A Wiseguy vs. A Goodfella: a mafia double feature

The True Story

Before Martin Scorsese’s beloved movie, there was just Nicholas Pileggi and his book about Henry Hill. The novel is written as if each chapter is a different interview-based article in the same series. The escapades of Henry and his friends, his fellow wiseguys, are told not exactly in chronological order and range from being a 12-year-old boy learning to park cars to being a grown man being told his best friends have been whacked by his other best friends. It’s not at all a glamorous story despite the girls and the cars and the clubs that are involved. It tackles domestic abuse and substance abuse, the way people get lost in gambling and the realities of being a mafia guy’s girl back in the 60s and 70s.

I really appreciated that this was someone’s life being told by a journalist rather than a true crime writer because I feel that journalists really know how to tell these kinds of stories and which details matter most. Being able to get the perspectives from not just Henry but from his wife, his girlfriend, and – towards the end – the officers that brought down the whole operation just rounds out the story so wonderfully. Getting all sides helps the reality of the situations take centre stage instead of it just being a “let’s rely on one point of view”. Karen’s interview moments were especially eye opening as she tells the truth about what it’s like to be a wife in the mob, to be told everyone will take care of you but how that really only happens in the movies. Honestly the way this book is written reminded me of how the 2016 documentary about Amanda Knox was filmed. Mafia stories these days are all about the money and the rules and the romance, but the reality of organised crime is so much darker and upsetting. I appreciated reading this book before seeing the film for the first time.

The Film

Right off the bat I noticed that things were changed. Other than Henry and his family, everyone else had different last names than in the book – which to me mostly just raises the question of what kind of permissions are needed to make a film like Goodfellas when it’s about very real crime family that could very seriously lash out. The use of narration from throughout the film is utilized wonderfully as it switches between Henry and Karen setting the scene.

There were a few minor changes, of course, to the story but if I hadn’t finished the book only the day before, I would still have enjoyed the movie. It was well acted by Ray Liotta and of course Robert De Niro was wonderful (and looking his best, might I say). Being a 90s kid to my core it was neat seeing Joe Pesci in this light, and he was great as the lunatic, Tommy. Having only really known who Pesci was from jokes on shows like Family Guy, I seriously enjoyed his cutthroat performance.

Was it the greatest movie ever the way people have told me it is? Not really, but I can clearly see why it is appreciated so much.

REVIEW: Greenlights

I tend to have very specific tastes when it comes to nonfiction. If it’s not about neuroscience or true crime, I’m normally not overly interested. But every now and again a memoir comes up that I just know I need to get my hands on, and one of those memoirs was Matthew McConaughey’s book Greenlights.

Say what you will about his filmography, but I enjoy his movies and could honestly listen to the audio of those Lincoln commercials on loop forever. Knowing that Mr. McConaughey was going to be narrating his own memoir/autobiography/inspiration book thing, I immediately got it for the sake of listening to that soothing southern drawl of his.

The book in the audio format feels like a conversation with a friend you haven’t seen in awhile combined with an inspiration TEDtalk about believing in yourself, in the moment, in life. I really enjoyed learning more about Matthew McConaughey as a person outside of his films and the tabloid rumours about his eccentricities. His upbringing was one I wouldn’t have expected and he has done some truly incredible things that make me respect him on a more personal level. There’s just something in the way he writes/talks that feel so warm, welcoming, and familiar. The likelihood of my ever meeting Matther McConaughey is so slim it may as well be nonexistent, but this audiobook genuinely feels so informal and friendly I don’t really know what else to say.

I will admit that my attention did start to waver a bit towards the end of the audiobook, but for the vast majority of the experience, I was laughing and intrigued at the same time. The prescriptions and “bumper stickers” throughout the book are all very insightful and having been haunted by the feeling of being trapped in stagnation for so long, the little phrases and sayings and states of mind let me get away from that, even if only for a moment.

Obviously I would recommend this more for people who enjoy the works of Mr. McConaughey already, but if you’re in the mood for an audiobook that’s less that 8 hours and a Texan with the most soothing voice in the world, I would recommend it to you as well.

NON-FICTION REVIEW: Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

Murakami Haruki is best known for his quiet magical realism, and he brings that same careful hand to this non-fiction book of testimonies regarding one of the most horrifying acts of violence to strike Japan.

True crime fans may or may not know of the Japanese death cult known as Aum Shinrikyo that was responsibly for the horrifying serin gas attack on the Japanese subways back in March of 1995. It was a horrible event that could have been much worse had their plan gone exactly as they had planned. To most, 27 deaths from something like this doesn’t seem like much at all, but the hundreds of people who were injured and that are affected to this day is something that I don’t think many people – especially North Americans – truly comprehend.

Murakami Haruki does an amazing job with the care he put into interviewing the victims of the attack who agreed to step forward and be a part of this book. Their testimonies (while repetitive due to the similar nature of their routines) are so human and heartbreaking, especially when they speak of collegues and friends who died, of the PTSD they suffer, of the rage they feel on behalf of their family members. It is fascinating to read about so many people be so nonchalant about the event and then the contrast against those who are upset about what happened. It’s been three years now since Asahara Shoko (the founder and leader of Aum) was executed as per his death sentence, but it has been on a long time since 1995. I know that reparations are still owed to the victims even to this day. Their suffering continues on even though the source of that pain is finally gone from the world.

I think Underground is an important read to consumers of true crime. It is a very humanizing and humbling read that reminds you that these victims are real people who went through a very real and traumatizing event. It’s easy for us to look at the numbers and not think much of a domestic terrorism attack like this, especially when next to other death cult numbers (such as Jonestown at 909 deaths), but that doesn’t make the event itself any less significant.

I recommend to take this book slowly, reading a testimony or two at a time before setting the book down again, but I recommend it all the same.