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GoodFellas Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 June 2006

ImageFrancis Ford Coppola gave moviegoers the story of royalty in the Mafia in his legendary “The Godfather” and its sequels, but Martin Scorsese delivers the goods on the blue collar working stiff in organized crime that had to deal with “made” men. Based on the non-fiction book by Nicholas Pileggi about the life and times of Henry Hill, a half-Italian, half-Irish hood who spent nearly thirty years as a wiseguy, the movie explodes with raw emotion and violence. The stellar cast provides flesh and blood to the gritty story, adding depth and layers, re-creating the real people that lived through those turbulent episodes.

Although the disc is billed as an HD DVD, “GoodFellas” suffers from a noticeable lack of digital quality. The images are not much more than two-dimensional and tend to have softness around the edges. Near the beginning of the film, the colors don’t seem as vibrant and look washed out. For film, for DVD, the picture quality is good. But the “GoodFellas” HD DVD experience simply doesn’t deliver.

The audio portion of the HD DVD suffers from the same lack of sharpness as the video. The only true separations of sound throughout the film that works well with the surround sound are the gunshots and spinning that hammer and underscore the onscreen action. During the rest of the film, the quality really isn’t much better than stereo. The voices and most of the action issues through the center and front speakers, although the music rolls steadily through the rear speakers and sounds really good. It’s a beautiful noise, but it’s just not a true surround sound experience. The movie starts off with a bang in Chapter 1. Three men in a car, with Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) at the wheel, drive late into the night. The two passengers are asleep, but a sense of foreboding and impending disaster clings to the action. A series of thuds makes Henry pull over to check for a flat. Instead of a flat, though, they discover that the sound is coming from the trunk. When Henry opens the trunk, they see that the man they believed they’d killed is still alive, wrapped in the bloody tablecloths they’d used to transport him. Tommy (Joe Pesci) steps up with a butcher knife and stabs the man some more, while Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) adds several shots from his .38. By then, viewers looking for a realistic and earthy crime story are in it up to their eyeballs.

Chapter 2 begins with a voice-over, Henry announcing to the world that he’d always wanted to be a gangster. In swift dialogue and film snippets, Scorsese pulls his audience into the story with the deft, sure hand of a seasoned stage magician. The director is making movie magic and the effort is seamless and intoxicating. In minutes, Henry’s family, neighborhood and world are clearly defined. Henry goes to work parking cars at the cabstand for the wiseguys, making money and learning how the hard men’s business works. It become clear that he isn’t just doing a job; he’s getting an education in crime. He’s also found where he belongs.

Unfortunately, in Chapter 3, Henry’s father–a hardworking Irishman with a temper and goals for his son–finds out that his son hasn’t been to school in months. He beats Henry. Afterwards, Henry tells the wiseguys at the cabstand that he has to quit his job. They don’t want to lose him, though, so they load up and go looking for the postman that delivers the mail to Henry’s house. After a swift, merciless beating, they convince the postman to never deliver anything from the school there again.

Chapter 4 has a good musical score. Unfortunately, the scene also points out the lack of true surround sound on the disc. The music comes from the rear speakers and emphasizes the fact that the audio isn’t separated very well. By Chapter 5, most of the people in the neighborhood had figured out who Henry is and who he represents. He starts getting a lost of respect, and he’s making more money than he can spend. When Henry smashes up a lot of cars later and sets them on fire, the resulting explosion blasts through the subwoofer for the first time.

Jimmy Conway, the Irish hoodlum whose life gets inextricably mixed up with Henry’s, is introduced in Chapter 6. People call him Jimmy the Gent, and he spreads money around everywhere he goes. Henry says that Jimmy loved to steal, and he was known as a hijacker in the criminal circles. He also paid enough to make the cops partners in every truck or warehouse he took down.

Henry gets arrested for selling stolen cigarettes in Chapter 7 and shows that he’s a stand-up guy, one who won’t rat out his friends. That endears him even more to the wiseguys.

Chapter 8 moves the story on into 1963 and the adult Henry Hill is revealed wearing gangster clothes and full of moxie. The facts and figures that are relayed in the movie, all culled from Pileggi’s book, are fascinating and layer in the reality of what’s going down on the screen.

One of the best scenes comes in Chapter 10. Tommy is telling a story about being arrested and Henry tells him he’s a funny guy. Tommy has a rep as a hard guy, one who deals out violence without batting an eye. He turns on Henry, and now is anything but funny. The tension that Scorsese slips into this scene is insidious, till the viewer doesn’t know for certain which way the ball is going to bounce.

Chapter 11 delineates how Paulie (Paul Sorvino) usually does business. A restaurant manager who’s run afoul of Tommy comes pleading for assistance, asking Paulie to come into the business as a partner. In the end, he does, then proceeds to strip the business clean and bankrupt the original owner and burns the restaurant for the insurance money.

Henry hits another major turning point in his life in Chapter 12. Pestered by Tommy to help him go out with a woman he’s after, Henry ends up on a date with Karen (Lorraine Bracco), but has no interest in her. After hurrying through the first date, he stands her up. Then Karen gets Tommy to look for Henry; he finds him at the cabstand. There, in front of all of his friends, Karen dresses Henry down, causing him to see her in a new light. The scene is rich and real, something that would have gone down on a neighborhood street, and still does in some neighborhoods. Attracted to Karen, Henry begins dating her, and the viewer gets a new take on his world as he gets preferential treatment everywhere he goes. It’s almost like the viewer is on the date as much as Karen is.

Chapter 14 moves back into the thieves’ business, but the whole thing is done while Henny Youngman does a voice-over of jokes. Henry goes with Karen into her world in Chapter 15, but is definitely out of his league. Chapter 16 shows Henry rising to defend Karen’s honor as the country club guy gets forward with her. Henry takes her home, then pistol-whips the guy in front of his buddies.

The subwoofer and surround sound get a bit of a workout at Henry’s marriage to Karen in Chapter 17, then again in Chapter 18 when Karen’s mom goes nuts when Henry doesn’t come home at night and he and Tommy race off with tires squealing. The gunshots in Chapter 19 when Tommy celebrates a big score hammer the subwoofer, but the surround sound pieces just don’t satisfy.

Chapter 20 sets up the opening scene. The guy in the trunk comes goes up hard against Tommy, who freaks out and kills him in Chapter 21. The problem is, the man is a “made” guy and is supposed to be untouchable by anyone. Jimmy and Henry have to help get rid of the body.

When Tommy stops by his mom’s house to get a shovel and accepts her invitation to breakfast for the three of them, the scene illustrates how strange the life of a professional “wiseguy” was. Stealing and killing people was just the nature of the work, but there was always time for family. Later in the chapter, the story loops around to that night with the body in the trunk and continues from there.

The movie continues on, detailing the lives of Henry, Jimmy and Tommy, showing the violence and the excesses, and the very human side of them and the crime business. When Karen finds out that Henry has a girlfriend, she goes to the apartment in Chapter 26 and screams through the intercom. Her voice, when she’s off screen and the focus is on Janet, the girlfriend, comes from the rear speakers, giving a feel for the placement. Again, that just emphasizes how much the HD experience lacks on this disc.

The special features section offers a lot in the way of how the film was made, what the people were doing while it was being made, and how much went into making it. The cast and crew commentaries are a nostalgic walk for those people. “GoodFellas” was an enduring romance for them and it shows in their voices and comments. The documentaries offer a lot in the way of understanding the world of cops and robbers, and of the people who brought the story to the written page and finally to the screen. Pileggi tells how much Scorsese taught him and brought him along to make the picture, and Liotta and Bracco talk about the experience with awe and love in their voices. The storyboard-to-screen comparisons are great to have, and it’s good to see how Scorsese’s vision came about and took its final form.

“GoodFellas” as an HD DVD sounds like a good idea. However, the disc doesn’t live up to the HD experience. The video, when looking at the technical aspects and not the story, is lifeless and uninspired. In fact, during the first half of the movie the colors actually look a little washed out. The audio presentation, though crisp and clear for the most part, is insipid compared to the sound of true HD DVD disc. Even the special features have been included on the special 2-disc collector’s set. One of the pluses about this disc is that everything gotten on regular DVD that was separated on two discs is now on one convenient disc with one of the smoothest and greatest entertainment interfaces out there.

“GoodFellas” is an awesome movie. Anyone who loves crime movies will have to add this one to their collection. The actors and actresses were inspired by one of the best directors Hollywood has ever turned out, and the story was lifted by the author from a book that caught worldwide attention when it was published.

However, anyone who owns the “GoodFellas” special two-disc edition in standard DVD would be advised to take a pass on this HD DVD. Nothing has been improved, except for the two discs to one disc with the amazing interface–and that might be enough for some. But for those who have resisted buying the special two-disc set, there are extras here worth taking a look at as a rental before making a decision to buy. This is truly an outstanding movie.

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