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Casino: The Movie That Made Me Want to Watch Movies

Before Casino, I did not just sit down and watch movies. Movies were to me what white noise machines are to other people ““ a sound generator to keep me from getting bored when doing repetitive tasks, like knitting or FOIL algebra problems. All it took was Robert DeNiro in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 mafia crime drama to change how I viewed films for, well, I can’t say forever because I’m not there yet, but I’ve been really keen on movies ever since.

Casino was not exactly a follow-up, but sort of tied in with Scorsese’s film, Goodfellas, which was released in 1990 and has been sitting up on the pedestal of gangster flicks for the past two decades. Inspired by the real life of Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, Nicholas Pileggi, the author of Wiseguys (which was later adapted into Goodfellas by Scorsese and Pileggi), decided to write a book and screenplay about the role of the mob in 1970s Las Vegas. Sin City certainly lived up to its name.

Casino chronicles the rise and fall of the influence of the mob in the casinos in Las Vegas. Robert DeNiro, plays Sam “Ace” Rothstein (based on Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal), who is sent to Las Vegas by the mob to oversee the operations of the Tangiers casino (hence the title). Joe Pesci comes in as Nicky Santoro, a ““ you guessed it ““ mob enforcer whose main task is to make sure that the mob gets their money and none of the mobsters get too big for their britches. It’s Joe Pesci doing what Joe Pesci does best ““ getting loud, and violent in the name of organized crime.

While in Vegas, Ace meets Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone), a dancer and hustler, and falls in love with her. Ace and Ginger eventually marry, after Ginger has Ace’s child, but Ginger is much less enthusiastic about the marriage than Ace. The trio (Ace, Nicky, and Ginger) get caught up in a swirl of their desires, obligations, and duties. Like in Goodfellas, the rise and fall of the mob is chronicled through and mirrored by the main characters’ personal lives.

It’s hard to describe what it was like watching this movie for the first time. Robert DeNiro is a perfect fit for Martin Scorsese and the two while, OK having maybe an occasional misfire, work together beautifully here. DeNiro is self-possessed, alternating between threatening and charming, and subtly switching between being a passive player for the mob and an active man for himself. Pesci is Pesci and that’s a hell of an experience ““ a short, stocky man, Pesci is all the more threatening for looking like someone unlikely to be threatening.

Some movies chronicle a series of events that leads to an inevitable outcome. It’s a hallmark of Coen Brothers movies and they do it well. Here, and in Goodfellas, Scorsese manages the same trick – we see the inevitable ending, but we cannot look away. The inevitable becomes compelling through the characters, and that’s what sells the movie.

How about you? Have you seen any movies that made you fall in love with film? What movie changed how you viewed movies?

2 replies on “Casino: The Movie That Made Me Want to Watch Movies”

Don’t laugh, but Titanic did it for me. I love that movie. I think the script is awful and I almost always skip the present-day scenes, but when I saw that movie in theaters seven separate times I was riveted. Visually it is a stunning movie, and it is a technical masterpiece. I can still watch it today and marvel at the stagecraft involved. The costumes are perfect, the sets are perfect, the props are perfect, and it’s all so beautifully tragic. That is the film that for me got me interested in movies for more than just entertainment’s sake. I got the big picture-filled book they wrote about it that showed all kinds of things about how the set was built, how the costumes were researched and made, and how they used computers and models to show the sinking. It’s still my favorite movie for all those reasons.

My second favorite movie is Sunset Blvd, and it has a similar effect on me. I can marvel at all the actors and their surroundings, and I feel like I’m looking at LA in 1950, just like I feel as if I’m on the ship in 1912 for the fun and then the terror. Before seeing these two films, I had other movies that I liked, but these two are the ones that have the strongest emotions and memories tied to them. They are powerful films for me because of the emotions they evoke, and that’s why I love movies.

Of a similar sort of epic style to Titanic – it was Gone With the Wind that did it for me. Just the vastness of the film. I then watched the making of it and started buying books about it’s production. The thing that really made a difference was when I started seeing other movies with the stars of GWTW on tv so I started taping and watching those. Then I’d be curious about the other actos in those films and I’d start looking out for their movies and it just dominoed from there.

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