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‘Gangs’ looks into the dark aspects of early America

Dennis Piszkiewicz

Our history teachers told us that America, especially New York in

the 19th and early 20th centuries, was a melting pot where the

peoples of many nations struggled through adversity to happily merge

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in the formation of one nation. Martin Scorsese, who has directed

grim pieces of Americana like “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” and

“Casino,” tells a very different story in his new film, “The Gangs of

New York.”

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It is an arresting epic that gives a new twist to the old myth

about a pivotal period of American history. It is also a sordid and

depressing story about how a group of people living in the melting

pot committed crimes to protect what little they had and to dominate

those different from them.

As the movie opens, a gang of Irish immigrants who call themselves

the Dead Rabbits prepare for battle with the reigning gang called the

Natives for control of the impoverished Five Points neighborhood of

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lower Manhattan. It is a protracted, brutal battle fought with

knives, clubs and cleavers that leaves the winter snow stained red

and covered with dead and wounded.

The leader of the Natives, Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, played by

Daniel Day Lewis, kills the leader of the Dead Rabbits while the

Irishman’s son watches. Sixteen years later, in 1862, the son,

Amsterdam Vallon, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, emerges from a

reformatory and returns to Five Points to take revenge on his

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father’s killer.

The story wanders the filthy streets and colorful dives of Five

Points, where the thieves, thugs and crooked politicians plot against

each other to control their pathetic little hell. In the background,

the nation is destroying itself in its Civil War. Ships arrive in New

York harbor to unload coffins of those killed in action, and

conscripts, many of them poor or just immigrated, climb on board for

their journey to death.

The film is about greed, power and violence. There is no nobility

here. The only character who understands the self-destructive

stupidity of it all is Jenny Everdeane, Vallon’s girlfriend, played

by Cameron Diaz.

The movie is less about the characters than about what some

native-born and immigrant poor did to get ahead in America.

Scorsese’s gangs belong to loosely knit organizations, prototypes of

the Italian gangs that in the 20th century became the Mafia. There

must have been some honest, hard-working people living in New York

and America in the mid-19th century, but Scorsese did not find them.

This is not a feel-good film. It is an unsentimental and visually

stunning expedition into a little known corner of American history.

It is worth the price of a ticket, if you have a stomach for it.

* DENNIS PISZKIEWICZ is a Laguna Beach resident.

‘Two Towers’ is awesome

Hordes of gnarled humanoid beasts gnashed their pernicious teeth,

holding their crude weapons and poised for battle, and that was just

the line at the concession.

Honestly, though, I must use the apt analysis and eloquent words

of my close friend and declare “The Two Towers” a totally awesome

movie, dude!

One could refer to it as a masterpiece that blends conventional

acting with superb special effects. The surreal fantasy world could

be described as inspired.

The charm and poise of Viggo Morentsen, as the gallant Strider,

and Elijah Wood, as the conflicted Frodo Baggins, deserve nothing

short of our adulation.

But to say that this movie is totally awesome will suffice.

Starting where “The Fellowship of the ring” leaves off, with

Strider, Gimli and Legolas dutifully pursuing their captive comrades,

this film keeps perfect stride with the first installment.

Familiar faces are combined with new and fascinating characters.

“The Two Towers” has no compunction about drawing a clear line

between good and evil, while allowing Gollum to remind us that

temptation is ever present.

Overall, This film is absolutely beguiling and, oh, totally

awesome dude!

* EVAN MARMOL is a Laguna resident. He graduated from UC Irvine

with a degree in psychology and social behavior.


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