Sunday, September 22, 2013

Casino Blu-ray SteelBook (Import) (2013)

Casino Blu-ray SteelBookThis new "Special Edition" is a watered down version of last year's Anniversary Edition. Usually this is a bad thing. However, since Universal can't seem to figure out how to make a DVD-18 work properly, it's actually good they have seen fit to release this title as a single-sided, dual-layered DVD. Unfortunately, in doing so they have dropped most of the extras found on the Anniversary Edition. Still found on this release are the deleted scenes, the commentary and one of the featurettes.

Why they didn't decide to do 2 DVD-9's for this is beyond comprehension, but at least they've dropped the list price a few dollars.

My rating is for the overall the release, although in my opinion both the film and the transfer on this release get 5 stars. Colors are vivid and rich, and detail is very fine.

In closing, if you're not a "special features" junkie, definitely get this release, as it's much more likely to play properly. If you must have the Anniversary Edition, make sure you play the disc right away, because most likely, it will have problems.

Casino is nothing less than a Scorcese masterpiece, based primarily on the true story of the violent life and death of Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, who was the mob's chief enforcer during the early 70's, while protecting the mob's gambling interests run by Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal. As someone interested in the development of the American mafia, Casino is a brilliant translation of the building of Bugsy Siegel's vision in the desert up to the gaudy haven for high rollers that it was during the 70s. This movie brings the dusty pages of Las Vegas history to life. Spilotro was the real thing; Joe Pesci gives us only a taste of how brutal he really was. His death in a mid-west cornfield was the final act of this particular chapter in Las Vegas history. This is perhaps Scorsese's most underrated film, Casino contains one of De Niro's finest performances--his Sam Rothstein is controlled, nuanced, quiet, contemplative, depressed, ambitious, and furious. De Niro plays all these sentiments at once, and he ultimately creates a character that may not be Scorsese's most likable but is certainly his most mesmerizingly believable. The film's rare dual voiceover is so well executed, as Pesci and De Niro's characters fight for control over the storytelling just as they battle for power over Vegas. This film is flamboyantly stylized-In many ways it is about style. There are as many flashy whip-turns and ironic soundtrack selections as there are peach blazers and white pantent leather loafers. If you want a film that is at once great entertainment and moving art, watch Casino, and let Scorsese transport you back to a rare moment in American history: "The last time tough guys like us we're ever given anything that 'effing' valuable."

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I was born in Chicago, and my father went to Stienmetz high school with Tony Spilotro, the mobster portrayed in this film by Joe Pesci. I grew up listening to stories about "the Ant" (not flattering), and when he was finally whacked, my old man (a reporter for the Chicago Sun Times) wrote what amounted to his obitiuary. In it he recalled such charming Spilotro antics as the time he threw acid at a girl who had rebuffed his advances and the time he tried to split open my dad's head, and thus prevent my birth, with a T-square during shop class. To top it off, I recently discovered my Dad's old yearbook (1955 or so), in which he and the future boss of Las Vegas are standing in true 1950s glory (slicked hair, plaid shirts, everybody wearing horn-rimmed glasses) next to each other on picture day.

So I guess you could say I had a personal interest in seeing how Marty Scorcese and his "Goodfellas" crew would tackle the subject of transplanted Chicago mobsters in the neon desert. My final verdict: they all did a hell of a job.

Pesci, as "Nicky Salerno" (all the names have been changed to protect the guilty) is just as horrifying and vicious here as he was as "Tommy DiVito" in "Goodfellas"; Pugnacious, bloodthirsty, bad-tempered, arrogant, and paranoid, but also capable of humor, loyalty and a certain weird charm. Some would say he was just playing the same character again, and yeah, he is, but he's so damn good at it, who cares?

Bobby D is superb (what else?) as "Ace Rothstien" -the micro-managing, ego-maniacial Chicago handicapper and casino boss who trades in on his friendship with mobsters to become a big time player in Vegas, and promptly realizes he's let the snake in the manger. Nicky is what mobsters call a "Cowboy" -a crazy, reckless hoodlum who thinks with his fists (or his gun, or the sharp end of a pen, or a telephone, or whatever's handy) and creates more wreckage than profit. He also attracts the attention of the Feds and the Nevada Gaming Commission, who soon make Ace's life miserable, and more importantly, begin to interfere with the Mob's ability to "skim" Casino profits back to Chicago. And if you know anything about the Outfit (as it is called there), you know N O B O D Y is going to interfere with their profits and get away unscathed.

"Casino" is one of those movies where you watch bad guys get their hands on something really big, and drive it straight into the ground. Things blow up, people get beaten and whacked, fortunes are made and squandered, and monster egos crash against each other like bumper cars. There are many similiarities to "Goodfellas" except the stakes are much higher, and like "Goodfellas" there is not a character you really can root for -Ace is miserly, controlling, egocentric and arrogant, Nicky is a straight up homicidal maniac, and Stone's character is your typical scheming, treacherous hooker-hustler. A lot of people felt this movie was the same thing, with the same cast, done not quite as well, and indeed, "Casino" is not as good as "Fellas" but it is a very good movie all the same. If "Fellas" had never been made, this might be a top-5 Mob movie of all time. I recommend it to anyone with a gangland fetish, 80's nostalgia and strong stomach.

And by the way, the actor Frank Vincent, who gets revenge on Pesci in this film (with a baseball bat) for twice getting the best of him in previous Scorsese movies ("Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas"), actually bears a stronger resemblance to the real Tony Spilotro than Joe Pesci does....wierd.

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The movie is without doubt a perfect union with mean streets and goodfellas. But let's face it, why do we click into a certian HD DVD on amazon, we know whether or not we like the movie, right? We want the goods on the picture quality! Let me tell you something even if you can't take the needed violence in this movie, get it. Even if you can't stand all the foul language, get it. Even if you think Sharon Stone got her acting degree out of a cereal box, get it! Let me tell you something, this three hour epic looks mind numbingly stunning. I literally sat in awe at the sheer beauty of it, I mean what could possibly show of HD DVD picture quality than vegas' bright lights and scorsese' masterful direction? Casino, that's what. Do yourself a favor and get this disc right now because if you don't; Nicky will come back with a bat and if you beat him with a bat, he'll come back with a knife and you beat him with a knife, he'll come back with a gun and if you beat him with a gun, you better kill him because he'll keep comin' back, and back until one of you is dead.

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I mean that statement in two ways. First, in my humble opinion, this is Martin Scorcese at his finest. This is better than Goodfellas by a wide margin. All of the regulars give awesome performances in this (even Sharon Stone, who I can't stand!). If you like mafia pictures, this is the BEST one to own. I also mean that it's a great picture due to the fact that it's on HD-DVD. The picture is astonishingly vivid and clear and the lights of Las Vegas really jump out of the television. It's almost 3-D ! The extras are ample, but I'd say adequate. That's the reason I give it 4 stars instead of 5. There is the obligitory commentary, deleted scenes, and a couple featurettes. It's all whipped cream and a cherry on top of an excellent sundae ! I do like that you can watch the extras and the movie at the same time with commentary running. This and Batman Begins are the reasons you should own an HD DVD player ! Note: I have the HD DVD drive attached to my Xbox 360 and it works brilliantly !

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