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Goodfellas: 25th Anniversary Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Goodfellas (1990) movie poster Goodfellas

Theatrical Release: September 21, 1990 / Running Time: 145 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Martin Scorsese / Writer: Nicholas Pileggi (book Wiseguy & screenplay), Martin Scorsese (screenplay)

Cast: Robert De Niro (James Conway), Ray Liotta (Henry Hill), Joe Pesci (Tommy DeVito), Lorraine Bracco (Karen Hill), Paul Sorvino (Paul Cicero), Frank Sivero (Frankie Carbone), Tony Darrow (Sonny Bunz), Mike Starr (Frenchy), Frank Vincent (Billy Batts), Chuck Low (Morris Kessler), Frank DiLeo (Tuddy Cicero), Henny Youngman (Himself), Gina Mastrogiacomo (Janice Rossi), Catherine Scorsese (Tommy's Mother), Charles Scorsese (Vinnie), Suzanne Shepherd (Karen's Mother), Debi Mazar (Sandy), Margo Winkler (Belle Kessler), Welker White (Lois Byrd), Jerry Vale (Himself), Julie Garfield (Mickey Conway), Christopher Serrone (Young Henry Hill), Elaine Kagan (Henry's Mother), Beau Starr (Henry's Father), Kevin Corrigan (Michael Hill), Michael Imperioli (Spider), Robbie Vinton (Bobby Vinton), Johnny Williams (Johnny Roastbeef), Daniel P. Conte (Dr. Dan), Tony Conforti (Tony), Frank Pellegrino (Johnny Dio), Ronald Maccone (Ronnie), Tony Sirico (Tony Stacks), Joe D'Onofrio (Young Tommy DeVito), Ileana Douglas (Rosie), Samuel L. Jackson (Stacks Edwards)

Buy Goodfellas from Amazon.com: 25th Anniversary Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

Goodfellas might just be the quintessential Martin Scorsese film. It didn't win any of the biggest Academy Awards like Raging Bull (Best Actor) or The Departed (Best Picture and Director). It didn't set the box office ablaze like Scorsese's recent collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio,
including Departed, Shutter Island, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Nonetheless, this 1990 movie is the perfect marriage of filmmaker and subject while delivering a winning blend equal parts style and substance.

Scorsese has often shown an interest in crime. Not in performing, condemning, or condoning it, but in depicting it dramatically. The fascination can easily be traced back to the director's upbringing in Manhattan's Little Italy, where he was exposed to local crime figures in the neighborhood and more notorious ones on the big screen, taking refuge there as an asthmatic boy unable to play sports. Scorsese's second film, Boxcar Bertha, was his first to depict criminals and it arrived the same year that The Godfather took the world of cinema by storm. The gangster movies that had been popular before Scorsese was even born had evolved into something more complex, sophisticated, and mature. The Italian-American cineaste would do his part to add to the trend.

Mean Streets, released in 1973, is considered Scorsese's first really significant contribution to the genre. Two movies later, Taxi Driver returned him to the seedy underbelly of his native New York and an exploration of the darkness that can enter a man's life. While Scorsese has departed from such themes time and again, often to positive results, his name still calls to mind a certain type of film: one with violence, retribution, four-letter words, and guilt.

Blurring the lines between protagonist, antihero, and villain, Scorsese's crime families boast broad appeal despite displaying moral codes far from those of viewers. That is because Scorsese's films, which bear his distinct imprint even though he infrequently takes writing credits, always keep in focus characters who are profoundly relatable regardless of their vices. His gangsters are not the menaces to societies of popular early sound films like Public Enemy and Little Caesar, but human beings trying to juggle relationships and families with their demanding line of illegal, immoral work that requires a tricky tightrope of honoring loyalties and eliminating any outside threat to one's way of life.

Goodfellas is Scorsese's opus, superior to the kindred tales of criminality that he has produced over the years, from the comparable, more expansive Casino to the director's efforts with DiCaprio, most recently the widely appreciated white collar epic Wolf. Despite its plentiful violence and dialogue more full of obscenities than any previous movie, Goodfellas is an extremely accessible film, one that doesn't glamorize turpitude but certainly humanizes it as a critical part of an alluring but fragile lifestyle replete with perks, power, and privileges.

Goodfellas is based on the true story of Henry Hill, with crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi adapting his 1986 book Wiseguy for his first film credit. After a glimpse of the trade's horrors, we meet the half-Irish, half-Sicilian Henry as a young teenager working his way up the organized crime ladder. By the time he is grown-up (and played by Ray Liotta), Henry is already a valued cog in the New York-based operation. As his responsibilities grow from selling stolen cigarettes to robbing trucks of more substantial merchandise, Henry has taken to heart the wisdom endowed by one of his mentors, Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro): "Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut."

Since he's not a full-blooded Italian, Henry cannot reach the mob world's untouchable highest status of made man. But he still commands respect and fear as an increasingly integral part of a family headed by Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) and including the short and short-tempered Tommy DeVito (an Oscar-winning Joe Pesci).

Goodfellas sweeps you up in its world of wealthy blue collar gangsters who take what they can. It's a lifestyle of class and comfort, where the drinks are always on the house, passionately home-cooked Italian food is overflowing, and anyone who questions the status quo stands the possibility of getting buried in the middle of the woods.

Henry meets Karen (Lorraine Bracco), a Jewish girl whom he soon makes his wife and the mother of his children. Attracted to the world afforded by Henry's work (he tells her he's a union delegate in construction) and not entirely shaken by its dangers, Karen nonetheless objects to certain aspects, like the gang's reliance on mistresses. There is some federal heat and Henry serves a relatively brief jail sentence, but the business continues to serve the Hill family well, even as Henry gets into the cocaine game -- and into cocaine -- against Paulie's instructions.

Scorsese immerses the viewer in this flavorful culture, at whose initial allure he gradually chips away. For a while, the crime aspect seems underplayed. No one's getting hurt and everyone, even the cops,
are getting a piece of the action. Eventually, we see that virtually no one escapes this underworld alive and even among your most trusted associates you're always looking over your shoulder in fear.

Set from the 1950s through the early '80s, the movie isn't overly absorbed with period recreation. The then-recent past is evoked primarily musically. Earlier segments feature songs by the likes of Tony Bennett, The Crystals, Bobby Darin, and Dean Martin. Later, Scorsese trots out music he has shown a greater affinity towards: his generation's enduring contributions to rock and roll, including multiple numbers by The Rolling Stones, tunes by two different Eric Clapton groups, and just a dash of The Who. These period needle drops are applied liberally, prominently and, in Henry's cocaine phase, frantically. Not just pleasing to our ears, they always suit the material exceptionally well.

Music is merely one tool in the arsenal of a director who is in full control of his craft. Scorsese also makes better use of voiceover narration than just about any other filmmaker has, injecting it with some of the humor and honesty that pervade the movie. There are powerful freeze frames that arrive without warning. And he and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus treat us to some of the most nimble camerawork ever. Whether or not you notice it, the big showstopping display of cinematic splendor comes in an impossibly long uninterrupted take weaving us behind the scenes of the Copacabana, where Henry takes Karen on a date, to a desirably-placed table set out just for them.

While Scorsese conveys the glamor of the gangster lifestyle, he also conveys its brutality, as in a hellish red taillight-lit car trunk stabbing, and its terror, such as unforgettable bout of paranoia fueled by cocaine and presumed law enforcement helicopters.

This film is often compared to The Godfather, the Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece that is more heralded than any other American film from the second half of the 20th century. It's an interesting comparison because the two dramas similarly place you inside these insulated, treacherous worlds of Italian-American New York criminals and captivate as very few films ever have. On the other hand, Coppola and Scorsese's films are markedly different in style, pace, language, and composition. They're both outstanding works of art and entertainment, as is The Godfather Part II. One need not express a preference among these films or overstate the parallels. Godfather is fiction, though influenced by real life. Goodfellas is based on a true story, though one undoubtedly incorporating some dramatic license and embellishment. There is no mistaking one for the other or accusing Scorsese of derivation. The two films happen to tackle similar subject matter in different eras and different ways. Both warrant an abundance of appreciation, which they have received steadily since their initial release.

While The Godfather may be more respected, which is unsurprising given that it got an 18-year head start, Goodfellas, without question, has had a greater influence on crime cinema. Its vast impact is felt in countless movies since 1990, both good and bad. Even the worst direct-to-video crime films frequently aspire to Scorsese's gold standard, often applying voiceover narration recalling Liotta's.

A perennial bestseller, Goodfellas is treated to yet another new release this week from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, a 25th anniversary edition, though per Warner practices, the packaging itself doesn't state that. Technically, this represents only the film's second Blu-ray Disc edition, though the first has been repackaged in a Digibook and Steelbook, given a bonus DVD, and repurposed into a double feature and a triple feature besides appearing in 2013's massive Best of Warner Bros. 90th Anniversary 50 Film Collection.
 

Goodfellas: 25th Anniversary Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Russian), Dolby Surround 2.0 (French, German, Italian, Spanish, Czech, Cambodian, Polish, Thai, Turkish), Dolby Mono 1.0 (Portuguese)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Castilian, Dutch, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Korean, Latin American Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Romanian, Thai, Turkish
Not Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled
Release Date: May 5, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Two single-sided discs (1 BD-50 & 1 BD-25)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Box with Book
Still available as 1-Disc DVD ($5.97 SRP; May 15, 2007), 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray ($24.98 SRP; February 16, 2010), and on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as Steelbook-Packaged Blu-ray (May 7, 2013), Original Blu-ray (January 16, 2007), Two-Disc Special Edition DVD (April 5, 2005) and in Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Thrillers (September 3, 2013), Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Contemporary Blu-ray (May 21, 2013), Best of Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection Blu-ray + UltraViolet and 100 Film Collection DVD (January 29, 2013), 4 Film Favorites: Martin Scorsese Collection DVD (October 16, 2012), Triple Feature Blu-ray (June 5, 2012), Double Feature DVD with Heat (March 13, 2012), and Martin Scorsese Collection DVD (August 17, 2004)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Goodfellas is as potent technically as it is dramatically and that is in no small part due to Scorsese's collaboration with repeat cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. For this 25th anniversary Blu-ray, their 1.78:1 compositions are treated to an all-new, 4K scan-derived remaster which really leaves no room for disappointment or improvement on this format. The transfer upholds the intended filmic look complete with faint grain. Otherwise, the sharp, detailed picture showcases the type of perfection you expect from a modern digital production. It marks a noticeable improvement over the film's original 2006 Blu-ray transfer.

Short of Klingon, Swahili, and Pig Latin, the Blu-ray piles virtually every language out there, offering most of them in both dubs and subtitles. Your interests however should lie in the default soundtrack, a fine 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix. As a 1990 film, Goodfellas isn't overflowing with directional surround effects. Still, its elements are nicely and evenly mixed, with a few deliberate peaks in volume standing out. Music, a pervasive component, breathes life into the proceedings without overpowering the crisp colorful dialogue and monologue that drive the film.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The first of this set's two discs is devoted purely to a movie that was long enough to require a platter you had to flip in the early days of DVD. Of course even in high definition, the film comfortably fits onto a single dual-layered Blu-ray. It is joined by two audio commentaries

The first assembles a wealth of talent in Martin Scorsese, actors Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino and Frank Vincent, author/screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, producer Irvin Winkler, executive producer Barbara DeFina. As you might imagine, all of these people were basically recorded separately (read: interviewed for other purposes) and patched together. Scorsese and Pileggi lead the way, with others popping up to share their thoughts.
It isn't the most screen-specific of commentaries, but it has value as they tackle such topics as casting experiences, research, filmmaking challenges, and a single clash with Warner. Speakers are identified before their remarks, helpfully since the crew members aren't ones you'd recognize by voice. The track does suffer from extensive quiet spells, leaving the film's audio to take over for long stretches without warning.

While you might assume everyone of importance made it onto that track, a second commentary features the real Henry Hill and prosecutor/witness protector Ed McDonald (who plays himself in the film). Not nearly as articulate as his portrayal, Hill, who passed away in 2012 some ten years after recording this, requires some guiding by McDonald, but still supplies obvious value with his screen-specific reflections on his dramatized life and the real-life counterparts of the characters. McDonald adds his own perspective, recalling the surveillance his team did on these figures. Reinforcing the reality (which is bizarrely considerable based on Hill's accounts), a few names are even bleeped out for legal purposes (most extensively, the real-life equivalent of the bewigged Morrie).

The bonus features disc begins with "Scorsese's GoodFellas" (29:54, HD), a brand new documentary produced for this release. It interviews Scorsese, Liotta, De Niro, Bracco, Winkler, Pileggi, Schoonmaker, Harvey Keitel, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Wolf of Wall Street screenwriter Terence Winter. There's some repetition if you've listened to the filmmakers' commentary, but if you haven't, this is a digestible, well-composed retrospective that delivers some original reflections along with complementary video.

"Getting Made" (29:38) is a featurette from 2002 which kindly serves up a lot of behind-the-scenes footage from production in addition to then-new interviews with cast and crew. Some of the same information is repeated from the same cast and crew sources, but again there's some unique content (particularly regarding the music cues and unfavorable test screening reactions) and it's interesting to look back on the film at a different time.

"Made Men" (13:35) allows other filmmakers to admire Goodfellas in detail. The likes of Antoine Fuqua, Jon Favreau, Frank Darabont, Richard Linklater and the Hughes Brothers sing the film's praises and acknowledge its influence on their work.

"The Workaday Gangster" (8:00) turns our attention to the depictions of organized criminals, with the real Henry Hill and others vouching for the film's authenticity.

"Paper is Cheaper Than Film" (4:30) preserves the scribbled notes and storyboards Scorsese used to plan the film over clips of the scenes for which they were drawn up.

The 2008 documentary Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film (1:45:13) celebrates the history of gangsters in film.

Narrated by Alec Baldwin, this thorough piece considers everything from silents to early talkies to parodies, with comments from Scorsese, a slew of film historians, and, via archival footage, classic gangster movie directors and actor Edward G. Robinson. Goodfellas and The Departed are barely touched upon, with this focusing much more on the tradition to which it belongs.

Warner's got the biggest catalog of any studio and they also put it to greater use than the rest. Proof of that comes in the inclusion of four vintage animated shorts, all of which include some gangster depictions. 1933's I Like Mountain Music (7:02) brings magazine cover subjects to life. From 1937, She Was an Acrobat's Daughter (8:39) spoofs the moviegoing process as it existed back then, with anthropomorphic animals seeing newsreels and other pre-show entertainment, and making mayhem in the projection booth. The cartoons conclude with a pair of younger Looney Tunes starring Bugs Bunny. Racketeer Rabbit (7:55, 1946) puts Bugs among gangsters modeled after Peter Lorre and Edward G. Robinson. Bugs and Thugs (7:14, 1954) virtually remakes Racketeer, with Rocky and Mugsy replacing the actor caricatures.

Finally, we get the original theatrical trailer for Goodfellas (1:30), a most welcome inclusion, though one you might wish was in HD. You know it's a '90s trailer by the use of "In a world" by voiceover icon Don LaFontaine.

Another major new addition is a hardcover book which shares the sturdy cardboard box with the standard eco-friendly keepcase holding the two discs and Digital HD UltraViolet insert. Though at first glance it appears to just be a picture book, the 40-ish page companion actually does include an uncredited introduction and essay which celebrate the film and put it into context for cinema at large. Drawing comparisons to subsequent works inspired by Goodfellas and the early films that must have influenced Scorsese, the text is not quite as highbrow and academic as one of Criterion's essays, but it does come close. In addition to a wealth of fitting illustrations (from film stills to behind-the-scenes images), the book also benefits from apparently archival quotations from Scorsese and other directors who admire this film. It's a very nice inclusion for not substantially escalating the list price.

The final item inside the box is a loose letter from Scorsese reflecting on the film with the passion you expect of him.

Each disc's static, silent menu simply adapts the oddly Joe Pesci-less cover art. The discs resume playback like DVDs, making their lack of bookmark support easily forgiven.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Goodfellas is an outstanding film made by a master filmmaker at the top of his game. Better on every viewing, this complex and compelling crime study gets its greatest home video release to date here. This 25th anniversary edition delivers a virtually flawless feature presentation, a wealth of substantial extras, a fine little companion book, and an enjoyable new documentary. Apart from some Goodfeathers segments, what more could you want?! This set deserves a spot in every collection consisting of twenty or more Blu-ray Discs.

Buy Goodfellas from Amazon.com: 25th Anniversary Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

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Martin Scorsese: Taxi Driver The Color of Money The Last Temptation of Christ New York Stories Hugo The Wolf of Wall Street
Ray Liotta: The Iceman Pawn Killing Them Softly | Robert De Niro: American Hustle Marvin's Room Jackie Brown
The Godfather Trilogy Scarface (1983) Jersey Boys Dick Tracy Thief Rob the Mob

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Reviewed May 6, 2015.



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