Monthly Archives: December 2013

The two most important mafia scenes ever

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You know the mafia from the movies and TV? K’know, those movies and TV shows with the likes Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and James Gandolfini (sorry he had to die so early in life) playing gangsters? Then you probably remember people shooting other people, committing robberies, and all kinds of illegal trade. They seem to get away with everything, don’t they?

In fact, you might be led to believe that everyone who works for a crime family is a genius. But there’s actually quite a few not-so-bright guys in mobs. It’s just that they tend not to last very long.

Thankfully, Goodfellas, one my favorite movies, by the way, does show some rather dim gangsters. After a historic bank heist, the leader of the operation, Jimmy Conway, is still given a reason to be pissed-off. You see, most of his guys decide that now’s the time to buy big. This even though the cops are watching every gangster in town closely.

So Jimmy decides to whack his crew before someone is caught and rats everybody else out. Or maybe he was just looking for an excuse to whack people and keep their shares for himself. You decide.

I love these scenes. They show the true reason the families are so hard to catch. It’s not because everybody’s a mastermind. It’s because everybody’s looking to tie up any loose ends, if you know what I mean.

We also learn a very important lesson for anyone in a big city.

ImportMafia2

Don’t let a wiseguy behind you.

Mafia!

Mafia!Poster

Jay Mohr as Anthony Cortino
Lloyd Bridges as Vincenzo Cortino
Christina Applegate as Diane Sheen
Billy Burke as Joey Cortino
Olympia Dukakis as Sophia
Pamela Gidley as Pepper Gianini
Louis Mandylor and Jason Fuchs as younger Vinzenzos

By 1998, the modern spoof had been around for some time. We had seen parodies of horror (Scream), disaster drama (Airplane!), sci-fi (Spaceballs), action (Hot Shots!), and superhero (Blankman, for what notice that crappy movie deserves) movies, but for some reason, not mob movies. The question is not “why did this movie spoof gangster movies” but “what took them so long?” Perhaps the answer is that since this sub-genre is flooded with movies based on real events, it’s not considered quite as much fair game.

Mafia! changed that. It parodies pretty much every big gangster movie since Hollywood’s no-swearing policy was scrapped sometime in the (I think) late 1960s. Mockeries are made of ScarfaceGoodfellas, some non-crime films like Jurassic Park and Forrest Gump, but mostly, it spoofs the Godfather, the Godfather Part II, and Casino. It’s not a very popular movie. I can see why, but I wouldn’t call it a bad movie. It doesn’t break new ground among spoofs, nor are the jokes overly clever. But I still consider it a decently funny movie.

This is too close to the truth.

This is too close to the truth.

Our story is about super-clumsy Cortino crime family Don Vincenzo Cortino and his son, Anthony. Anthony is dating an idealist for world peace named Diane Sheen. But when Vincenzo is shot forty-seven times (and is mistaken for a great dancer) at the birthday of his other son, Joey, Anthony chooses to do the retributive hit, which drives away Diane. Anthony retreats to a rather comical Las Vegas and is seduced by a hustler. We reenact some more of Casino before returning to the Godfather. By the end credits, Anthony has destroyed all his enemies and gotten back together with Diane.

As far as the humor goes, the jokes aren’t smart, but they’re funny nonetheless. Joking about how much a rigged game Las Vegas is or showing an Eskimo nicknamed the Iceman may not be insightful, but they can make you laugh at those who go to Vegas all starry-eyed and the weird-looking gangsters in old movies. Don’t expect an ingenious satire like the Big Lebowski and you’ll laugh.

Performances are solid. This was one of Lloyd Bridges last movies, and we can see that he always was a great comic actor. Meanwhile, Jay Mohr makes great comedic license of the Al Pacino character of Michael Corleone. There are some surprises that don’t follow the plots of the movies that spoofed (another thing Mafia! does right that its detractors don’t see) and that I really can’t bring up without spoiling the movie. Suffice to say, they do a good job.

The gangsta' version of the Home Alone brat. All I'm saying is, the cops better keep an eye on the roof, floor and ceiling.

The gangsta’ version of the Home Alone brat! All I’m saying is, the cops better keep an eye on the floor, ceiling, and doorknobs.

I totally understand and get that it’s easy to see this as “Hot Shots! goes gangsta.” Nonetheless, I laughed a lot through this movie, if not as much as I would’ve liked. The humor hitting the right spot, the social commentary, and the homages to mob movies of the past to the point of repeating some of their lines, are all there.

Like Henry Hill and Jimmy Conway in GoodfellasMafia! can’t be made. But it can at least be admitted into a crew.

Overall: 7 out of 10

Call of Duty 2

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The Xbox One and Playstation 4 have launched. The next console generation is truly on! Though some had wondered, given the disastrous Wii U sales, if downloadables had dealt a real blow to the consoles, it would seem that this is still big business.

So I take you back to a launch title for the last generation. Call of Duty 2 was arguably one of the best titles for the Xbox 360 and definitely its best until at least The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the debut of which was well removed from the 2005 holiday season. Actually, it’s historically noteworthy that other than this game, Project Gotham Racing 3, and the obligatory Madden, the 360’s first holiday season reeked Homer Simpson’s socks. Still, Call of Duty 2 was a fantastic enough experience to hold you until the consistently flow of great games started coming.

Plot: 8 out of 10

Remember when Call of Duty was all about reenacting World War II battles? That’s the story of this game. There are three campaigns: Russian, British and American campaigns. No German, Japanese, or Italian campaigns? Guess they feared that since those countries were run by historical villains, they would offend people more than RPGs that let you pick an evil path.

Basically, they give you a quick briefing on your situation before throwing you into the action. I gotta say, they get how things would be in these situations just right. Especially the Russian campaign. It’s during the German invasion of Russia that killed tens of millions of innocent Russians, so you’re trying to hold the Germans at bay. There’s a sense of intensity and even panic going on. Just like you imagine happened in real life.

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The ONLY time a Russian calling someone “comrade” has been seen as a good guy (click to read the text).

Graphics: 7 out of 10

CoD has never been what I consider to be a particularly glitzy series. Sure enough, this is not the best-looking game out there. Models aren’t very detailed and some obstacles are rather blocky. Still, everything represents its time period and campaign really well.

Sound: 8 out of 10

Very good voice work. I pointed out earlier that the script captures the emotion surrounding the war. The voice acting captures it as well. The discipline and determination in the British and American campaigns, and the shock of the Russian campaign (“better you than me, fascists!!!”) are just like in real life. Sound effects are also well-done, if not particularly remarkable.

Gameplay: 10 out of 10

You probably already know, but this series helped bring a new sub-genre to the first person shooter category. CoD2 doesn’t have mazes in which you can go just anywhere you want. No, you have a limited path forward. Instead of trying to find the right way to the end, you must figure out when to take cover and when to come out and shoot.

Last game to have live-action footage?

Last game to use live-action footage in cutscenes?

Ingenuity takes center stage because there’s not a huge amount of weapons available to you. Most of the time, you’ll use only a tommy gun and rifle (remember, this is WWII) most of the time. Strategy is your best friend here, not huge weapons.

CoD2 has some of the best level design in the history of shooters. Especially the Russian campaign, where you’re shot at through the huge pipe you’re sneaking through. More than anything else, this is what makes the game. And because of it, you’ll have a great time killing Nazis.

Challenge: 9 out of 10

These early CoD games handle this differently, too. Instead of you being a tank who can take a lot of punishment, you can only take a few shots before you die. However, you have computer-controlled allies who can help you out (you fail a mission if you happen to kill a fellow soldier). This is a very good setup. Absolute masters can go ahead to take on the enemy before the others catch up, while beginners will want to stay with them so they’ll have backup. It’s a win-win.

As pointed out, you can duck behind objects for cover. In fact, cover is what the tactical shooter sub-genre is all about. If you don’t take cover, you’ll get killed real fast Aiming for heads can’t hurt.

In short CoD2, is a thinking person’s shooter. And it works. It’s deep for experts, but not too hard for beginners.

Overall: 9 out of 10

A great test of tactics and reflexes. There may not have been a lot of good 360 games in its earliest days, but this game helped a lot to make up for that.

The 7 ways people might react to the health care rollout

HealthCare

What’s the big news of the week? The death of Paul Walker. The big news other than him dying? Healthcare.gov being repaired well enough that it works over 90% of the time and enrollment in the exchanges skyrocketing. For the moment, things seem to be working out.

However, there’s still some more problems that could occur between now and when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented in March. The website could just be the tip of the iceberg. For example, there is a possibility that not enough young people will sign up. Then again, the exchanges have worked more or less just fine in states running exchanges. So maybe the Obama administration was merely unprepared but has now been awakened enough to make the necessary arrangements.

Sleeping

Not that this is a good habit to get into.

One thing is certain: this isn’t getting repealed. Jonathan Chait does a pretty good job of explaining why the Republican hope that the ACA will be repealed by veto override is likely a fantasy.  Which means that it’s safe for some time. Perhaps, forevermore, as people will not like essentially being told that they have to give up health insurance. Particularly those with preexisting conditions that allow insurers to deny them coverage.

Chait also notes that with the ACA pretty much locked in, this entire conversation is about midterm elections. I concur. So let’s talk about midterm elections. Gallup has Obama at 41% approval today, so a Republican blowout? Not if this works out. If you find that hard to believe, consider how we went from a Republican tornado in 2010 to a fair margin of victory for Obama in 2012. A somewhat more promising economy, Republicans killing their brand with brinkmanship, and women flocking to Obama because of the right’s hostility to birth control made all the difference. Much further back, Ronald Reagan’s three Gallup numbers in January 1983 were 37%, 37%, and 35% in the face of double-digit unemployment. But as job creation revved up, he went well above the big 5-0 by year’s end.

So I give you the ways health care can affect 2014:

A meltdown followed by a Republican landslide. Basically, this is where the changes to the system become impossible to process. Result? Chaos ensues and the Republicans gain 6-10 Senate seats and 20-45 House seats.

This is the only scenario in which repeal of the ACA becomes a realistic possibility. Even if that doesn’t work, Republicans should be able to get some pet project (cutting food stamps and school lunches by a third springs to mind) over Obama’s veto.

Fixes come too late to save the Democrats. People seem to start deciding who to vote for in the summer. That’s why Obama’s miserable first debate performance against Romney last year wasn’t offset by a fantastic jobs report days later. If final implementation of the ACA is screwed up, the Obama administration has until May to fix it before it faces backlash in November.

Still, the fixes will halt Republican momentum by the time the newly Republican controlled Senate is sworn in. Which means that the only difference between this and the meltdown scenario is that Obama will actually have to start vetoing bills.

Moderate botching. The ACA is implemented badly but not disastrously so. That means that the Dems suffer a slightly worse then average midterm defeat for the President’s party. Since the Republicans need at least six seats to win the Senate, this might not be enough.

Easy does it. With enrollment way up, it’s probably going to take a lot of screw-ups to shut down the program. So a mixture of incompetence and success stories could be coming. Electorally speaking, this is a wash.

Republicans drop the ball. I don’t think enough mind is paid to the fact that the Republican party has a tendency to screw up opportunities. Remember the government shutdown and how it briefly gave rise to the idea of Dems winning back the House? Republicans have at least one more chance to shut down the government. That could very well yield all the goodwill they’ve gotten from the administration’s comedy of errors.

Plus, their litmus tests tend to lead to unelectable kooks getting nominated. If the recent past is any guide, they will throw multiple races. That could easily be the difference between a Democratic or Republican Senate.

GoofyFalling

Kind of like how Goofy would handle nominations.

Moderate success. The health care bill works, but not magnificently so. The result is a status quo election in which the balance of power changes little in either direction.

Democratic victory. Finally, if the worst turns out to be behind us, the rollout will not be a problem for Democrats. I still wouldn’t expect them to win big unless the Republicans foolishly shut down the government again, though.