Tag Archives: Steve Buscemi

‘Monsters University’ Delivers Laughs, Lessons, and Likability

Monsters University combines two of my favorite things: Pixar movies and college. If that combo isn’t as big of a draw for you, no worries. The film is still worth your while.

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Mike and Sully weren’t always best buds. ‘Monsters University’ tracks their road to friendship. (Image: ign.com)

This prequel to Monsters, Inc. gives viewers a look into the lives of Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) before their career at Monstropolis’ mega corporation. After going on a pivotal field trip to Monsters, Inc. in his youth, Mike sets his sights on becoming a Monsters University graduate. His expansive knowledge of the art of scaring gives Mike an edge at the start of the program, but he is soon upstaged by Sully’s thunderous roar technique and prestigious family name. Their rivalry escalates until they find themselves competing on the same team during the university’s annual Scare Games. With a group of misfit monsters in tow, they learn they must work together to succeed.

Although the plot of Monsters University is somewhat simplistic, the film manages to win over viewers with its commitment to character development. Mike and Sully’s stories become more rounded; we get to know them just as the two get to know each other. Through the course of the film they show equal parts strength and vulnerability, humor and perseverance.

The motley brothers of Oozma Kappa (OK) toughen up for the Scare Games. (Image: youtube.com)

Mike and Sully are not the only monsters with whom we get acquainted, however. We meet Randy Boggs (Steve Buscemi) when he is still a gawky chameleon who wants to be part of the in-crowd. We also get acquainted with the brothers of Oozma Kappa, including Don (Joel Murray), the non-traditional student with a history in sales and Squishy (Peter Sohn), a multi-eyed creature with a good heart. Overseeing all of these students is the formidable Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), whose strict demeanor is as legendary as her all-time scream record.

Although the hijinks and personalities are plenty entertaining, it’s what we do not see that leaves the most positive impact. In typical Pixar fashion, Monsters University presents themes that are relatable and timeless: strive for your goals, celebrate your talents, and embrace the uniqueness of others. Those are messages that both monsters and humans can live by.

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Under the Boardwalk

image property of HBO

image property of HBO

As far back as I can remember, I have been enamored with racketeers. My love affair with gangsters began when I read Mario Puzo’s definitive work on the subject, The Godfather, when I was about 13 years old. Since that time I’ve read numerous biographies of real life gangsters (The 3 piece suit kind, not the baggy-pants-shouting-over-slow-techno kind)and just about every work of fiction on the subject. I have whiled away many hours absorbing feature films and documentaries on the lives and actions of syndicate men–both real and imagined.

Though I really enjoyed HBO’s The Sopranos, I felt that it became forced toward the end of its six-season run. My dwindling interest in this sort of pay cable stretch-play storytelling was the main reason I have only recently begun watching HBO’s Prohibition-era gangster story Boardwalk Empire. In many ways, the Atlantic City based show feels like Sopranos: Episode 1, but it  achieves so much more.

Boardwalk Empire weaves its fictional characters into a boozy tapestry with real historical figures and events. It utilizes everything from women’s suffrage and the election of President Warren Harding to the striking by underpaid black workers in the “Plantation by the Sea affair” as backdrops for the rampant political corruption with which the program is concerned. The show is produced and sometimes directed by Martin Scorsese, the architect of the modern gangster picture. Scorsese’s attention to detail has created a mobster series that feels more like The Great Gatsby than The Godfather.Gangster Summit image property of HBO

The main character is Atlantic County Treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson. Nucky is based on a real Atlantic County politician who ran the crime syndicate on the boardwalk in the 20s and 30s.  He manages to keep his hands clean while receiving a cut of every dollar made in his city; he does so by installing those loyal to him in positions of power. His election fixing and gerrymandering are called into question–as is his lavish lifestyle on a country treasurer’s salary.

Thompson moves in circles with people you may have heard of. He has dealings with John Torrio, the up-and-coming Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky.

Steve Buscemi brilliantly plays Nucky Thompson. Does anyone remember when Buscemi was a comedic actor showing up in all those Adam Sandler pictures? Why is it that all I can think of when I see him is Mr. Pink? Remember the wood chipper in Fargo?

This role does little to rectify that image. He’s clad in the best suits, riding in his  chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce, and drinking in his fiefdom. He also portrays Nucky as quiet, brooding and troubled when he’s behind closed doors. His odd personal life, and his detachment, make Nucky someone you want to succeed.

Through the thick tobacco smoke and the sound of clinking glasses filled with illegal hooch, Boardwalk Empire shines. It is a flawed period piece that does the history justice, while taking artistic license with some of the plots. The show is a delightful ride in a Model A Ford–a boozy, bloody, violent and engrossing ride.

 

 

 

 

 

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