Gangs of New York, at Last | Billy Crystal: Rock Camp Counselor?

Gangs of New York, at Last

Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York finally screened yesterday for selected press and exhibitors.

I can tell you definitively that this epic story of New York in the 1850s is a success through and through. It will easily earn Scorsese a Best Director nomination, a Best Picture nomination, and for Daniel Day-Lewis, a slam-dunk nomination for Best Actor.

Day-Lewis' performance as Bill the Butcher is more than just mesmerizing. It's the one to beat, even with formidable opponents such as Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks, Campbell Scott, Michael Caine, and Leonardo DiCaprio waiting in the wings.

I include DiCaprio because I think it will be his performance in Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, and not Gangs, that will put him in Oscar contention. That doesn't mean Leo isn't good in Gangs; he is. But his role is that of the thankless central character/hero, meaning he has to cede the showier ground to Day-Lewis.

Other acting nominations for Gangs are less certain. There's a good chance that last year's Best Supporting Actor, Jim Broadbent, will repeat in that category for his role as Boss Tweed, the legendary Tammany Hall political boss. Cameron Diaz's disarming intensity and feistiness as the girl torn between Leo and Day-Lewis may put her in the supporting category as well.

But mostly what Gangs is about, even in its final 2-hour 35-minute version, is Scorsese. Even though he's made some of the finest films in cinematic history — Raging Bull, GoodFellas, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, etc — Scorsese still has never taken a Best Picture statue home.

Gangs of New York could change all that. It breathes with excitement and texture. It's epic in a way that films almost never are anymore, and every bit of the blood, sweat, and tears Scorsese and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker poured into it is evident.

Costumes, set decoration, and all other technical aspects are breathtaking. When this movie is bloody — which it often is — you feel it in your gut.

Gangs of New York tells the story of how the future of New York was settled during bloody confrontations between the original Dutch and English settlers and the Irish immigrants who flooded the streets every day.

Day-Lewis' Bill the Butcher represents the former group; DiCaprio, taking up the cause of his dead father (a cameo by Liam Neeson), takes up the flag of the former. What seems like a simple story is embroidered expertly by Scorsese and Day-Lewis so that you feel you have actually gone back in time.

For Scorsese fans, Gangs is a combination of the director's two strongest themes — the violence of GoodFellas and the historical drama of The Age of Innocence.

For anyone who enjoyed — as I did — the look of Innocence, which showed 19th-century New York à la Time and AgainGangs of New York will prove to be a treasure chest of riches.

Of course, it's also very violent, and even toning it down through editing from the original 3-hour-plus version won't change the fact that Bill is a butcher, literally. But for the legions of fans who seemed able to withstand Hannibal Lecter's gross masticating, this won't be much of a problem.

I will not tell you the exact ending of the movie; I will say it's extremely moving and shows a link between violence in that part of New York 150 years ago and violence there again 14 months ago. In that way, Gangs of New York becomes contemporary.

Some movies are good and some are great. A few transcend the medium and the culture and make an indelible impression. In so many ways Gangs does that.

As for Daniel Day-Lewis — all I can tell you is the accent, the way he holds himself and his delivery of lines is classic in the way that Marlon Brando was in The Godfather, or Clint Eastwood was in Unforgiven, or Tom Hanks was in Forrest Gump.

People are going to be mimicking him, imitating him and celebrating him the way they do those actors playing those parts.

Billy Crystal: Rock Fantasy Camp Counselor?

The word is out on the Sunset Strip that Billy Crystal has found a perfect new project. He wants to make a movie version of Rock Fantasy Camp.

This is the semi-frequent event put on by promoter and manager David Fishof in which regular guys plunk down big bucks to play guitar, drums, etc. with Seventies rock stars. It's sort of like Spinal Tap with bug juice.

So how perfect would it be for Crystal, especially if he gets the guys from Spinal Tap to put in cameos as some of the veteran rockers who have to assist the hoi polloi?

What would be really neat would be to also have actors who actually play instruments — such as Keanu Reeves, Jared Leto or Chris Isaak — to take the roles of the common guys who try to get ahead.

And, of course, picture Jack Palance as the owner of the building next to the one where Rock Fantasy Camp takes place. That would be worth the price of admission alone.

Rock Fantasy Camp concluded last night for real in Hollywood, with the various amateur bands playing each other off in a contest at the House of Blues.

Rock luminaries such as Spencer Davis, John Waite (The Babys, Bad English), Eric Burdon (The Animals), and Grand Funk Railroad's Mark Farner tore the joint up with renditions of their biggest hits.

But it was Sam Moore, doing "Soul Man," who really stole the show, eliciting a standing ovation and whoops of joy from the audience.