In one of the Verdict's first reviews of the new High-Definition DVD format, Judge Ryan Keefer wonders how much money would you pay to see Ray Liotta's face as clearly as possible?
Our reviews of Goodfellas: Special Edition (published December 6th, 2004), Goodfellas (Blu-ray) 20th Anniversary Edition (published March 4th, 2010), Goodfellas (Blu-ray) (published March 5th, 2007), and Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Contemporary (Blu-ray) (published May 31st, 2013) are also available.
"You know, we always called each other good fellas. Like you said to, somebody, 'You're gonna like this guy. He's all right. He's a good fella. He's one of us.' You understand? We were good fellas."
Based on the book "Wiseguy" by Nicholas Pileggi (Casino), and directed by Martin Scorsese (The Color of Money), Goodfellas chronicles the life of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta, Narc), a kid who grows up in the streets of Brooklyn, and notices a group of guys at a cab stand who seem to have a grip on the neighborhood unlike any other. He's taken under the wing of Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino, The Cooler) and, with the help of Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro, Taxi Driver) and Jimmy's apprentice Tommy (Joe Pesci, A Bronx Tale), the three manage to pull off some of the more memorable capers in the '60s and '70s, including the robbery of over $6 million from Lufthansa airlines in 1978.
Even during the Lufthansa heist, things were not completely good in Hill's life. He had increasingly become hooked on drugs before the heist, when he and Conway were arrested several years earlier for assaulting the brother of an FBI clerk typist. He dealt drugs without Cicero's knowledge or approval, and was eventually caught in 1980, at which time he decided to turn state's evidence and become a FBI witness. Goodfellas is a story of his life and the people around him.
Facts of the Case
There has been so much written and discussed about for Goodfellas, to recycle it would be almost insulting. However, there are a couple of observations I would like to bring up before zipping into what you're most curious about. The first (and perhaps) obvious one is Scorsese's use of the Steadicam and various other small camera tricks in the film. The steadicam shot has been ruminated about in other essays, and Roger Ebert's observation that the world unfolds in front of Henry and his wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco, The Sopranos) is the one that I can certainly agree with. But the other small thing that you may not notice when watching that shot (something that is explained a little in the commentary) is the viewer is put into Karen's perspective on things. And from that, two things happen, not only do you see the things that Henry gets on a nightly basis, but that small two minute shot romanticizes the mob lifestyle more than any other in immediate memory. Take a look (and listen) to the end of the Copa scene. You hear people who have been waiting in line complain somewhat profusely about the young couple who not only get a table, but one right in front of Henny Youngman, not to mention the bottle of champagne that is immediately brought to their table. The people within the Copa all snap to when Henry walks into the room, and that kind of treatment and respect is an understandable aphrodisiac for a woman.
The other contrast in the movie that I noticed was that the camera illustrates two different lifestyles. In the first half of the film, there are shots of various speeds, many are well-lit and are accompanied by songs with famous crooners of the era, like Bobby Vinton. And aside from the montage of post-Lufthansa murders, things seem to tighten up a little bit, with some more traditional editing and shots, a lot more shadows and camera shots that are slower and almost more methodical because of the subjects they focus on. There are exceptions to this, but when Jimmy is smoking a cigarette while a slow close up focuses on him (while "Sunshine of Your Love" plays over everything), the sense of what he's thinking is pretty palatable. You couldn't get that from Paul Cicero under the same general circumstances earlier in the film. The Goodfellas vs. Godfather debate is good bar fodder, but not really fair, as one is based on fictional work, and one isn't. But where The Godfather seems to present the inherent love affair the law-abiding public has with gangsters, Goodfellas shows us why we fell in love with them in the first place, but also makes sure to remind us that some of these guys are bad, and in Pesci's case, inherent.
Looking back at Goodfellas now, it's even more apparent that Scorsese was screwed out of an Oscar for this masterpiece (the second time in 11 years). Dances of Wolves is a good film, but has not possessed the same relevance (or reverence) that Goodfellas has, and no one remembers that Ordinary People beat Raging Bull for Best Picture, but what has been named as the best movie in the last 25 years among the occasional poll? Exactly.
OK, to get the technical impressions out of the way (and hopefully not substantially ruffle the feathers of any technophiles reading this review), the HD look of the film really does make a difference. Granted, the Toshiba player that's out there doesn't give you the full 1080p resolution that it's capable of, but there were two things that struck me when I was watching this improved version of Goodfellas; first, the improved resolution of the film does take away a bit from the film's charm. A lot of scenes that in the past appeared to be lit using some red filters or had a lot of shadows in them are gone. So much so, in fact, that the faces are clearly visible, like Pesci's during the Billy Batts aftermath or during the second time when he shoots (and kills) Spider (Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos). There's a definite change in picture quality when going from the regular version of the film to this HD version. I'm not slamming it, I've just got to get used to it. But for now (at least in my mind), I kind of miss the blurred view from too much cigarette smoke and crappy lighting. The other thing to take notice of is that this version's aspect ratio is 1.78:1, slightly different from the regular version (and original aspect ratio) of 1.85:1. I couldn't really tell that much of a difference, perhaps I was more entranced by the improved picture.
The audio is a definite plus, a Dolby Digital Plus in fact (I couldn't resist). Basically, it is an enhanced version of Dolby Digital which can be interpreted as a form of DTS, so it results in a tighter sonic experience. Gunshots have some subwoofer action and weight behind them, and the helicopters at the end have a decent amount of surround activity. For the more audio-friendly scenes (basically the last 15 minutes of the movie in this case), the sound is a lot more broad and dynamic. Granted, this is probably not indicative of how true high definition (or Blu-Ray) sound will be once the receivers catch up to the players, but if this is any symbol of improvement, prepare to be impressed by the technology.
The special features appear as they would on a normal DVD and are 480 progressive lines of fun in the sun. A commentary with Scorsese, Liotta, Bracco, Sorvino, Vincent, Pileggi, producers Irwin Winkler and Barbara De Fina, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, and editor Thelma Schoonmaker is first. Aside from mentioning that Pesci appears in archived footage, the commentary is not scene specific, and more on the recollections of the film from book stage to final stage. Pileggi has some interesting trivia on how the term "wop" originated, and Scorsese (when he's on the track) is his usual self, full of non-stop information (who would have thought some of his influence in this film was from Fellini's I Vitelloni?). It's loaded with participants, but there's not a lot of new information to be gained after listening to this. The second track, with Hill and FBI agent Edward McDonald, isn't that much better, as Hill seems to possibly be on something during this track, and seems only forthcoming whenever McDonald asks him something about a particular scene. Apparently, Paulie was a bit more brutal in real life, and Henry was a paratrooper for a few years before returning to the neighborhood. While he does sport a few memories that have a "those were the days" ring to them, he doesn't appear to regret turning over to the Feds, at least at this moment. McDonald's high level look at how the FBI stepped up surveillance and prosecution of the mafia is interesting to hear too. All in all, when lucid, it's fairly interesting.
The other features that are on Disc Two on the Special Edition are included on one disc (thank heavens for all the disc space now) and have been covered before in Judge Mike Pinsky's review, but to sum up, "Getting Made" is apparently a look at the film with a mix of old and new interview footage, but a lot of what's covered here was on the commentary. "The Goodfellas Legacy" features interviews with Jon Favreau (Swingers) Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), and other directors as they talk about Goodfellas from a fan and directorial appreciation, which is pretty good, but I would have liked to have seen this longer, and with some more people. A look at a gangster's life is next, with (mostly) interviews from the cast mixed with some interview footage with Hill, and a four minute montage of Scorsese's notes set to the final cut is included. The trailer wraps things up.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Hopefully before the technology platform changes again, Warner will go back and use this new technology to its fullest, because these extras are a bit hollow once you get past the commentaries. The film looks and sounds good, but not as good as it should (since we're waiting for receivers that can accommodate the sonic potential), so it should be interesting when it does.
Martin Scorsese has made two of the best films over the last quarter century in Goodfellas and Raging Bull. While it may not be as exhaustive as one would expect, the improved upon audio and video presentations of the film can safely assure us film and home theater enthusiasts that we're getting that much closer to home entertainment nirvana.
The court finds in favor of the filmmakers and the film and allows them to leave on their recognizance. Pay no attention to the large brown envelope that sits on the court's desk, and bring in the next case.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary with Director Martin Scorsese, Actors Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino and Frank Vincent, Co-screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, Producers Irwin Winkler and Barbara De Fina, Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and Editor Thelma Schoomaker
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