From Casino to New Jack City, Five Mafia Movies You Must See!
Just when you think you're out, alternative mafia greats like New Jack City pull you back in.
The International Film Series at the University of Colorado in Boulder is screening two films this weekend: Another Corleone: Another Sicily and The Mafia Kills Only in the Summer, one a documentary and the other a comedic take on the world so vividly captured by Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film adaptation of the novel.
The trilogy of Godfather films, made between 1972 and 1990, tell the story of the Corleone family in New York, whose business is organized crime, and what happens when the family's leader, Don Vito (played to the hilt by Marlon Brando), decides to transfer his kingdom to son Michael (Al Pacino). The films left an indelible stamp on cinema and inspiredmcountless filmmakers to put their own stamp on mob/Mafia movies that showed the underbelly of crime and bloodshed.
Another Corleone: Another Sicily documents the anti-Mafia sentiments of residents in the town of Corleone in Sicily, who have been fighting the stigma of mob ties since the runaway success of The Godfather, trying to take back their good name.
The Mafia Kills Only in the Summer skews typical conventions; it's a romantic comedy that takes its cues from Forrest Gump just as much as it does The Godfather. The film tells the fictional story of a young man in Sicily growing up alongside an anti-Mafia movement who gets caught up in real-life crime events on his way to capturing the heart of the girl he loves.
These two films were inspired by real events that influenced the Godfather films — but they are just the tip of a cinematic arsenal filled with dozens of films that regarded Puzo and Coppola’s masterstrokes as an offer they couldn't refuse to make their own Mafia movies. Here are five of the greatest but most underappreciated Mafia/mob films of the last few decades.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
The filmmaking career of Martin Scorsese has included some of the best mob stories around, mostly based on real-life crime legends, and his collaboration with writer Nicholas Peleggi led to one of the greatest crime films ever made: Goodfellas. Casino is an underseen gem that dramatizes the true story of Frank Rosenthal (Robert De Niro), who ran the Stardust, Fremont and Hacienda casinos in Vegas for the crime syndicate the Chicago Outfit in the ‘70s. De Niro himself is an actor who has steeped his career in crime films, including the superb Godfather II. His castmate, Joe Pesci, plays a version of real-life mob enforcer Anthony Spilotro here; an earlier role in Goodfellas set his career on fire. The real meat in Casino, though, comes from Sharon Stone playing Rosenthal’s wife, who gets in over her head when she begins to realize the truth of where the money for her lavish lifestyle really comes from. Stone goes into her role head-first and gives a boy's club genre a proper dose of feminine mystique.
4) Eastern Promises
Directed by David Cronenberg
Long known for his frightening tales of venereal and psychic horror (sometimes both at the same time!), David Cronenberg started a career shift with 2005’s A History of Violence and followed it up with 2007’s Eastern Promises, both starring Viggo Mortensen as men capable of deep, intense violence. Eastern Promises delves into the world of the Russian mafia populating London, following a midwife (Naomi Watts) whose efforts to find the family of a newborn girl whose young mother dies in childbirth land her in the inner workings of the mafia and uncovering a terrible secret. The biggest peek into the Russian underworld comes through Mortensen’s Nikolai Luzhin, a driver and “cleaner” for the mob clan, a career criminal whose his body is covered, neck to toes, in significant tattoos that detail a mobster’s history, specialties and overall commitment to Russian “family.” Even more impressive is the fight scene that pits Nkolai against two assailants armed with fists and knives, who attack a completely nude Mortensen in an epic hand-to-hand battle that ends in a lot of crunching bones and bloodshed.
3) New Jack City
Directed by Mario Van Peebles
Actor Mario Van Peebles co-starred in and made his directorial debut with this 1991 crime drama about a drug lord (Wesley Snipes) whose reign in New York City during the crack-cocaine epidemic comes under attack by a detective (Ice-T) who discovers the only way to get close to the kingpin is to go undercover as a drug dealer. Post-Godfather, Mafia movies added color to the mix, largely through Blaxploitation films. That move was kickstarted by Van Peeble’s father, Melvin, whose Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song became touchstone of the genre — but the younger Van Peebles showed a great talent for taking those elements and giving them a modern, creative spin. Along with a great crime story, New Jack showcased a killer rap/R&B soundtrack that created its own crime syndicate-themed music movement and attitude that shared its name.
2) Miller’s Crossing
Directed by The Coen Brothers
The third film from Joel and Ethan Coen, 1990’s Miller’s Crossing was a return to the crime/noir themes that had been so impressive in their debut, Blood Simple, before they turned heads with their wild, screwball comedy Raising Arizona. Miller’s plot concerns Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), an advisor to an Irish-American mob boss during Prohibition, whose decision to spare the life of a fallen employee ends up pitting Reagan against his own gang and a power-hungry rival gang leader intent on taking control of the city. The film is a strong entry for the Coen Brothers that shows their ability to play a period piece with the same twists, panache and charm that has become their career calling card; they revitalized the crime genre and the noir genre in one fell swoop. At the time, film critic Richard Corliss raved that this was “noir with a touch so light, the film seems to float on the breeze like the frisbee of a fedora sailing through the forest."
1) Married To The Mob
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Adding a healthy dose of levity to the seriousness of the crime film, Jonathan Demme’s 1988 comedy is a pivotal entry that did as much to change the direction of the mob film as it did to take some wind out of its sails. Married stars Michelle Pfeiffer as Angela de Marco, the long-suffering wife of Frank “The Cucumber” de Marco, the shining star of his crime family who is murdered by boss Tony “The Tiger” Russo (Dean Stockwell) over an indiscretion with his mistress. Seeing an escape from the humdrum mob future she sees in Russo’s wife Connie (Mercedes Ruehl), Angela flees — only to become the object of affection for Tony and a young FBI investigator (Matthew Modine) assigned to monitor Angela in an effort to bust the crime syndicate wide open. Married wears its darkness proudly over its leopard-print spots, adding a unique take on the crime film and giving Pfeiffer a hilarious and meaty role she could sink her teeth into, creating a role model for future mob wives, real and otherwise.
Another Corleone: Another Sicily screens at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 10, and The Mafia Only Kills in the Summer at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 11, both in Muenzinger Auditorium at the University of Colorado. Admission is free for both films — an offer you can't refuse! Find more details at internationalfilmseries.com.
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