Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tom G Film Review: Harry and Tonto

"Harry and Tonto" is Paul Mazursky's road movie about an old man and his cat. But more than that, it's a story about about life and change.

Harry Coombes (Art Carney) is a seventy-two year old, retired school teacher and widower. He lives alone in his Manhattan apartment with Tonto, his cat and closest companion. He spends most of his day talking about life with his friends, Tonto always by his side. His neighborhood is, as Harry states it to Tonto, "becoming run-down". He's been mugged four times in the past year. Still, he loves his neighborhood and enjoys the company of his city friends, but alas, his building is on the slate to be demolished. Resistant to the very end, with the rock-solid determination that only a seventy-two year man can muster, Harry and his furniture are carried out of the building by police who are also kind enough to chase-down the hoodlum who recently mugged him.

Harry's son, Burt, gladly takes-in Harry and Tonto allowing them to live with him and his dysfunctional family in suburban Long Island. Life with Burt and his family, away from the city, prove a difficult adjustment for Harry. A failed apartment hunt and the heartbreaking death of Harry's good friend, Jacob, prove a turning point in Harry's life. With nothing but a couple of suitcases, his fedora, his social security and Tonto, Harry sets-out on a journey to experience life and the world he never could as a younger man.

On their way to Los Angeles to see Harry's son, Eddie (Larry Hagman), Harry and Tonto meet a colorful and varied cast of characters including: Ginger, a sixteen-year-old runaway; Jessie, Harry's (now senile) high school sweetheart; Harry's daughter, Shirley (played by Ellen Burstyn); a "snake oil" salesman; a traveling prostitute named Stephanie; Sam Two-Feathers (Chief Dan George), an indian medicine man who cures Harry's bursitis. Eventually, Harry and Tonto make it to Los Angeles where they find that Eddie is a financially ruined wreck. We are also confronted with a heartbreaking loss.

Throughout "Harry and Tonto" Harry reflects on his life and the changing world around him, Tonto seems to listen. Harry and Tonto have a relationship unlike any pet-owner relationship ever seen on screen. Tonto is more than Harry's pet, and Harry more than Tonto's owner. They are true and loving friends, when Harry talks, Tonto listens. Not as a pet, but as a confident, a sidekick, an equal. The loss at the end of the film is truly, truly heartbreaking. This is especially poignant when you learn that Art Carney did not like cats, but being the consummate performer that he was, he are convinced of Harry's love for Tonto.

Paul Mazursky had under his belt the successes of "Bob&Carol&Ted&Alice" (1969), "Alex in Wonderland" (1970), and "Blume in Love" (1973), all of which were films that examined the changing times and reflected the open attitudes of the period. "Harry and Tonto" seems to step-back a little and look at the changing world through the looking glass of an aging man who sees the changes not as a participant, but as an observer with a seasoned eye.

 All of the performances, just about without exception are perfect. They are just what they're supposed to be. Art Carney, who found fame playing Ralph Cramden's foolish neighbor, proves his worth with this film. He was made for the role, and the role written just for him. The relationship between Harry and Tonto, Harry's reflections and digressions about the past, the present, and the meaning of life, along with Bill Conti's beautiful soundtrack make "Harry and Tonto" a tear jerker. Harry reminds you of your grandfather, and with that, all of the emotions attached are used by Mazursky to bring-out the audience's sympathy and emotional grounding. The only type of person who can view "Harry and Tonto" and not have tears in their eyes by the end are sociopaths.

With that, I recommend "Harry and Tonto" to anybody... ANYBODY.

Friday, December 30, 2011

More Sordid Tales from 2011...

Another moment of Motor City Madness the weekend. A deranged assailant stepped into a Detroit police precinct on Sunday and opened fire with a hand cannon on four officers. The gunman was killed by officers in a barrage of bullets, none of the four officers were killed or seriously injured. The true victim of this weekend warfare was a sprinkled donut that was hit by a stray bullet. A memorial service will be held at a local Dunkin' Donuts. Expected to attend are Detroit's Mayor, Police Commissioner, and a dozen of his best friends and family. The victim's cousin Chocolate Eclair could not be reached for comment.

Old News but always Good News: That tough little city across the Delaware River, Camden NJ, lost half of it's police and fire departments after negotiations between each respective union and the city fell-through. The reason for the lay-offs, Camden just doesn't have the bread. For a city that's been running on empty for forty-years to say that, you know the situation is serious. Blighted Camden's nefarious reputation for blatant, and more often than not, violent lawlessness -that's with a police department- is well known. Our in-house gypsy mystic, Cleo LeScam, has looked into her crystal ball, and the prognosis is not good. "I see a shooting, blood, and some Won-Tan soup." Basically, shit's 'bout to get raw in Camden. From where this onlooker stands, I suggest that everybody... STAY OUT OF CAMDEN, NJ!!! To those who can get-out of Camden, do yourself and your family a favor and get-out. To those who can't leave; lock you doors, batten your hatches, collect you provisions, gather-up the arsenal, muster the kinsfolk, and stay away from windows. Those streets are about to see more than their already fair share of bloodshed. To the Camden's overworked and underpaid cops with a mad-on, its pushers with more guns than fingers, and its gang-bangers on a spree; try not to hit anybody who doesn't have it coming. Funerals are just too expensive, especially when you're on welfare.

News from Libya: Protests in the North African country have turned violent. The death toll is not known precisely, as media coverage is being very restricted. Best told, the number in nearing 100. Well, I think we can all stand behind the Libyan people here. When your county's flag is just a plain green box and your oppressive ruler has a Jheri Curl, something needs to change...

News Flash: Gadhafi's son killed in NATO airstrike. Moammar Gadhafi's sixth son and four of his grandchildren were killed in a NATO air strike on the Gadhafi family compound in Libya. Gadhafi seems to be feeling the heat, as he is looking to negotiate a cease-fire with NATO. The half of Libya rebelling against him are, however, a different story. NATO officials have denied ordering Gadhafi or his family targeted in the air strikes. Then again, what does NATO know about the art of war. War is brutal. Gadhafi has shown no mercy towards his own people. His personal army has been brutalizing and killing them for months. They are, with what limited and impotent support they get from NATO, fighting back. As this whole ugly affair drags-on, and gets more shocking, bloody, and aimless, NATO is going to try and relinquish their stake in it. Why? Because NATO doesn't believe that war should involve death and destruction. Well, that's the very nature of war. When you dance the dance, you pay the piper; as Gadhafi has recently found-out. NATO is willing to throw death at him, but when you dance with darkness, with darkness you WILL dance. NATO doesn't want to deal with that simple truth. If people will die, they will die. That is war. If NATO is willing to deal death, then they must be willing to take lives, without apology.

WTRB International News Flash: Osama Bin Laden is DEAD!! After so many years, it has been confirmed that Muhammad's mad man on earth has been killed. Bin Laden was iced by an unmanned drone attack, probably somewhere between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Let's hope he died a horribly agonizing death and is suffering in Hell for ever more. For more in-depth coverage, WTRB has interviewed Bin Laden brother, Mitchell Bin Laden, a comic book collector, and ironically, a builder from Toledo, Ohio. "Osama was a cool guy in high school," said Mitchell, "everybody really liked him alot. He was even voted 'Most likely not to become a terrorist'. Then it just went down-hill, you know, man. He started smoking grass, drinking, watching Fire and Ice, running with a bad crowd." There you have it, folks; "Then it just went down-hill." After ten long years, and a hell of a body count, Osama Bin Laden, the wickedest man of our age, is dead.

WTRB News Flash: Suffolk County Beach is dumping ground of death... Gilgo Beach and it's surrounding area, a beach in Long Island, are now officially the cheapest burial plots on the Eastern Seaboard. In an investigation into a string of serial murders, the Suffolk County Sheriff's Dept, the New York State Police, and the FBI have been finding numerous body parts in various states of decay all over a Long Island Beach. The number of bodies buried in shallow graves along the coastal area may in fact number into the dozens, possibly involving different crimes, spanning over years if not decades. After several months of digging, they are still finding remains. This pile of bones started during an investigation into the disappearances of a number a women, some of who were prostitutes. It is unclear as to who the possible killer is, or even if there is more than one killer, or even if the remains found are connected to the same crimes. Given the isolated beach's proximity to the Big Apple, any number of scenarios are possible. A mad man of a spree, Mob "wet work", cult activities, or any combintation of the three or more.  All we know is that our resident mortician and necromancer, Mortimer Grimm, really wants to know where those bones are for... personal reasons.

WTRB News Flash: Smoking ban takes effect in NYC Parks and Plazas:  A new ban on smoking in parks, promenades, and plazas was put into effect today in the city that never sleeps. The bill was signed into law in February. Although it will be illegal to smoke in parks and such in NYC, the NYPD will not by any means be responsible for enforcing it, instead the burden will be on the good citizens of the Big Apple to report violators. Our question is that in NYC, a city with more than 500 murders a year and one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country is concerning itself with people smoking on the Coney Island Boardwalk. Secondly, in the city notorious for people pissing behind dumpsters, brown bagging on the subway, and getting blowjobs in the back of yellow cabs, does anybody really expect the average New Yorker to report smokers to the health department. We didn't either.

WTRB Newsflash: Edwards indicted, Jack Kevorkian dies at 83... Former presidential candidate John Edwards was indicted in a Federal court this morning for misappropriation of campaign funds. Included in the charges are the accusations that Edwards used some of the monies to hide his extramarital lover in 2008. Upon hearing the news, Edwards current wife, a blow-up by the name of "Laurel" deflated and filed for divorce. "Dr. Death" Jack Kevorkian has died at the age of 83 from a myriad of illnesses in a Detroit area hospital. And no, he did not use his own machine, Richard!!

WTRB Newsflash: Hell on Ice in Vancouver... A riot broke-out in Vancouver, Canada this past week over the defeat of the Canucks hockey team in the Stanley Cup finals. 150 were hospitalized with less than life threatening injuries and 100 others were arrested. Hehehe, if this happened in the US people would have been killed.

WTRB Newsflash: Porno OK to view at library... A Morris County woman complained after her son saw a man viewing pornography on a computer at a public library. Library officials told the woman that since it's a public library, interfering with the man's activity would be in violation of the first amendment. 

Our question is this: why would you want to look at porn in front of a room full of strangers? And even more importantly; what ever happened to taking a copy of Penthouse into the bathroom with you?

WTRB News Flash: Today's Headlines... Rupert Murdoch has official suspended his bid to buy-out British Sky Broadcasting.

The Federal Government continues to stall on debt deal... looks like gramma isn't getting her social security check. So long National Park Service.

Security Guards are NOT real law enforcement, according to a study done by the Upstairs College of Beverly Hills.
WTRB NEWSFLASH: SPREE IN NORWAY... A 32 year old man has been apprehended after a deadly bombing and shooting spree in Norway left 84 people dead on Friday. The man, a farmer, was described as being right-wing. The event was a major shock to the Northern European country were murders are uncommon and spree killings are even less common. All we here at WTRB can suggest to Norway is that they put-off firing postal workers for a while. We in America know that lesson from experience.

WTRB Newsflash: Alex Trebek stops hotel thief... A San Francisco woman pleaded Not Guilty to charges of attempted robbery in connection to a hotel robbery in the Golden Gate city. She was caught after being chased down by "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek. He was able to catch her but suffered a ripped Achilles Tendon in the pursuit. 

"For eight-hundred. This Canadian game-show host can really kick ass? Answer. Who is Alex Trebek?"

WTRB Newsflash: Vagrant beaten to death at hands of Police... There was public outrage at a Fullerton, CA town hall meeting regarding the alleged beating death of a 37-year-old vagrant at the hands of police officers on July 5th. The reportedly schizophrenic vagrant was stopped by Fullerton police, who searched his bag. When the man tried to run away, witnesses say that the gang of officers restrained him, tased him more than five times, then proceeded to beat him unconscious outside of the bus stop where the incident took place. The man died five days later.

The incident was reportedly recorded by one of at least 80 witnesses at the scene. The man is also said to have cried for mercy, then cried "Dad, Dad" as the six policemen beat and tortured him, leaving him a puddle of blood. All six policemen have been put on "Paid Administrative Leave" pending the results of an investigation by the District Attorney and the FBI. An enraged public has also called for the resignation the Fullerton's Chief of Police. 

All six officers could face possible state murder charges and federal civil rights violations charges if found at fault in the incident. With eighty witnesses telling the same story, video evidence, and a vengeful public; those charges seem very likely.

WTRB Newsflash: Blow-Up in Britain: The riots that began in the Tottenham section of London on Saturday night have spread across the city and the country to other major cities in England. Protests over a police shooting degenerated into a wide spread orgy of arson and larceny as lecherous looters and wild youths cut a path of frenzied, senseless, and uncontrollable destruction and violence across the city. Hundreds have been arrested, hundreds injured, and riot police routed. British PM, David Cameron has promised hard and heavy action to quell the mayhem. 

Most tragically, a biscuit and a cup of Earl Grey were killed by a hungry bobby. When asked to comment about the deaths, Folgers, the tea's American cousin had this to say, "It's a tragedy, a real tragedy, why'd he have to die like that. Cousin Earl was just in the wrong place at the wrong time." "Just in the wrong place at the wrong time..." perhaps the defining line for the turmoil of 2011.

WTRB Newsflash: Libya Libre... After days of fighting and swift victories, Libyan rebels have taken most of Tripoli, the capital city of the Middle-Eastern country, and former seat of power for Moammar Gaddafi and his regime. 

First fell the outer suburbs, which willingly and gleefully handed themselves over to rebel forces. As the Rebel Army moved more and more into to city, the fighting grew more intense as Gaddafi, who has yet to be found, fled the city, and the remainents of his forces continued to battled rebels in a last-ditch effort to defend the city. 

Eventually the rebels broke-through building-to-building combat and sniper fire, reaching Gaddafi's compound, which for months had been attacked over and over by NATO air sorties. After a long battle, the rebel finally took the compound and proceeded to loot it. The battle is not quiet over yet, as final vestiges of Gaddafi support hold a hotel and continue attacks on Tripoli's international airport.

Despite months of brutal fighting, heavy casualties, and in this battle alone, at least 1300 dead, and many more wounded, the atmosphere amongst the rebels and the population of Tripoli seems to be one of celebration and relief as the 42-year-reign of Moammar Gaddafi comes to a final and undignified end.

WTRB Newsflash: Scavengers love Irene...  
Monroe, New Jersey is cracking down on scavengers looking through discarded goods in the wake of Hurricane Irene. Police have stepped-up enforcement at the behest of residents who want to protect their unwanted garbage. 

Why let somebody take that unwanted couch off your lawn when you can just as easily let it rot and fester for months. Gotta love Jerseyites; they hate guns but they love smelly, water damaged piles of old crap.

WTRB Newsflash: Kids in Koffins... A Scanton, Pennsylvania couple is accused of forcing their eight-year-old son to sleep in a coffin as punishment. A warrant for the couple's arrest has been issued by the Lackawanna County Sheriff's Department.

To opine about sleeping in a coffin, we here at the Top Radio's Best newsroom say, don't knock it until you've tried it...

2011: Review of a Year In Hell

As we are now on the verge of New Year's, 2011, perhaps now is as good a time as any to look back at the insanity, bedlam, decay, rage, sleaze and disaster that was 2011 AD. It was a year of fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, Wall Street wackiness, psychotic politics, riots, shootings, a hurricane, terrorism, and of course, the year that gave us "Cowboys and Aliens".

The year began with the overthrow of Arab dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. In the case of Tunisia, there was very little violence, in the case of Egypt, a "60 Minutes" reporter was nearly gang raped, and in the case of Libya, Moammar Gadhaffi's regime fell after months of warfare and he was shot in the face after being dragged-out from under a septic tank. Nice.

That spring saw an earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan, killing thousands. Osama bin Laden (the most wanted man in the world) was killed by Navy Seals in a covert operation. His hideout apparently contained pornography and he tried to use a woman as a human shield.

The US Government nearly shutdown due to a budget crisis. Major rioting broke-out in London, England resulting in millions of dollars in damages due to arson and looting. That summer also saw a bombing and shooting spree in Norway that left 77 people dead.

Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast of the United States. It passed over the Mid-Atlantic. It was not the "Storm of The Century". (Sorry Jim Cantore) Of course, Irene only hit AFTER a magnitude 5 earthquake hit the area. The winter of 2011 saw record-high snow fall. In fact, New York City was SO hit by the succession of blizzards that garbage piled-up for weeks in some places and when the snow melted, dead bodies were found in the mountains of trash. The summer of 2011 saw near record-high temperatures.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn (manager of the International Monetary Fund) was charged with sexual assault and kidnapping in New York City after being accused by a African maid at Strauss-Kahn's hotel in Manhattan. After a week in Riker's Island, DSK was released on bail. After a little digging by the New York City prosecutor's office, the accusing maid's story fell apart. It seems she told multiple varying versions of what happened, and had made phone calls about possibly profiting from the scandal. The charges against Stauss-Kahn were dropped and he returned to France.

Arizona Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in the head during a public appearance at a Safeway in Tuscon Arizona. The shooter, Jared Lee Loughner shot another 20 people in the incident, 6 of whom died. He was apprehended and awaits trial. Giffords survived the attack.

Jerry Sandusky, former assistant coach for Penn State's football team was charged with molesting several boys. Legendary coach, Joe Paterno, was fired after admitting to knowing that Sandusky was using Penn State's showers to have sexual relations with under-age boys.

The US and World economies spent the year between stagnant and decline due to a paralyzed real estate market and debt crisis face US and European governments.

The TSA came under fire for using invasive and crude methods for screening passenger boarding all US flights. In some cases, young children get groped by TSA officers and cancer patients are forced to remove their prosthetic limbs. 

The Occupy Wall Street Movement made a name for itself in 2011. Demonstrations, encampments, police brutality, and a rabble of youth, college students, professor's, Union scum, a "South Park" episode and piles of piss and shit on the sidewalks of many American cities made the 99% movement a movement to remember.

North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-il, died. Won Ton was succeeded by his son. 

The year closed with a less-than white Christmas and a sigh of relief that the earth didn't explode, although, it probably came close. Happy New Year, and may 2012 give us all a friggin' break.

Deaths: Gerry Rafferty (Singer Songwriter), Elizabeth Taylor (Actress), Sidney Lumet (Film Director), Randy Savage (Wrestler, Slim Jim connoisseur), Jeff Conaway (Actor), Jack Kevorkian (Dr. Death), Peter Falk (Actor, Columbo), Betty Ford (First Lady 1974-1977, Gerald Ford's wife), Charles "Bubba" Smith (Football Player), Smikin' Joe Frazier (Boxer)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tom G Film Review: Dawn of the Dead

In 1968, George A. Romero, a film student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania made a low budget horror picture about a group of people stranded in a farm house after fleeing a hoard of zombies. The film was darkly funny, stark, and had something to say. "Night of the Living Dead", which was made ad hoc with the help of neighbors and its gore effects supplied primarily from a local butcher, became an instant classic. An iconic horror film, and THE  iconic zombie movie. Romero's low-budget, darkly relevant look at society and the goings-on of the late '60's single handed started a movie genre; the zombie movie.

Ten years later, George Romero returned to the genre with another dark, humorous, and saucy commentary on the state of American society with "Dawn of the Dead" (1978). Although still an independent film, Romero had a larger budget to work with,  the talents of special effects virtuoso Tom Savini, and the Monroeville Mall outside of Pittsburgh to use at night. The result was another landmark zombie picture loaded with commentary, dark humor, and perhaps the most glorious gore of the 1970's.

The plot is fairly straight forward. As the world devolves into a zombie-infested bedlam devoid of law or order, Philadelphia television studio employee Francine (Gaylen Ross) and her boyfriend, TV helicopter pilot Stephen (David Emge) steel the station's helicopter in an attempt to escape the doomed city. Philly SWAT team members Peter and Roger (Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger) meet after a brutal and chaotic raid on a zombie-infested Housing Project. Armed and disillusioned, they, like Fran and Stephen, decide to make a run for it. The two pairs meet and decide to team-up finding strength in numbers and SWAT guns. After crossing Pennsylvania, they end-up finding refuge in a huge, powered, watered, and well stocked shopping mall. After clearing the mall of its plethora of  zombies (former shoppers as one would conclude) and losing a teammate, the group do what anybody would do if they were locked in the mall alone and without law... they loot it. Eventually the elation of raw and unadulterated amassing and exploitation of all the mall has to offer wears off, and another round of disillusion sets in. Before the survivors can move-on, the mall is discovered by a marauding horde of bikers led by an unnamed  leader (played by Tom Savini) who crash the tranquil cloister of this shopper's paradise. The film ends with a final battle between the survivors, the bikers, and the zombies.

"Dawn of the Dead" is not a "shock horror" movie. There are no surprises around the corner, no jump scares, and the zombies themselves are by no means scary or intimidating. If anything, Romero's zombies are stupid and even comical. No, "Dawn of the Dead" is more along the lines of "action horror". It's packed with all the gunmanship, running, looting, blood, guts, and dark comedy that a zombie movie fan's heart can desire. It's fun, just a lot of fun to watch. Not to mention, dates well for a 1970's zombie picture.

"Dawn of the Dead" is one of the best scored movies I've ever seen, personally. Even the incidental music is just a delight to the ear that creates the right mood; weather it's funny, sad, horrific, chaotic, and so on. The soundtrack was provided, in part, by the Italian Prog-Rock band, Goblin (who have also done scores for Dario Argento, whose work was influenced by Romero's).

The real sales-point of "Dawn of the Dead" is its gore effects provided by Tom Savini. What can you say about Tom Savini? He is a virtuoso in his field, perhaps THE virtuoso of practical special effects. While Dick Smith is the master who made special effects an art form, Tom Savini is the virtuoso who can make even the most stomach-churning gore a thing of pure and earthly beauty. "Dawn of the Dead" is the movie that ushered  in the gore movie. Every slasher flick, every gore-crazy Italian horror movie you've ever seen post-1978 owes itself to Tom Savini's work on "Dawn of the Dead".

If George Romero proves one thing with any of his pictures, it's that he's right where it's at. "Dawn of the Dead" carries on the tradition of "Night of the Living Dead" in that it's more than just a zombie movie. It's more than just blood and guts. "Dawn of the Dead" is commentary. Why do the zombies come to the mall? Because it's where they came when they were living. The store is where everything comes from. Creatures of habit go where the food is, no? The zombies in "Dawn of the Dead" are not only stupid; they're clumsy, habitual, like sheep. They follow the other zombies, even to certain death, because it's all they know. Romero's zombies are a mirror on modern man. The only difference: they can't use a gun.

No, the guns are used by the "living". They use them to kill zombies, to survive. When the living break though, they loot, and they loot, and they loot some more. It's all for the taking, so why not take it. The living even use their guns to defend their loot. It's theirs, and entirely theirs because they found it.

The chaos, consumerism, and human madness that "Dawn of the Dead" portrays is as relevant as ever. If "Night of the Living Dead" reflected the changing society of 1960's, then "Dawn of the Dead" reflects the "fuck you" society of the 1970's. From the violent, reactionary racism of the SWAT raid, to the "every man for himself" chaos of the TV studio, to the hicks hunting zombies, once their friends and family members, for fun sport, to the material paradise of the mall, and finally the crazed and callous bikers throwing pies and looting even the most arbitrary goods, "Dawn of the Dead" reflects a nation ever more extreme, ever more contentious, ever more materialistic, ever more exhausting, and ever emptier. A society deprived, depraved, diseased and dissolute. Romero is looking through his lens at modern America.




"Dawn of the Dead" is a must see for any horror fan and any cinephile. It is the consummate zombie movie. It's gore effects, audio, visuals, and relevancy were game changers. Every zombie movie since owes its existence to this picture. At least that's my opinion.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tom G Film Review: Mean Streets

I've seen a lot of movies in my time... A LOT of movies. Some good, most awful, but a few have been real gems. True pieces of art; accomplishments in the medium of film. Along with being one of my all time favorite films, Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets" (1973) is a much overlooked film that changed the way films are conceived and produced.

Originally titled "Season of the Witch", Mean Streets was written by Martin Scorsese and Mardik Martin over the course of several years. Like it's precursor film, "Who's that knocking at my Door", Means Streets is somewhat of a documentary of a young Scorsese, the Lower Manhattan he grew-up in, and ultimately Italian-American neighborhoods throughout the North East.

After making "Boxcar Bertha" (1971) for B-Movie Producer, Roger Corman,  Scorsese was encouraged to make a film close to his heart, a labor of love. Corman originally offer to finance the film with the condition that the cast be entirely black. Scorsese turn-down the offer. Mean Streets was made on a budget of roughly $500,000, a paltry sum, even in 1972.

The plot of Mean Streets revolved around Charlie Cappa, played brilliantly by Harvey Keitel, a Little Italy local and protege of his Mafia Capo Uncle, Giovanni, played by Cesare Danova. Charlie's life revolves around collecting debts for his uncle, hanging-out at Volpe's, a Gin mill owned by his friend, Tony (played by David Proval), keeping his friend "Johnny Boy" Civello (played by a young Robert DeNiro) out of trouble, obsessing over a black stripper (Jeannie Bell), and having a clandestine affair with Johnny Boy's cousin, Teresa (Amy Robinson).

The conflict in the story is within Charlie himself. A devout Roman Catholic, he is fearful of the hell that he knows awaits him, even to the point of masochistic self-infliction of pain. He is also a collector for his Uncle who promises Charlie ownership of a restaurant. The only problem, Charlie's gain will come at the cost of another man's debt to Giovanni. Charlie's Catholic guilt creates the compulsion in him to "save" others. One of those Charlie dedicates himself to "saving" is the volatile and possibly unhinged Johnny Boy who owes money all around, but most importantly to the wolfish and stone-like loan shark, Michael (played by Richard Romanus). Along with his taboo love affair with the epileptic Teresa, Charlie finds himself torn between loyalty to his friend, his lover, his career, and his faith.

Mean Streets is not a simple story; it is reflective, gritty, uncompromising, dark, touching, and heartbreaking. From the beginning, the audience is immersed in these characters, this story, this time, this place, and it's emotion. Scorsese, showing the colors of an early master, introduces us to the time, place, and characters using quick vignettes and rolling fake Super 8 home movies over the opening credits. It feels authentic, it sounds authentic, it looks authentic. Scorsese creates a reality. Of course it helps that it's based in a certain level of reality.

Scorsese's mobsters may be dressed nice, and perhaps a bit fun, but they are fundamentally petty, volatile, and bleak. They are everything that movie mobsters aren't supposed to be...they're real. Scorsese's New York City isn't the romantic wonderland of "Manhattan", or the shiny Oz of many films. The New York City in Mean Streets is the NYC of the 1970's, the real deal. Grimy, graffitied, garish, and garbage-strewn. Sex in Mean Streets, is not romantic or lofty; it's funky, awkward, and beautifully human. Violence in Mean Streets is not dramatic or epic, it's split-second and unsettling. No Sinatra, it's pure Rolling Stones. Mean Streets is the reaction to the Godfather.

The film also deals, although passingly, with issues that are relevant even today; drug use, racism, homophobia, moral decay, and the effects of war.

Even the costumes play a part in this film. Charlie, dressed like a gentleman gangster in his pinstripe three-piece suit, a possible ode to the Pre-Code gangster films. Johnny Boy dressed in his leather coat, mismatched get-ups and fedora; the image of chaos. Tony in red, always red, even his bar; the color of danger, or possible sleaze. Michael in black, grey, and white. Like a wolf, like stone, ice cold. Richard Romanus seemed born to play that role, his face looked almost carved from granite; threatening even when splattered with cake.

Somehow, in all this sleaze, violence, and urban disorder Scorsese makes the audience feel right at home. It seems normal enough, even mundane. From the crowded mayhem of the San Gennaro Feast, to the crimson-soaked Saturday night at the bar, to the Italian eateries, the tenement apartments, the air shafts of the buildings, the dark streets of the Lower East Side, the sub-level pool hall, the Churchyard, even the rooftops; none of it feels like a movie. The dialogue is so real, so hard, so fast, so natural that it's hard to believe that any of it was ever scripted. The characters so natural, so unbalanced, and so organic that the viewer gets almost fooled into believing that they're real people. The conflict and the tension so palpable and relate-able that the viewer finds him or her self invested emotionally at times. The brawls, the arguments, the profanity-laced conversations are all a given. They fail to shock an audience that develops a relationship and a normalcy with the story and its players.

To be fair, and I will be, Mean Streets was made on a budget of $500,000, and it shows. The look of the film is somewhat grainy, half the film (the interiors) were shot in Los Angeles, and by today's standards the production values were primitive. But that said, Scorsese utilized, in full, what he had to work with. The actors were second to none, the writing immense, the spectacular visuals and the full "Pop" soundtrack, much of it from Scorsese's own record case, were fresh, and remain so even today.




For those who fancy themselves as true cinemaphiles, Means Streets is a must see. It was a landmark film for Independent Film, and it changed film making and how film is viewed forever. It will change your point of view, just the way it did for yours truly.