn movie tomorrow. I will try not to push this too far.

 When I met Jon I realized he’s not only seen almost anything that’s ever been made (with the exception of a few “ICBYNS”*) but he’s also very into movies, which I think is great. For him. 🙂

 It’s true, I can have a pretty hard time sitting through movies.  I’m getting better though. I went through a phase in which I was a complete psycho and could not do fewer than three things (badly) at the same time, including dishes and writing and watching a movie and organizing my sock drawer. Good news: I’ve calmed down a bit and have taken to things such as doing one thing at a time, sometimes, whether it be finishing a book, a movie, or painting a room in under four years.  I am excited to watch these movies, referred to as classics, for reasons I’m going to find out.  I’m looking forward to freely writing in the second person, including sentence fragments, without so much as a care in the world. I’m looking forward to being able to discuss, in passing, these movies at a cocktail party over a tall frosty guava soy lime concoction.  But mostly I’m looking forward to embarking on this adventure with Jon, and with you, dear reader.

 

  • ICBYNS: “I Can’t Believe You Never Saw” movies– movies where one person CANNOT COMPREHEND that the other person NEVER SAW THAT OBVIOUS THAT EVERYONE ELSE HAS SEEN IT movie.  The kind of movie where one of the following must be true:

– Something is wrong with you; you were raised wrong, or raised by animals (i.e. not being allowed to watch E.T.)

– You do not have any friends, or your friends lived in the same protective shoebox that you lived in, growing up

– You have a very secret special reason for refusing to watch this movie.  Like your name is Jon and you became enraged at the fanfare that accompanied Titanic. And then you spent the next 17 years bragging about how you “won’t ever watch it.”  And then you meet Jenny…

– You were kidnapped and held in the back of a truck while Everyone Else of Earth watched that movie.  This happened to Jenny with The Princess Bride. No one has any actual evidence of the truck.