Scorsese Month Review: Shutter Island

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay By: Laeta Kalogridis
Release Date: February 19, 2010
Run Time: 138 Minuets
Rating: R
Score: 3.5/5

First off, lets deal with the elephant in the room: a lot of people cannot stand the “asylum horror” genre of movies as they feel the films help in demonizing and stigmatizing the mentally ill. If you are one of those people, this is not going to be the film that changes your mind.
The film is about two U.S. Marshals, Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they investigate the disappearance of a prisoner/inmate of Shutter Island, a metal hospital for the criminally insane. As the two begin to explore it becomes clear to Edward that not everything is what it seems, and that the Island might have more in comment with a Nazi Death Camp than a metal hospital. Soon the simple task of finding the missing person is forgotten as Edward tries to unravel the mystery of what’s really going on.
And unless you’ve never seen a movie ever you will know exactly what’s going on. If you can’t figure it out, go watch the movie before reading on. So yeah, turns out Edward isn’t really a US Marshal. He was, but after killing his wife and going crazy due to the loss of his kids, he’s an inmate of Shutter Island himself, and this was all one big, elaborate game set up to break him out of his ruse. Shocker, I know. If you chose to ignore my warning kept reading before watching the movie, just know that this isn’t much of a twist. It’s meant to be, sure, but almost every movie, book or game set in an Asylum has the same basic twist. If the setting is an Asylum, there is almost always going to be a main character who has a secret history there.
Let’s go back to that elephant in the room. The reason most people don’t like this genre is because most of the scares are based on the idea that the mentally ill are inherently frightening, and this movie does fall into that trap. I’ve heard a few psychiatric justifications on the subject and i’m not going to debate the merits of arguments made by people way smarter that I am, but in the end, if you go up to someone and pretty much say “you’re frightening due to something you have no control over” it’s naturally going to anger or offend that person. What makes this movie both interesting and some what hard for me to judge is how it deals with that. Like I said, everything that happens in the film was a game, a role play set up by the head of the hospital to help break Edward out of his ruse. Once you learn this a lot of the “scary crazy people” loss a lot of what made them scary. They were playing a role, or actually giving good advise. But, you only learn this after the fact, meaning that in the moment, the scare is still based on “this person is crazy, be afraid”. While I am personally okay with this twist and how it handles the subject, I can’t say you will be or even that you should be.
The only thing that really holds the movie down is that I feel it runs a bit too long and there are a few odd scenes. For example, Edward was in World War 2, and thus doesn’t like Germans. One of the doctors is German, and Edward calls the guy out for trying to hard to hide his accent (going so far as to say the doctor was doing a good job, but he was hitting the consonants too hard) but…he wasn’t hiding an all. It was there for every one to see…well, hear. There were only one or two scenes like that, were it felt like one more rewrite would have been appropriate, but nothing that ruins the movie.
As always, I end by asking, how does this stack up for Scorsese? It’s not his best film (that’s is still “The Departed”) and it’s not my favorite film of his (that’s still either “Goodfellas” or “Wolf of Wall Street”), but I do think it’s the best summery of what Scorsese does as a film maker. See, Scorsese and the rest of the “Movie Brats” were the first generation of film makers who grew up with both movies and television being a huge part of their childhoods. Because of this, their field of reference wasn’t just limited too by what they were shown in film school, but also the low budge stuff they loved as kids. Because of this, Most of the best work from Scorsese, Spielberg, Lucas and their elk was at its best by giving a new coat of paint to the movies they loved as kids and treating these “low brow” films with the same respect film makers gave “high brow” films.
So, what does this have to do with this movie? Well, that’s exactly what Scorsese did with this movie; he ave a new coat of paint to a ‘low brow” genre. But instead of just making a good movie out of it, he took a genre of film that can, and too often is, dehumanizing and allowed to get away with it, and made a great film. Sure, the twist is nothing special, and the main draw of the film is still to see a master film maker doing what he does best, but in the hands of anyone else this could have been just a bad as other films in the genre with out even the benefit of being well made either. You may dislike the movie, and maybe rightfully so, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.
I’ll See you next November for Scorsese Month 2016!


Scorsese Month Review: The Departed

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay By: William Monahan
Release Date: October 6, 2006
Run Time: 151 Minuets
Rating: R
Score: 4.5/5

While I can’t call this my favorite Scorsese movie I can say I think it’s his best (at lest from the ones i’ve seen). It’s as well acted, well directed and well scored as we’ve all come to expect from Scorsese, but what pushes this over the edge into “best of” territory is the script. “The Departed” is nothing less that a master class in dramatic irony. For those who skipped English class, dramatic irony is when we, the audience, are privy to knowledge that most of if not all the cast isn’t aware of. For example: in “Romeo and Juliet”, Romeo awakes near the end of the play to find Juliet dead, but we know that she is only sleeping. And no, I’m not adding a spoiler warning to a 400+ year old play you all should have read by now.
Getting back on topic, “The Departed” is about a group of Massachusetts police trying to take down the Costello crime family. Unbeknownst to the police, Costello has a man on the inside, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) who’s not just on the inside but a high ranking official. But that’s not all: what Costello doesn’t know is that the police have their own mole, Billy Costigan (Leonardo Dicaprio). Both groups end up finding out they’ve been infiltrated, and the moles are then tasked with finding each other. .
What makes this so good is, again, the dramatic irony. Dicaprio’s Costigan is constantly getting the crap beat out of him, while not much goes wrong in the life of Sullivan. Maybe I have a dark sense of humor, or maybe i’m just a bad person, but I constantly found this set up to rather funny. There’s a part where Dicaprio’s character has a broken arm, only to have it constantly smashed on a pool-table in order to break of the cast that I couldn’t stop laughing at. Is the scene meant to be funny? Probably not, but that doesn’t change the fact. It’s not all laughs though. There are a few scenes that are genuinely puls pounding, like when both moles are either close to each other or on different sides of an operation, each trying to inform their real owners on what’s going on. I can’t really say a whole lot more with out spoiling the movie, and in the case it really is better to go in as cold as possible.
What I can talk about is just how good the cast was. Damon and Dicaprio both did great, but you already knew that (or you should if you’ve ever watched a movie with either of them), but there wasn’t a single bad performance here. Hell, I even like Mark Wahlberg in this, and I normally don’t like him as an actor (granted, this isn’t as impressive as David Fincher making me like Tyler Perry in “Gone Girl”, but it’s impressive none the less). And then there’s Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello. Again, if you’ve ever seen a movie with Jack Nicholson then you already knew going into this that he was going to be good, he may be one of the best things in the movie. While he makes Costello intimidating, he also makes the character a lot of fun. There’s a scene with him and Damon in a theater that just cracked me up when I saw it. Out of ever Nicholson film i’ve seen, this has got to be one of the best from him. And when you take in to consideration that he’s been in both “Chinatown” and “the Shining” that says a lot.
Going back to Scorsese for a minuet, I said at the end of last weeks review that this was the film that landed him his first Oscar, for both best director and best picture. The question is: should it have won, and was does it should the academy have give him an award before hand. Personally, I think this was a group trying to make up for a looot of mistakes by not giving him an Oscar be for then. And yes, I think he should have won. I just wish he won in a better yeah. The 2007 nominees for best picture were lacking in my opinion. Sure, I liked “Bable” and “Little Miss Sunshine”, but winning over them and the other nominees is kind of like a sports star winning over a middle school team, and it’s this kind of thing that makes me not trust the oscars all that much (well, that and the fact that both “The English Patient” and “The Artist” also both won best picture). I mean, was “Dancing with Wolves” really better than “Goodfellas”? Was “Rocky” really better than “Taxi Driver”? In the end, while I think the award is pretty pointless, it was about time for Scorsese’s talent to be recognized, and they couldn’t have found a better movie to do it with. In the end, that’s really all there is to say. In the end that’s all that needs to be said. This is a fantastic movie and if you haven’t seen it you should go do that. Now. Like, right now. Stop reading and go. Why are you still here, get going.

Scorsese Month 2015 Review: Casino

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay By: Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi
Release Date: November 22, 1995
Run Time: 178 Minutes
Rating: R
Score: 2.75/5

While “Casino” is by no means a bad movie, this is by far the lest good movie i’ve seen from Scorsese up till this point. Again, it’s not bad, but the ease in witch i can put this one the bottom of the “best Scorses movies i’ve seen” list is kind of staggering. I think a larg part of that is the sorce material. Bassed off of a book writen by co-screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, i think a lot of my issues stim from this story simply not being as interesting from the get-go as “Goodfellas” or “Wolf oof Wall Street” was. I mean, the movie is about a guy helping the mob skim movie from Casino’s, there’s not a lot you can really do with that. Thius is a fact everyone seemed to be awear of as a lot of the film focusis on Robert De Niro’s “Sam Rothstein” and Sharon Stone’s “Ginger McKenna” detiriorating marriage. While that’s not all that happenes the fact is, nearly the entire second act of this movie feels like it forgot that it was a mob movie.
So what’s the film about? Well, in the 1970’s the Itallan mob had a pretty strong hold on Las Vagas Casino’s. In order to make sure everything is running smothly one family sends De Niro’s “Sam Rothstein” to run one of thier Casino’s, and Joe Pesci’s “Nicholas Santoro” to make sure nothing went wrong with the skim (where they mob bosses would take money off the top of the casino’s profit). The only problem? Well, Nicholas can’t quite control himself, and he soon finds the eyes of the law on him. While Sam tries to distance himself, Nicholas really doesn’t seem to care about the fact that the fed’s have their eyes on him and he continually made more trouble. As the two men become more and more enraged at each other (Sam angry over the unwanted attention and Nicholas mad over a seeming lack of disrespect) focus s taken off the Las Vegas operation until it all crumbles.
In the end, that’s really all there is too say about “Casino”. This is the story of two men who let ego and outside circumstances get in the way of what was a very lucrative operation. And if this was a 90 minuet movie, that probably wouldn’t have been too bad. Unfortunately the film is nearly 3 hours long, and thus there is a lot that feels like padding. For example, Sam gets married to a woman who says out right “i don’t love you”, so you know it’s not going to work out for the two of them, but there is so much time devoted to watching their marriage fall apart that you have to wonder why no one just did a voice over saying “things feel apart, and she died from an OD a few months after we got divorced”. Sure, there are scene that it makes since to have in the film, Like how McKenna left their child tide up and locked in her room alone one night so she could go out drinking, or how she ripped off Sam near the end, but almost everything else is superfluous and could have been handled in a way that didn’t make the movie drag on.
Then there is also a really annoying feature where both De Niro and Joe Pesci are giving movie-overs throughout the film. While I never confused one for the other or anything like that I found it to be an odd decision that didn’t sit well with me. This may just be a personal gripe, but it’s something that did make the film lesser in my eyes. To me it made the film seem like it was losing focus, and it would have been better to just make this De Niro’s story about having to deal with a man like Pesci’s “Nicholas”.
However, I did say the movie wasn’t bad, didn’t I? And to the films credit, the acting saves this film. While you wont think of “Sam Rothstein” when someone asks to name you’re favorite De Niro performance, he does great work here, and the same goes for the rest of the cast. Everyone took their roles seriously and the film is compulsively watchable because of it. Sure you may check you’re watch throughout the movie and even ask “was this scene really necessary” you will at lest be thankful you’re watching an overlong good movie instead of a 3 hour mess where either none of the cast can act or they choose not too (looking at you transformers).
So how does this stack up? Again, I can easily say this is the lest good Scorsese i’ve seen. While i don’t hate it, there really just isn’t a debate about that fact for me. But every director has thier “bad” movies right? Spielberg has “Kingdom of the Cristal Skull”, George Lucas has the “Star Wars” prequels and David Fincher has “Alien 3”, so it’s not uncommon for creative people to strike out every once in a while. And to be fair, “Casino” is a better movie than any of those, so even if this is the worst Scorsese has to offer, he’s still better than most. See you next time as i take a look at “The Departed”, the film that won Scorsese his first Oscare.

Scorsese Month 2015 Review: Taxi Driver

Director: Martin Sccorsese
Screenplay By: Paul Schrader
Release Date: February 8, 1976
Run Time: 114 minuets
Rating: R
Score: 4/5

For all the praise Martin Sccorsese gets as a film maker, and for all the great things i’ve heard about “Taxi Driver” before watching it, it is almost funny how little I knew about the film before setting down to watch it. Sure, I had heard Robert De Niro’s “You Talking to Me?” monologue before, and I knew he got a kick ass Mohawk at some point in the film, but that was it. The story, the plot, the themes, none of them were known to me when I sat down and watched the film. Because of this I wasn’t expecting to be as relevant as it was. And make no mistake, this has as much to say about today society as “Wolf of Wall Street” did, regardless of the fact that it was released and set in the 1970’s.

“Taxi Driver” is about a man named Travis (played by Robert De Niro), a Viet Nam vet who has returned to New York with some real issues and a hatred of the city. Due to his inability to sleep at night he gets a job as a Taxi Driver to give him something to do. Travis keeps a diary that functions as a narrator throughout the film, and in the beginning he only really talks about how he feels lonely an how he hates the scum of New York (the pimps and drug-dealers) and how he wishes for a Noah-esk rain to wash them all away. This changes a bit when he meats a woman named Betsy. Maybe “meets” is the wrong word. He sees her at one point and thinks that she is pure, unlike the rest of the city, and vows that “they will not touch her”. Travis then stalks her at her job until finally convincing her to go on a date with him…to a porno theater. This upsets Betsy (as i’m sure you could have guessed) and she no longer wants anything to do with him. Travis writes in his diary that he was wrong about her and that it’s now time for some one to do something about the city, so he goes and he buys a few guns and prepares himself to become something of a vigilante.
While this is only the first half of the movie, there is a lot going on that help explain why I think this movie is still relevant. The first thing I noticed is how much Travis sounds like Rorschach from “Watchmen”. Now for those of you how don’t know much about “Watchmen”, Rorschach was writer Alan Moore’s take on comic-book characters like “Batman” and “The Punisher”, normal people inspired by tragedy to take on the criminal underworld. However, Rorschach isn’t the kind of character you are meant too look up to. He was a violent psychopath with no regard for human life. Rorschach was very much a critic and condemnation of that kind of character. Travis function very much the same way, but what is frightening is the response to him that i’ve seen form many people. More on this after point number 2.

The second point about Travis that hits a little to close to home is how he only chooses to become violent after Betsy rejects him. That was the straw that broke the camels back. Not the violence of the city, not the dope men selling to kids: a woman. Travis is the original “Nice Guy”. He is the kind of guy who hides behind manors to mask his sexism, and the kind of guy who hates “scum” to hid his own racism (more on this latter). An what makes this so frightening is that while most people know you shouldn’t want to be Rorschach, the response i’ve most commonly seen when it came to Travis is “he was a good man with a good heart an the will to act on his morals”. When you look at all the police shootings lately, and how many people are sporting the cops instead of the (mostly unarmed) victims, can you really say you are surprise when there is such a powerfully strong and positive reaction to a negative representation of self-righteous bigotry?
For real though, if you show this film to someone and they like or defend Travis, run. Run for your life.
So that was a little heavy, lets get back to something a little lighter. Like Child Prostitution and Cold Blooded Murder. Wait…
One night a young girl jumps into the back of Travis’ cab asking him to “just go”. Before he does however, a man pulls the girl out of the cab, gives Travis a $20 bill and tells him to forget about what happened. Travis doesn’t, and over the next few days the girl becomes his fixation. He soon finds her and talks to her, learning that she is only 12.5 years old and a prostitute working for a man named “Sport”. Travis vows to help get her out, and does so at the end of the movie by killing her pimp and the other men keeping her.
However, that’s not really the end. The movie really ends with a shot of his wall, of people thanking him for what he did, including the girls parents. He then takes on a fair, only to find that it’s Betsy, who his forgiven him and is ready to retry things with him again.
Aw, this would be such a sweet ending if it wasn’t contributing directly yo the movies main themes about the glorification of violence, especially racial based violence in American society. See, throughout the movie Travis talks about the violence of the city and how disgusting it is, a claim that is validated by the city’s response to his own violence. While the pimps were not good people, none of them wronged Travis in any way, and his soul reason for killing them was “you are not acting in a way I agree with”. And the fact that he is allowed to not only walk free but also be made into a hero is the city saying one thing load and clear: so long as I agree with the killers reasons, he is not a criminal.

The racial stuff is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, and in fact, Scorsese even changed part of the film in fear that controversy would break out by those who only look at the service level of a movie. However, both the screen write and Sccorsese (I believe) have said that Travis was a racist. The main way the movie tries to tell us this is by the way he acts around people of color (almost always black) and his response to those who quite clearly are racist. However, it’s most clear in one shot when a group of black men pass him by; we go into slow motion as Travis simply watches, as if he’s waiting for them to become violent.
Another part that was meant to show this was that the part of the pimp was meant to be played by a black actor, but this was changed as I said before. And I think that is the one big flaw in the film. While this depiction of extreme racial violence would have turned some views off, it would have made the underlining theme more clear. And the fact is, there will always be those who confuse depictions of racism with endorsements of racism (for an example of this, look at “Django Unchained”, “Far Cry 4”, “Bioshock Infinite” and so on), so choosing to try an under play this aspect doesn’t help anyone. In fact, it didn’t even help the movie, as at the time of release several critics still mistook the film as being racist.
So now we look at how this compares to the other Sccorsese movies i’ve reviewed so far. Personally i’d say this is my second favorite film from him (Goodfellas still takes top honers), but it is one of the more thematically intense films i’ve seen from him. While “Wolf of Wall Street” had plenty to say about the exploitative nature of capitalism and the like, it was still pretty easy to watch it just as a black comedy. Here the themes are hard to ignore, and there is little that isn’t directly in services to it.
All in all, if it wasn’t for that creative misstep in the casting this would have been a perfect film. As it is, Taxi Driver is still a great film and very much deserving of all the praise it gets. I loved the hell out of it and I think you will too, so go see it if you haven’t already.

Welcome To Scorsese Month 2015!

martin_scorseseJust like last year i’ll be taking a look at four films from one of the most acclaimed American Film Makers of all time, Martin Scorsese. Join me each Tuesday this month as I review a different movie spanning his 40+ year directing career. So get ready for a lot of Gangsters, Tracking Shots and Rolling Stones.

Scorsese Month Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay By: Terence Winter
Release Date: December 25, 2013
Run Time: 180 minutes
Rating: R

While “The Wolf of Wall Street” isn’t Scorsese’s best movie (that in no way is to say that the film is bad) it is probably the smartest thing he’s done. Smart in that it is trying to make a real, relevant point yes, but more importantly it’s smart in that it is a perfect update to the Scorsese formula. Scorsese made his name telling stories about the mafia and gangsters. So when making a movie like that for the modern age. Who do you focus on? The answer: Wall Street,The Modern Day Gangsters and Crime Lords.
Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young up and coming Stock Broker who gained the attention of his boss when he tries to sell a stock at his interview. So much so that on his first day Belfort’s boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) offers to take him to lunch. Here Hanna tells Belfort how to make it in the stock market. The most important peace of advise Hanna gives Belfort is…kind of a heavy handed summery of the movies thesis: the free market is bullshit, the stock market is a fraud and as long as you can work it to you advantage who cares about the people you rip off. While I do agree with the over all left of center political views Scorsese is endorsing in the film, having one of the characters basically look top the camera and say “capitalism is inherently wrong and stockbrokers are scum” is a little on the lazy side. The scene isn’t bad, it’s just a little too obvious.
Anyways: the story continues as Belfort takes and passes his setion 7’s and finally becomes a real stockbroker instead of a cold caller. The only problem? His first real day is the same day of a massive market crash. Belfort promptly losses his job and goes to work for another broker company. This particular company sells “pink sheets” or penny stocks. For those who know less than I do about the stock market (and I don’t know much), here is a brief summery: At the time of this writing stock in Disney sells for $90.33. If you bought 1 share and tomorrow the stock went up to $100, you could sell the stock and make $9. 67 profit. The stocks Belfort is selling now sell for around $0.10 each.
However, there is an upside for Belfort: here he gets a 50% commission instead of 1%. So, if he can get some one to buy $4000 dollars worth of stock, he makes $2000. Were as with the other company hes only be making $40. And if nothing else, Belfort is a very good salesman.
As he continues to sell these crap stocks to people he meats who will soon become his best friend and partner (in both stock broking and crime), Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). At around this same time Belfort’s wife gives him an idea: sell these cheap stocks to wealthier people. See, were for some one like me, buying $4000 worth of stocks is out of my range, for the 1%, they could buy millions worth of these stocks and not even notice the loss. So Belfort and Donnie start their own broker agency, and Belfort teaches some of the lowlifes he used to hang around with how to come off as respectable stockbrokers. The name of this company? Stratton Oakmont. Doesn’t that just sound like the name of a company made to take as much of your money as possible?
As time goes on things are really begin to look up for Belfort and Stratton Oakmont. Every one is making more money that they know what to do with and they are constantly looking for bigger offices. But as a wise man once told me “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is”. With the company growning as fast and doing as well as it was, the FBI begin to ask if Stratton Oakmont’s success was too good to be true. Once Belfort leans about this the movies switches focus on to how he manages to avoids being caught while still doing copious amounts of drugs (and prostitutes), making more money that god and tiring to protect it all. So much happens that I honestly can’t go through everything (the film is 3 hours long). But it is all really good and you should watch it. However, with this movie the one thing I want to talk about the most have nothing to do with the actual movie.
See, when the movie first came out a lot of people were saying that Belfort wasn’t portrayed to be evil enough. With how Belfort is portrayed in the movie that is almost like saying a “Power Ranger” villain isn’t “evil” enough. You literally watch this man steal money hand over fist, cheat on his first wife abuse his second and do enough drugs to stock a small hospital. However, I think the real issue is that Belfort never really pays for his crime. He never gets his comeuppance, so to say. And if you are one of those people, let me just explain this as calmly as possible: THAT WAS THE GOD DAMN POINT. The fact that this man could do what he did and pay so little of a price for it because he was rich was a part of the point the movie was making. If he had paid for everything he did the movie would lose it’s impact. The message would have gone from “we need to end this culture that allows the wealthy to get away with this kind of shit” to “everyone gets what’s coming to them” and that just isn’t true. So yeah, the “controversy” of this movie is soooooo off base with anything even resembling reality that it honestly make me angry to think about.
So, to end this Scorsese Month let’s look at how this movie compares to the other movies I looked at. The first thing I noticed what that the last three movies were all based in either non-fiction or something people believe to be non-fiction. The stories of “Goodfellas” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” are both the stories of real people, while the story of Jesus is…believed by many to have really happened. I’m not sure if that means anything, but it is an interesting discovery. With the first three movies I watched I could see continual growth in Scorsese ability as a story tell. This shows itself in how much better the music is in “The Last Temptation of Christ”, and how much better the over all plot is in “Goodfellas”. In “The Wolf of Wall Street” there isn’t all that much evolution in his directing. However, after making movies for over 40 years, it makes since that he starts to rely on his “persona” as a filmmaker.
If I remember right Scorsese’s next film is going to be a biopic on the punk rock group “The Romans”. I don’t know much about the history of the band, so I can’t say if I find this an “appropriate” use of Scorsese’s talents or not, but they are a great band and Scorsese is a great director, so i’m pretty sure the movie will still be pretty sweet.
And that concludes Scorsese Month 2014. I hope you enjoyed this look at one of my favorite film makers of all time and one of the best working today.

Scorsese Month Review: Goodfellas

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay By: Martin Scorsese, Nicholas Pileggi
Release Date: September 19, 1990
Run Time: 148 Minutes
Rating: R

I said last week that this is the film most people call Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus. And with how good this movie is, it isn’t hard to see why. This is a nearly flawless film that was enjoyable from the beginning to the end. Even better, the movie expects you to know that these are bad people who deserve whatever ends they may meet, but it never preaches at you. Instead it focuses on why the life style held its appeal, how it all went wrong and how dangerous it was once everything started to fall apart. This is a story telling choice I’ll talk about more next week, but it is also a main point of interest in this film as well.
The film fallows Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) from his youth to his adult life as a high ranking gangster to his downfall as well as the fall of his crime family. We open with Henry and two other men, James Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) on their way to bury a body when they learn that the man in the trunk is still alive. They pull over and finish the job. We then go back to Henry’s childhood after he gives us one of the best opening lines in film (in my opinion of course): “as far back as i can remember i wanted to be a gangster”. Here we we get a glimpse as to why the lifestyle held such appeal for young Henry Hill. He grew up poor, with several children (one wheelchair bound) living in a small house. Across the street were the gangster. They seemed to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to do it and no one, not even the cops, would bother them. For a young, poor boy that life seems life the ideal. And that is coming from experience.
Young Henry soon finds himself working for the crime family doing odd jobes like selling stolen smokes. This part of his life comes to its climax when he gets pinched for the first time. He gets let off, and Paul Cicero (the head of the crime family) and the rest of them are proud of the boy as he didn’t tell the police anything.
We then cut back to the present. From here we watch as Henry goes up the ranks of Italian mob, starting with one of the first big scores. In this score Henry and someone else (I don’t remember who at the moment) steal somewhere around half a million dollars from an airport with out ever having to pullout there guns. Things are good for a while, but then three events happen that really kick the plot into overdrive. This first is when Tommy kills a “made man” and we learn what was going on in the beginning of the film before the flashback. The second is the groups second big score, this time for around 6 million dollars. The third is Henry getting out of prison and entering the drug business.
You see, up until now, watching this felt very much like watching “Mean Streets”. A good movie that lacked any real feeling of connectivity. But here we see where that comparison ends. These events have consequences and lead directly into the resolution of the film. At this point Scorsese had been making movies for nearly 20 years, and that time and practice shows through.
Anyway, the group takes another score, the largest is US history at the time. And Tommy goes kill crazy. Some of the people he kills around this time screwed up in some way, an others he kills out of pretty spite. After awhile the “made men” as forced to kill him. They say it was because he killed another one of the “made men” but it honestly feels like they were just sick of his bullshit. And then we start to see Henry’s trust in the group start to fade away.
As time goes on, Henry starts dealing in drugs, behind the back of the head boss, Paulie. Henry, his wife and his mistress all start using as well as selling and that is what ultimately leads to his down fall. He gets caught and Pauile and the others are forced to turn their backs on him. With this betrayal as well as his own growing distrust of the gang, when it comes time for the trial, Henry snitches and leads to the arrest of most the higher ups and bringing down that crime family.
This is a good movie. If you haven’t seen it you should definitely go do that. Scorsese here perfected the art of telling the story of a mans life, with all it’s chaos and randomness while still telling a great, cohesive story. This is, in my opinion, the gangster movie. If you only ever watch one movie about gangsters or the mod, let it be this one. You will not be disapointed.

Scorsese Month Review: The Last Temptation of Christ

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay By: Paul Schrader
Release Date: September 22nd, 1988
Run Time: 164 Minuets
Rating: R

Last week I took a look at “Mean Street”. A good movie that had little plot and was therefor kind of hard to talk about. If nothing else, at least I can’t say the same for this film. And if this had been just another Jesus movie, that would have brought up it’s own set of challenges. The story of Jesus is so well know that any kind of plot summery or analysis would just be a rehash of nearly every biblical conversation you’ve ever heard. But thankfully, when Scorsese choose to make his Jesus film, he didn’t look to the bible. Instead, he looked to the Fictional take given in the book “The Last Temptation of Christ”. In doing so, he made the best Jesus movie you will ever see. But I want to stress the fact that this is not a strait adaptation of the gospels. This is something stressed at the beginning of the film and it is part of what makes the film so good to begin with. I also want to ask that if you are the kind of believer who will (as many have before) get angry over that fact to either stop reading this review or to try and keep you comments civil.
For those who don’t know the story of Jesus, a short summery: Jehovah, the Judeo-Christian god, spent too much time with Zeus and pick up the bad habit of shagging the first woman he see. This woman happened to be named Marry. She ended up giving birth to Jehovah’s child and instead of paying child support he tells the kid he can inherit the kingdom of Heaven…if he dies for mankind sins…Yeah, no one elected this guy for “father of the year” for a reason. Anyways, Jesus then goes around doing miracles until his death. And now you know everything about Jesus…kinda….maybe…you really shouldn’t listen to me about this kind of thing…
The film opens with Jesus already grown and doing his work as a carpenter. Something I don’t remember for the bible is that by “ carpenter”, they meant he was making crosses the roman empire used to kill his fellow Jews. He’s also having debilitating headaches that seem to be god talking too him. From here we go on a journey with Jesus as he tries to understand what god wants from him. He is told that the Jewish god is the god of the desert, so that is where he is goes. Once he gains clarity he goes to leave, Judas comes to him. In this interpretation Judas was sent to kill him, but doesn’t as Judas has his own question about religion and gods plain. So, together they take off an for most of the movie we go through the standard Jesus narrative. Gaining his disciples turning water into wine, bringing the dead back to life and giving sight back to the blind.
So what makes this the best Jesus movie? It’s how Jesus is characterized. Movie movie play his divinity strait. He is the son of god, there for he has all the answers. Here, Jesus is scared and angry and not really all that “godly”. He’s portrayed less like the son of man and more just A man. This makes Jesus the one thing he’s never been: sympathetic. He is just as lost as most everyone on earth. He is looking to understand his place in the universe, like nearly everyone else. This creates an interesting character. And whether or not you believe in Jesus as the lord and savior of man kind, you can’t argue that he has never been a great character.
The other character who becomes more interesting by ignoring the biblical canon is Judas. One of the most interesting changes is that here he is Jesus most devout disciple. He doesn’t betray Jesus, he does as he was asked. He talks and debates with Jesus. He is Jesus’ friend. So much so that some scenes come off as homoerotic. I’m not sure if that is what the intention was, but that’s what I got out of it and I have to say: that is an interesting direction to take the characters.
The plot picks up again with Jesus’ Crucifixion. Normally that is where these movies come to an end, but here this is the beginning of the most interesting part of the film. As Jesus s hanging, dying slowly, a young child comes to him. The child tells him that he is a guardian angel, sent by god to save Jesus. He says that, like Abraham who was spared having to kill his son, God wants Jesus to live. So, for nearly the last half hour of the film we watch Jesus living the life of a normal man, getting married and having kids. That is, until his disciples come back again. They expose the fact that his “guardian angel” was actually Satan. By having Jesus die as a man instead of on the cross, that stops him from being the Messiah. Jesus then goes and begs God to take him back, witch he does. However, it is left somewhat unclear if god took him back or if his “life” was simply in his mind as he tried to escape the pain of the Crucifixion until he finally accepted his place as the sacrificial lamb.
This movie was great. Literally everything does with the characters served to make the story of Jesus interesting, something i’ve never experienced before. However, there is one negative thing I have to bring up: whitewashing. Yes, the movie was made in the 80’s, but having the entire cast be white is still something that rubbed me the wrong way and is likely to bother some others as well. And Willem Dafoe is Jesus. He did fine in the role, but who’s idea was that? Who looks at Willem Dafoe and says “this guy needs to play the savior of the human race”? It’s a casting choice that still makes me giggle. But I do want to reinforce that the actors they have all do fantastic. But, as the people they are portraying are from the middle east, it would have been great to see that represented in the cast.
Looking at Martin Scorsese as a director, there is one noticeable change in his directing here that shows growth as an artist: the music. I forgot to mention it last review, but there were a lot of odd music choices throughout “Mean Streets”. None of the songs were bad, but they never quite fit the mood. Here, not only are the songs more fitting, but they have a strong middle eastern vibe to them. Again, while it would have been great to see the middle eastern nature of the characters portrayed in the actors themselves, this was still nice to see. I’m sure it would have been an oblivious choice for most directors, so I can’t praise it too much, but I liked seeing it. And I liked seeing Scorsese better pick his music.
So if you haven’t seen this, I say give it a watch. It will show you a portrait of Christ you may not agree with but it’s one you wont forget. Like I said, this s the best Jesus movie i’ve ever seen. I hope you enjoyed my review. Join me next time as I tackle what many consider to be Scorsese’s greatest accomplishment: “Goodfellas”

Scorsese Month Review: Mean Streets

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay By: Martin Scorsese, Mardik Martin
Release Date: October 14, 1973
Run Time: 112 Minutes
Rating: R

We’re going to kick off Scorsese Month the same way he kicked off his career: with “Mean Streets”. As a first film, this really does paint a precise picture of what a Scorsese film will be through out most of his career: Gangs, Crime, Violence, Catholic Guilt and so on. Unfortunately, this feels like the first movie some directed as well. While Martin Scorsese is a Cinema God, this is not the work of the mastermind we all know and love, but the rookie he was, and his inexperience shows. Firstly and most blatantly in the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of plot to this movie.
The movie fallows Charlie, a low level mobster looking to clime the ranks, but his Roman Catholic believes and moronicly reckless friend Johnny Boy keep pulling getting in the way. The main issue through out the movie is Charlie seeing salvation by helping Johnny Boy be less of a dip shit. And that’s it. That’s the plot of the movie. The movie isn’t bad, but there really isn’t much to talk about in terms of plot. Out side of the few times we see Charlie trying to make Johnny Boy grow the hell up, most of the movie is about Charlie’s life as a gangster.
Now, with all my bitching about how little plot there is, think this may be the key into understanding just how good a director Martin Scorsese is. While I was waiting for something substantial to happen I was never board. Watching Charlie and Johnny Boy collecting debts, watching Charlie and his relationship with the epileptic Teresa, watching the two friends rip off a couple of kids, all of this is a lot of fun, even though it’s all ultimately irrelevant. This may not be as good a fist film is as “Reservoir Dogs” was for Quentin Tarantino, but it is still a very good movie.
So…yeah…that as great a review as I was hoping, but there really isn’t all that much to say. Well, next time we’ll see how much changes in over a decade as I take a look at “The Last Temptation of Christ”.

Welcome to Scorsese Month.

Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese has been making movies for over 40 years now. His first film, Mean Streets, came out in 1973 and the man still has another movie coming out. So, i’m going to be looking at about one film per decade from this cinematic legend to celebrate his 72nd birthday. So, Look for a new review every Monday throughout the month.