Casino is a brilliant, brilliant movie. I know I am going to offend some people but I like it more then Goodfellas. And truth be told, I think Goodfellas is a brilliant, brilliant movie too. The only reason why I feel that Casino is better is because quite simply... it is longer. This movie, a fact based account of the mafia’s multi-million dollar casino operation, plays like a series of short films all strung together. Yeah, there is a narrative, there is a story, scenes play against one another, but I never think of this movie that way. In fact, each scene is it’s own vignette. It’s own separate piece with the deleted scenes being for me, just more parts of an already well told story.
Robert DeNiro plays Sam “Ace” Rothstein. A man who can gamble with his eyes closed. He is conservative, reserved and the perfect person to head the mob’s operation. Joe Pesci plays Nicky Santoro. While many people feel that he is just emulating the volatile Tommy character he created in Goodfellas, I don’t think that that really matters here. The characters are different but in very subtle ways. Sharon Stone plays Ginger Rothstein, Sam’s wife. She is a schemer who is attached to a scumbag, ex-pimp/boyfriend named Lester Diamond (terrifically played by James Woods). The rest of the cast is rounded out by very solid performers, and all of this is put together by the inimitable Martin Scorsese. His attention to detail, the way he covers he every scene and the angles he manages to pull off add such a rich texture to this film yet never interfere with it’s natural flow. This is such a well made movie and when you consider what he did recently with The Aviator, I think it’s amazing that he is able to still work at such an amazingly high level. All through his career he has never “phoned in” a movie. He is there every second, pushing himself, oftentimes to the detriment of his health.
Not much here but what they have is very good. These scenes, which are really just longer riffs on actual scenes in the movie, really show the vision behind the film. Even with poor sound, bad lighting and no color correction these scenes really convey the mood and the ideas behind this film. I was so impressed because with the locked picture, the camera and everything else are all in synch. Even without all the glitz, this movie still delivered on the ideas and themes it was going for.
Moments with Martin Scorsese, Sharon Stone, Nicholas Pileggi and more
I buy Martin Scorese movie’s on DVD simply to hear these commentary tracks. Yes, there are times when I think he goes off subject, or gets a little bit too inside his head, but you quickly realize that that is right where you want to be. His commentary tracks are truly places where I feel we really need to get inside his head. His thought process and why certain decisions are made. We get to see this mind that seems to have everything inside of it as far as the movie is concerned. So often what seems like it just happened, you come to realize was planned down to the last frame of the shot.
Casino: The Story
This featurette looks at the basic genesis of the story. How Nicholas Pileggi had this idea and he began writing a book based on real events. Scorsese owed a picture to Universal and it seems that serendipity took over from there. Especially, as far as having access to this world and being able to tell the story accurately. Moviemaking is such an interesting process and one that I think should give more reverence to the initial spark of creativity that really is what creates it.
Casino: The Cast and Characters
The characters are really broken down in this piece. Especially the relationships between the Ace, Nicky and Ginger characters. Of course the stories about how the actors got attached are good, but it’s really interesting the way they examine the characters. The inner workings, how they work on set and more importantly the way they work and why they work so well together. Of the many featurettes I have seen, these all seem to go the extra mile. To really tell the story of how we are able to see what we see on screen.
Casino: The Look
This featurette looks at the set designs of Casino. How they come together, the different ideas behind them and what needs to be in place in order for a film like this to achieve it’s desired look. Truthfully, I don’t know that the average fan is going to get a lot of this featurette but film school students and film buffs will surely appreciate getting into Dante Ferretti’s head a little bit.
Casino: After the Filming
Again, this is something that is more for the film minded but as I am film minded I was glued to my TV. When you see the way that Martin Scorsese makes a movie, how he really lives it through every step of the process, it is very inspiring. In this piece we see how his footage is used after it is shot. How he has so much of the movie already in his head, then when it comes time to edit, it really becomes something of an experiment because no matter what he can always come back to his original concept.
Vegas and the Mob
A very interesting look at how this city came to exist and coexist with the mob. What eventually happened it seemed is that the two between came one. This is a very straight forward documentary-type look as opposed to the cinematic movie that is Casino We are taken into the History and real world of Las Vegas. While I think this piece might be a little too “straight” for a DVD release of this nature, it compliments the movie as a whole.
True Crime Authors: Casino Nicholas Pileggi
This History Channel Presentation seems like a much lower budget version of Casino. It focuses on Pileggi, how he came to write about the mob, and eventually how Casino was made. What I find so interesting about this piece is how we can examine how the real facts have been dramatized by a much larger film. This is all done very well and really caps off the whole experience that is this new Casino 10th anniversary DVD.
Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1. Casino looks like no movie you have ever seen. It’s lush, bright colors are alive in every frame. The transfer and compression of the film on these disks has been meticulously done. It is as if every aspect of every scene has been covered. This movie lives and breathes the casino/Las Vegas life. There are times when it looks like the lowest place to be, and other times where he captures it as the most majestic place in the world. A paradise where anybody can make themselves rich, where anybody’s dreams can come true. This film feels so big, so epic and it mainly takes place inside the casino. Even when the characters leave the casino, it isn’t like they go to places with sweeping vistas and majestic canvases. This is the kind spectacle I like. Spectacle that is alive, that’s real, that has something tangible I can grab on to.
English, Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1. I remember reading somewhere that about 80% of this movie is narrated. This drives the movie. The dialogue really is the action. Sure what is said is bolstered heavily by various images, but here it seems that without narration there would almost be no story. As Scorsese loves music and the use of sound in his movies, there is no easy sound design here. Yet, you never have to strain to what either the narrator or characters are saying. Everything plays seamlessly. The words and the images evoking moods, ideas and thoughts and amongst them are certain scenes that are left to the imagination. It isn’t like we are having our hands held through this piece. It’s like we are watching a documentary of a movie unfold and the whole time somebody is whispering in our ear so that we are oriented but not getting everything all the time. The effect this use of sound has is that we take ownership of the movie. It becomes ours and we start to mold it in our own way. I have seen very few directors that pull this effect off as flawlessly as Martin Scorsese.
This cover is the same one that was used when this movie initially came to DVD. Sure, it there are some different colors used but I would say that 90% of it is the same. We see DeNiro, Pesci and Stone like characters in a tragic play. The tone and feel of their characters emblazoned on them by their various looks. The back features some pictures from the movie, a small description about Casino, a highly extensive extras listing, cast list and tech specs. As this is an anniversary edition of this movie, I really have to commend them with the amount of extras. Yet, it just seems like this box cover should look a little more important. A tad more regal. I have never felt that the artwork did this film justice in terms of it’s large scope and size.
Casino never seemed to catch fire like other Scorsese movies or movies of this ilk. People like it, but it hasn’t been elevated to the level of Goodfellas or Scarface. Maybe it’s because this film is more visual, cerebral or their isn’t enough violence? One thing watching movies has taught me over the years, is to focus on what a movie is, not what it isn’t. The tale of Casino isn’t one of people busting heads, or really even focusing on the mob world. It is the story of how a casino works. Or more importantly, how it came to work as the pioneers portrayed in this film realized all the riches that were to be gleaned by working in Las Vegas. This is a film that looks at the rise and fall of what used to be a great town. Sure, Las Vegas is still fun and people have good times there, but the seedy element of it is clearly at the forefront with all the actual good points. In the time that Casino takes place, it just seems like being a gambler, being a mobster, being all those different things... none of it mattered because the city was bigger then all of that. Today, it seems defined by it.