Tag Archives: Martin Scorsese

Maestro-2023

Maestro-2023

Director Bradley Cooper

Starring Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan

Scott’s Review #1,411

Reviewed December 3, 2023

Grade: A

Brilliance personified defines Maestro (2023), a film directed by and starring Bradley Cooper. As if that isn’t enough Cooper co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer and co-produced the project with Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg.

With riches such as these players involved equates to adequate muscle to make the film a necessary watch brimming with creativity and good storytelling.

There is no disappointment whatsoever in the buildup. Maestro expresses powerful acting, creative direction, and a musical score encompassing the works of the man being examined, Bernstein.

At the conclusion, I found myself feeling like I’d been hit by a Mack truck. The epic portrayal of one family’s love for one another was overwhelming.

Combined with the art appreciation left me astounded with culture and further knowledge of the composer.

The story is not as much of a straightforward biography as one might imagine though when the film begins in the 1940s the famous composer is just on the cusp of his first big break. By sheer luck, he is asked to fill in for an ailing conductor, Bruno Walter, one evening.

But at its core Maestro is a torrential and fearless love story chronicling the lifelong relationship between Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) and Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein (Carey Mulligan) who was a well-known theater actress.

They meet at a party and fall madly in love spending most of their time together. The intrigue is that Leonard is gay and quite openly so before he meets Felicia and becomes famous.

His boyfriend is David Oppenheim, played by Matt Bomer.

This sat well with me and I was impressed by their openness well before the LGBT movement. Unfortunately, we see little of David or Bomer after the early days and Leonard becomes enamored with several young aspiring composers. He then took to doing lines of cocaine into the 1970s and 1980s.

What the film does well is reveal that Felicia is aware of Leonard’s sexuality and loves him despite his appetite for men. This is not always easy for her. They share a love that is stoic and unadulterated and they become one in their bond making it unbreakable.

Maestro gets very dark in the later stages when Felicia is diagnosed with terminal cancer but this gives Cooper and Mulligan a chance to shine, and dazzle the audience with mesmerizing acting performances.

It’s tough to showcase one because both are so good.

Cooper has given the best performance of his career.

Enveloping himself into the role so much that it’s staggering how he gets the mannerisms of Bernstein.  The composer’s energetic style of expressive body movements and gestures which he was noted for as a conductor are done to perfection by Cooper.

Mulligan doesn’t play the wife role. She has her own story and makes the audience empathize with Felicia’s struggles to deal with her husband’s sexuality especially when rumors come to light affecting her children.

Mulligan gives a genuineness and heart to Felicia’s battle with cancer.

Cooper’s direction is excellent. The first part is shot in black and white giving an artistic, old Hollywood-style feel making the cigarette smoking look glamorous and sophisticated. The lush art direction merges into blurry shadows and angular lighting that fits the mood.

The color enhances the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s time as the characters age. The hairstyles and outfits gleam with sophisticated New York style and the Bernstein’s Long Island home is palatial.

Ironically, the darkest parts of the film are the most vivid and colorful.

Finally, the musical score features legendary Bernstein pieces that give truth to the production not only reminding viewers how talented he was but the choices made enhance each scene where a number appears.

I smiled when a number from West Side Story, perhaps his best-known work was featured.

A knock-out scene of Leonard conducting at a cathedral is lengthy and dramatic culminating with Felecia looking on from the side of the church. At this moment, I knew that the couple were true soulmates.

Maestro (2023) is an exceptional piece of filmmaking that easily secures Bradley Cooper his place in cinema history both in front of and behind the camera.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Bradley Cooper, Best Actress-Carey Mulligan, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Killers of the Flower Moon-2023

Killers of the Flower Moon-2023

Director Martin Scorsese

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone

Scott’s Review #1,406

Reviewed October 22, 2023

Grade: A

One great thing about legendary director Martin Scorsese, and there are plenty I could mention, is that he continues to challenge his audience with his films well into his eighties.

Any aspiring filmmaker, or any cinephile, should study his films.

Before I knew too much about his new picture, Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) I knew I wanted to see it because I trust Scorsese as a director.

His most recent films, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Irishman (2019) are not easy watches but the payoff is tremendous.

Scorsese is not the kind of filmmaker to create feel-good fluff but leaves the audience pondering what they’ve seen long after leaving the theater.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, two frequent Scorsese collaborators and great actors appear in Killers of the Flower Moon assuring something of quality.

Be forewarned that at an enormous running time of three hours and twenty-six minutes, the film is long! Like a fine wine, it took me about an hour or so to immerse myself in the texture and storytelling but this only defends the richness of the experience.

Based on David Grann’s broadly lauded best-selling book, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is set in 1920s Oklahoma and depicts the serial murder of members of the oil-wealthy Osage Nation, a string of brutal crimes that came to be known as the Reign of Terror.

In 1918, Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio) returns from World War I to his uncle, rancher William “King” Hale (De Niro), who lives with Ernest’s brother Byron (Scott Sheperd) on the reservation. Hale pretends to be a friendly supporter of the Osage people, but he secretly schemes to murder them and steal their wealth.

Lily Gladstone who has starred mainly in independent films makes her breakthrough performance as Mollie Burkhart, a wealthy Native American woman who is the love interest of Ernest.

The cast is unwieldy and features stalwarts like Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow in small roles but the notable mentions are DiCaprio, De Niro, and Gladstone.

Each scene between the three crackles with phenomenal acting and attention to their craft. Gladstone quietly yet expressively emotes her character’s feelings and emotions. Mollie is a proud woman but not gullible as she presents a strong feminist quality.

Her scenes with DiCaprio resonate the most. His character of Ernest is complicated and possesses good and bad qualities. As Mollie professes early on he is handsome but not too smart.

Her statement comes further into play at the end of the film.

Amid the schemes and murders Killers of the Flower Moon embraces a sweet romantic story between Ernest and Mollie. They love each other and he adores her and their children but is it ultimately enough?

Any aspiring actors should hone in on scenes between DiCaprio and De Niro for inspiration. Each scene and line within the scene is delivered with naturalness. Carefully yet authentically executed their conversations are mesmerizing.

De Niro reportedly and unsurprisingly modeled his character after the callous and dastardly reality star turned-politician Donald Trump.  Pretending to be well-intentioned but instead bullying and scheming his way to fortune by bamboozling the weak, De Niro channels his inner asshole with precision.

I immediately recognized what the actor was going for concerning the hateful politician.

In what only enhances the film, Scorsese appears at the beginning and end with impassioned moments about the importance of telling this story.

Filmed in Oklahoma, many sequences of open land, fields, streams, and other natural elements appear. Scorsese often uses the same film crews which enhances the authenticity.

The cinematography is filled with early 1900s facets and real Native American people are featured. The colors and tribal outfits offer culture and a glimpse into their way of life.

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) is an important film because it teaches and reminds the audience that oppression and tragedy have existed in the United States and still do today.

The telling of one group of people is sound and a stark reminder of how many more stories exist each needing the help of a great filmmaker to bring exposure.

Scorsese does it again.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Martin Scorsese, Best Actress-Lily Gladstone, Best Supporting Actor-Robert De Niro, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)

Gangs of New York-2002

Gangs of New York-2002

Director Martin Scorsese

Starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz

Scott’s Review #1,327

Reviewed December 26, 2022

Grade: A-

Gangs of New York (2002) is an extremely violent and bloody epic by director Martin Scorsese that is an exquisite piece of filmmaking nearly flawless in every way except maybe its length and story.

On the one hand, it’s a beautifully choreographed and filmed crime drama with perfect costumes, art direction, and cinematography. Still, on the other, it’s tedious and lengthy, especially during the final hour, with choppy storytelling and seemingly one long continuous battle.

Scorsese being Scorsese and knowing his way around crafting an excellent film or two left me ruminating over the cinema and pondering whether I’d ever need to see it again.

Usually, I’m all in when it comes to repeated viewings of his films,  especially Raging Bull (1980) or Goodfellas (1990) but with Gangs of New York, the sobering almost three hours running time and the non-stop bloodshed gives me pause.

It’s not a mafia film but it is an Irish-centered crime drama harkening back to the mid-1800s so there are historical lessons to be exposed to. Familiar with most of his films there are good guys, bad guys, and a criminal, feuding overtone, and lots of grit and grime to plow through.

I can’t say it’s one of Scorsese’s top 10 but it’s a grandiose, epic-length behemoth that features a host of top-name talent but there are nonetheless aspects that leave it slightly beneath his most famous works.

But that’s nearly akin to comparing the works of Beethoven, Rembrandt, or other geniuses of one art form or another. Anyone respecting Scorsese or appreciating good cinema should see Gangs of New York.

Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young Irish immigrant released from prison. He returns to the Five Points seeking revenge against his father’s killer, William Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) also known as ‘The Butcher’, a brutal and powerful anti-immigrant gang leader.

He knows that revenge can only be attained by infiltrating Cutting’s inner circle. Amsterdam’s journey became a fight for personal survival and to find a place for the Irish people in 1860’s New York.

The most delicious part of the film is the rivalry between Amsterdam and ‘The Butcher’. DiCaprio and Day-Lewis make powerful sparring partners and as much as Amsterdam’s motivations are admirable it’s Day-Lewis who has the more interesting character.

To no one’s surprise, the actor channels his inner dictator as he method acts throughout the film. To no one’s additional surprise, he steals the show away from other tremendous actors like DiCaprio, Jim Broadbent, and John C. Reilly in supporting roles.

However, I need to ask why Day-Lewis was selected for the Lead Actor Oscar category when he is a supporting one.

Worthy of mention is Cameron Diaz who, for once, plays the dramatic role of a pickpocket. Typically cast in comedic roles she shows she has acting chops.

The story gets a bit wayward about halfway through and I stopped giving the story much credence about three-quarters of the way through. It’s as if Scorsese had frenetic schizophrenia moments with tons of good ideas but none of them formulating a cohesive plot.

The New York City setting is a favorite of mine especially pre-civil war and well before the NYC of modern times even existed. The prevalence of Canal Street and various others make this northeasterner heavily invested in geography.

Finally, to bring it all full circle, Gangs of New York powerfully reminds the audience of the age-old topic of immigration and how those who have citizenship too often oppose those who desire to enter a country they once also did.

‘The Butcher’s’ brutal opposition is a sad reminder of how the United States of America was never united and the senseless violence towards immigrants is never-ending.

Gangs of New York (2002) may not be Scorsese’s best work but even on his worst day, he creates a film worth watching. Mixing toxic masculinity, and revenge with a crazy story he succeeds where other directors might fail by providing compelling filmmaking with all the fixings.

Just don’t get too hung up on the story points.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Martin Scorsese, Best Actor-Daniel Day-Lewis, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song-“The Hands That Built America”, Best Sound

Raging Bull-1980

Raging Bull-1980

Director Martin Scorsese

Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Scott’s Review #1,256

Reviewed May 14, 2022

Grade: A

Raging Bull (1980) might be director Martin Scorsese’s most personal film and his most character-driven. His other films contain great characters, rich with life, but with the focus firmly planted on controversial real-life boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) there is much to explore.

His descent into madness is hard to watch but also impossible to look away from.

It’s tough to top the De Niro/Scorsese pairing featured in Taxi Driver (1976) when the actor simply kicked the audience’s ass with his ferocious portrayal of maniacal Travis Bickle. LaMotta arguably surpasses that portrayal because the boxer experiences the highest of the highs with the lowest of the lows.

And the audience is whisked away with him on the journey from heaven to hell. Arguably director and actor’s finest film, Raging Bull is often painful to watch, but it’s a searing, powerful work about an unsympathetic hero who we can’t help but explore.

A double-pairing film extravaganza of watching Taxi Driver and Raging Bull is a fabulous idea though the viewer may need a Valium to combat the resulting anxiety after experiencing these films.

I love the title that is Raging Bull because it is so apt and central to the film. Fueled with machismo, testosterone, and anger, Jake LaMotta certainly is a raging bull.

Screenwriters Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin, frequent collaborators of Scorsese’s, adapt the story from Raging Bull: My Story, a 1970 memoir written by LaMotta.

Raging Bull tells the story of an Italian-American middleweight boxer as he struggles through the ranks to earn his first shot at the middleweight crown. He possesses a self-destructive and obsessive rage, jealousy, and animalistic appetite that destroys his relationship with his wife and family.

Wonderfully cast as his wife Vickie is Cathy Moriarity who is a gorgeous girl from the Bronx who falls head over heels in love with Jake. Joe Pesci plays his well-intentioned brother and manager, who unsuccessfully tries to help Jake battle his inner demons.

Jake’s inability to express his feelings enters the ring and eventually takes over his life. He is sent into a downward spiral that costs him everything.

Comparisons to the exceptional Rocky (1976) are cute and perhaps contain some merit on paper but whereas the former is heroic and compelling, the main characters are nothing alike except that they are both struggling boxers who achieve success.

Both are sports films but Raging Bull is much, much darker and purely a character study.

The cinematography by Michael Chapman and the Film Editing by Thelma Schoonmaker is deserving of accolades and make the picture as flawless as it is.

Scorsese adds enough boxing scenes to showcase the fantastic editing that is required for these difficult scenes. The editing is lightning quick and the thunderous bombast makes the viewer feel each blow of the glove on the skin. The blood and sweat are legendary components of these scenes.

The black and white cinematography is jaw-dropping especially powerful during the kitchen fight scene between Jake and Joey. The brutal buildup is hard to stomach as Jake’s dementia becomes evident.

Despite the other qualities of the film that bring it all together, my favorite aspect is the performance that De Niro delivers, winning him a much-deserved Best Actor Oscar.

He is powerful and animalistic playing both subtle rage and explosive anger. His tragic final act as a much older and fat man is shrouded in heartbreak and pain for both the character and the viewer to experience.

All the pieces of Raging Bull (1980) add up perfectly into a masterpiece. The violence and pain are enshrouded in poetic dialogue and beautiful illuminating camera work exploring one man’s battles and struggles both inside the squared circle and internally.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor-Robert De Niro (won), Best Supporting Actor-Joe Pesci, Best Supporting Actress-Cathy Moriarty, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won), Best Sound

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore-1974

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore-1974

Director Martin Scorsese

Starring Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson, Diane Ladd

Scott’s Review #1,075

Reviewed October 27, 2020

Grade: A-

Deserving of the Best Actress statuette she won for her role, Ellen Burstyn carries the film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) from start to finish with drama and comedy.

I can’t watch any performance of Burstyn’s without smarting at how she lost the same award years later after her frighteningly good performance in Requiem for a Dream released in 2000.

She was defeated by Julia Roberts, who gave an adequate though unexceptional performance in Erin Brockovich (2000).

But, I digress.

A character study Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, tells the powerful story of a woman (Burstyn) forced to begin a new life and forge her path after her husband is killed in a car accident.

She is thirty-five years old and wary of middle age approaching as she pursues a singing career. She is joined by her young son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter), and faces fear and loneliness as the pair embarks on a journey throughout the southwestern United States.

She dates, fights, and does a soul search, finally landing a job as a waitress at a roadside diner.

On paper, this film could have been reduced to television movie status as the premise sounds kind of corny and sentimental.

Shocking to me is that Martin Scorsese directed it. Best known for male-driven mobster pictures like Goodfellas (1993), Gangs of New York (2002), and The Irishman (2019), an introspective female journey film doesn’t seem like his thing.

A fun fact is that he agreed to direct at Burstyn’s urging as she wouldn’t have starred in it otherwise. The actress surmised that the script needed more darkness and grit, which it contains without losing its heart.

A strange yet lovely photographed scene kicks off the picture and seems to be an homage to The Wizard of Oz (1939). With a dusty, golden backdrop, a young Alice looks like Dorothy with an idyllic life.

Suddenly, Alice’s mother bellows her to come home for dinner. She responds with salty language. The scene feels out of place based on the rest of the film but looks good.

Burstyn made me care about Alice from the first scene containing adult Alice. Alice is a good person. She is hard-working and strives to please her husband, hoping he will enjoy the delicious dinner she has prepared for him. He barely grunts at the meal and has a tumultuous relationship with Tommy, who Alice spoils.

This plot point returns later in the film.

Alice is not a doormat, however, as she provides humor and comic relief during tense moments. She also shares a warm friendship with her neighbor. We do not know what the husband’s demons are (depression?).

He and Alice share an emotional moment in bed one night before he dies the next day.

With her marriage behind her and limited financial means, Alice and Tommy take to the road. I adore the relationship between the two. Tommy is not always easy to parent, exhausting his mother with typical young adult nonsense.

It’s easy to forget that he has lost his father and has no direction. Their relationship is complicated but there is much love.

The juiciness comes when Alice finally lands a singing gig at a seedy lounge bar and meets the maniacal Ben, played flawlessly by Harvey Keitel.

At first, he is charming and attentive, wooing her like she’s never been wooed before. When she learns he is married he turns psycho and she is forced to leave town.

The meat of the film comes when Alice begins working at the diner and meets her new friend, Flo (Diane Ladd), and her new love David (Kris Kristofferson). After some trials and tribulations, Alice realizes her life is not so bad.

As much as there are dramatic elements Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is not soap opera or overwrought. The scenes and situations bristle with energy and authenticity and this is thanks to the great acting and fluid direction.

My favorite scenes occur at the diner. With greasy, blue plate specials and dishes piled with ham, eggs, and hash browns, the working-class extras are perfectly positioned around the diner.

In the background, they lend a feeling of rush, chaos, and family traditions. The diner scenes are where Alice bonds the most with Flo and David and are delicious.

Turned into a popular television sitcom in the late 1970s named Alice, a lighter, wholesome production, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) is a progressive story about a woman on her own and getting it done, mustering courage no matter what life throws at her.

It’s an inspiring story for both women and men.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Actress-Ellen Burstyn (won), Best Supporting Actress-Diane Ladd, Best Original Screenplay

After Hours-1985

After Hours-1985

Director Martin Scorsese

Starring Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette

Scott’s Review #1,069

Reviewed October 9, 2020

Grade: A-

After Hours (1985) is a gem of a film.

When thoughts of director Martin Scorsese are conjured, Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), or Goodfellas (1993) are films that immediately spring to mind.

Scorsese’s decision to create a pared-down independent film was met with enormous success and accolades for the very first Best Feature indie film victory and Best Director honors.

The experience is a black comedy set within the gritty and unpredictable underbelly of Soho-New York City in the 1980s.

Mixing comedy with satire, Scorsese leapfrogs from similar content in The King of Comedy (1983) to this film made only two years later.

Any fan of New York City will cheer with joy at the authenticity achieved since the film was shot on location there. The Big Apple in the 1980s was a notoriously violent cesspool so the genuine setting and the use of dark streets and alleys is an immeasurable treat and adds much zest to this unusual film.

A nice guy, Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), works hard as a computer data entry worker by day and shares an encounter with a quirky young woman named Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette) in a Manhattan coffee shop.

After she gives him her number and leaves, he is unable to stop thinking about her and embarks on a late-night adventure to go and see her at her apartment.

The night does not end how he thinks it will. Not by a long shot, as he spends the rest of the long night meeting various women and other strange characters as he traverses around the city attempting to get back home. He has lost his money and is broke.

The great aspects of After Hours are its bizarre characters and the cinematography that offers a tantalizing view of downtown Manhattan. The film is atmospheric and zany in its gloomy and steamy side streets and odd locales sprinkled with color.

A dingy bar, a sophisticated artist’s apartment, and a man sculpture that follows Paul everywhere are usurped by the film’s strangest and most interesting set, Club Berlin, an “after-hours” club inhabited by punks who want to shave Paul’s head into a mohawk.

I enjoyed this film as a sort of “A Day in the Life of Paul” adventure story, albeit a gothic one. The film concludes wonderfully as the sun begins to rise just as the film ends and thus Paul’s wild night finally ends.

I was chomping at the bit with the thought of what a new morning would bring and the possibilities of reuniting with any of the women he encountered the night before, either dead or alive.

Particularly charming to me while watching After Hours, the decade of decadence well into the past, are the relics once commonplace in everyday life. A phone booth, the traditional yellow cabs, and desktop personal computers are heavily featured.

These items, relevant when the film was made, now seem like throwback niceties that make the film endearing and like a glimpse into someone’s time capsule.

I did not pick up on much authentic romance between Paul or any of the female characters- Marcy, June, Gail (Catherine O’Hara), or Julie (Teri Garr), but maybe that’s the point. While one winds up dead, not one, but two of them pursue him, and not in a good way.

The film is mystical, weird, and energetic. The inclusion of Cheech & Chong only adds to the revelry.

Sadly, underappreciated and too often forgotten, After Hours (1985) is a Scorsese treat worth dusting off now and then. The birth of the Independent Spirit Awards has a lot to owe to this film for grabbing top honors and the admiration works both ways.

For a glimpse at the creative genius that is Martin Scorsese, this film gets an enormous recommendation.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 2 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Director-Martin Scorsese (won), Best Female Lead-Rosanna Arquette, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography

The Irishman-2019

The Irishman-2019

Director- Martin Scorsese

Starring-Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci

Scott’s Review #960

Reviewed November 20, 2019

Grade: A

Any film created by legendary director, Martin Scorsese is sure to impress legions of adoring followers and most critics. Every project he touches on results in something fantastic, and easy to revel in good analysis and discussion about the movie moments after the closing credits have rolled.

The Irishman (2019) is a film that requires repeated viewings and thought to obtain the full flavor and relish in the savory and vast cast of characters.

The picture may not be on the same level as Goodfellas (1990) or The Godfather (1972), which it seems patterned after, but the work is highly impressive and should stand the test of time resulting in a fine wine analogy.

The years will likely be kind to the film and enrich the experience- it’s that kind of film. With stars like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel on board, the viewer expects a plethora of riches and that is exactly what is delivered.

The film spans the period of the 1950s through the 1970s and follows the life of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a truck driver who becomes a hitman and gets involved with mobster Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and his crime family, including his time working for the powerful Teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). Sheeran is dubbed “the Irishman”.

He narrates much of the story, now quite elderly and residing in a nursing home, of his time in the mafia and the mystery surrounding the death of Hoffa.

The only negatives to the film are the suspension of disbelief that De Niro is Irish- was there ever a more Italian New Yorker? But, alas, this film is Scorsese directed and De Niro produced, so they could tell me the sky is green and I would readily nod in agreement.

At three hours and twenty-nine minutes, the film is a long haul and towards the middle, the film meanders a bit. Perhaps twenty or thirty minutes could have been sliced to the cutting room floor.

The rest of the experience The Irishman serves up is brilliance, with rich characters and a wonderful atmosphere. Have I mentioned that Scorsese directed this film? The cast of characters is endless and drizzles with zest speaking volumes for what The Godfather did with casting.

Many recognizable actors appear in small roles like Ray Romano as attorney Bill Bufalino, Bobby Cannavale as “Skinny Razor”, and Anna Paquin as Frank’s estranged daughter, Peggy. An endless supply of character actors fleshes out the remaining cast.

Wonderful is the plethora of food references that would impress notable food director, Alfred Hitchcock, known for incorporating meals into many of his scenes. The delectable early scenes when Frank delivers meat to grocers and gets in with a gangster over a discussion about a good steak will leave viewers mouth-watering for a tender sirloin.

The conversations between characters are interesting, slowly building and adding robust grit to a packed film. They have good, careful dialogue exchanges and talk matter-of-factly about life and experiences.

Characters are given a chance to develop and grow and even small characters like a nurse or a wife add a good, comforting aura. It is evident what treasured films look like when a director can simply create and develop without outside interference.

The standouts in the acting department are Pacino and De Niro, the former crossing my fingers will receive an Oscar nomination.

The pairing is flawless and eagle-eyed fans will recall that both actors appeared together in The Godfather Part II (1974) yet never shared a scene.

In The Irishman, they appear together in pivotal scenes. Pacino infuses Hoffa with humor and poise as only Pacino can do with a character. He is my favorite character and is tough to look away from.

Both actors, along with Pesci, are treated to a recent marvel in cinema- that of the de-aging process. Each actor, well into his seventy’s, is transformed to mid-forties in many scenes and then aged to appear elderly later in life.

While each has a strange unnatural look to him as a younger man, the process is impressive and an innovative technique that assuredly will become more common in film, and subsequently offer limitless possibilities.

The Irishman (2019) is a cinematic gem by a storied director advancing in years, but still offering grandiose films. With stalwarts like De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino, the players are well cast, and nuanced touches add dimensions to the finished product.

Offering a gangster film with grace and style, the story is poignant and crisp and a thoughtful approach to one of the legendary mysteries- what happened to Jimmy Hoffa?

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Martin Scorsese, Best Supporting Actor-Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects

Taxi Driver-1976

Taxi Driver-1976

Director Martin Scorsese 

Starring Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster

Scott’s Review #776 

Reviewed June 20, 2018

Grade: A

It is incredibly tough to choose a favorite of all Martin Scorsese films since nearly all of them are incredibly well made.

Goodfellas (1990), Raging Bull (1980), and Taxi Driver (1976) immediately come to mind. Taxi Driver may be Scorsese’s darkest film of all.

The thriller is intense, dangerous, and ferocious led by a riveting performance by Robert De Niro- a regular in the director’s earlier films. The film is nail-biting and compelling and a great, character-driven watch.

Set in the bustling and (at that time) decrepit New York City shortly following the Vietnam War, Travis is a veteran suffering from some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder. Lonely and angry, he works as an overnight taxi driver who falls for a snooty presidential campaign worker, Betsy, (Cybill Shepherd).

He also forges a relationship of a protective nature with an underage prostitute, Iris, (Jodie Foster). As he gradually spirals out of control due to the unhappiness surrounding him, he plots to kill Betsy’s boss while protecting Iris from her pimp (Harvey Keitel).

One great aspect of Taxi Driver is the insanely good performance by De Niro. Along with the later role of Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, that and his role of Travis Bickle are my two favorite roles of his. With Bickle, he is unpredictable, on edge, and angry, as De Niro infuses the character with those qualities in a seamless fashion.

As he teeters on the brink of insanity and is ready to snap at any given moment, the character is impossible not to watch with both fear and marvel. De Niro is that brilliant. 

While not to be outdone by the aforementioned negative and dangerous qualities, Travis also possesses a few benevolent traits making the character complex. In large part, this comes into play with the protective nature he develops towards Iris.

Almost like a big brother/kid-sister dynamic, the deranged man treats her with kindness rather than taking advantage of her as he easily could have. The diner scene the two actors (De Niro and Foster) share is rich with interesting dialogue and bonds the characters together.

Travis also harbors love and hate emotions towards Betsy (Cybill Shepherd). As she is a political volunteer for a potential presidential candidate, Travis first encounters her by way of spying on her through large glass windows where she works.

Coaxing her to accept a date, they have coffee and eventually attend a film together. Betsy is offended since the film is pornographic and their date goes south fast. After a vicious showdown between the pair at the campaign office, Travis goes off the deep end and plots revenge.

The gritty atmospheric approach that Scorsese provides when filming Taxi Driver is an enormous highlight of the film. Dingy, dark, and dangerous, the director creates ample scenes showing just how seedy New York City was in the 1970s.

Working the night shift, sure to bring out the rancid and most decaying elements of the city, Travis experiences many cretins and undesirables in his work- and arguably is one of them! Many scenes feature the notorious 42nd Street and its accompanying porn theaters that made New York City famous (or infamous!) at the time.

In one of the film’s most frightening (and best) scenes, Travis can get his hands on a gun. He practices drawing his weapon in the mirror repeatedly uttering the famous line “You talkin’ to me?” as we wonder if he will pull the trigger.

The scene is fraught with cerebral tension and quite frightening. Later, when Travis shaves his head and brandishes a mohawk, his new look is downright terrifying.

Scorsese creates a dark world that is enriched by his incredible cinematography and astounding representation of interesting characters in dangerous and unstable times.

Taxi Driver (1976) is a treasure to watch closely and appreciate as a timeless piece of art. Instead of decaying in the vaults of cinema, the film gets better and better with age.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Robert De Niro, Best Supporting Actress-Jodie Foster, Best Original Score

The Grifters-1990

The Grifters-1990

Director Stephen Frears

Starring John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening

Scott’s Review #597

Reviewed January 9, 2017

Grade: B-

The Grifters (1990) is a film that has witty writing and an overall appeal. It is unique and quirky and is in the style of a charismatic film noir from one of the golden ages of film, the 1930s, and the 1940s.

Additionally, the film has a very sharp, clean look to it.

The performances, especially Anjelica Houston, are excellent. All three principles, (John Cusack and Annette Bening) give fantastic performances and feed off each other so that the chemistry works quite well.

Cusack plays a small-time crook named Roy Dillon, inept in ways, and estranged from his mother (Huston). When she returns to town, she along with his girlfriend (Bening), all attempt to con and outmaneuver each other for their gain.

The film is set in sunny Los Angeles.

As compelling as the film sounds on paper, I did not find myself completely captured by it. It took me a while to get into the film and by the time I finally did, it had ended.

Overall, well made, and respectable, and I can see how some people would love it, but for me, there remained something missing.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Stephen Frears, Best Actress-Anjelica Huston, Best Supporting Actress-Annette Bening, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: 2 wins-Best Feature (won), Best Female Lead-Anjelica Huston (won)

Shutter Island-2010

Shutter Island-2010

Director Martin Scorsese

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio

Scott’s Review #567

Reviewed December 27, 2016

Grade: A-

Shutter Island (2010) is a great, psychological thriller, that being a Scorsese film, I had high expectations for. Lo and behold, I was not disappointed in the slightest.

Scorsese has a knack for making taut films, very violent, and with an edge. This film does not have the gore nor the blood that some of his other films have- especially since the subject matter is not mafia-related.

After Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio), a World War II veteran, turned U.S. Marshall investigates the disappearance of a female patient at a local psychiatric hospital, the case develops unforeseen layers.

The time is the 1950s.

Shutter Island is not your typical, run-of-the-mill thriller- it is much more than that and the complexities build and build. Not to be secondary to the interesting web of plot, but the art and set designs and visual effects are quite impressive- particularly during the storm scenes.

Leonardo DiCaprio is quite the gem, carrying the film in a demanding role, and working so well with Scorsese, as proven by his being a repeat player in his films.

All the performances (even tiny roles) were played with perfection- with flawless nuances- I mainly mean the hospital staff and patients.

The unpleasant violent images may upset some as well as the ending, but I found it to be an edge-of-your-seat, extremely well-made film. I hope that it is remembered for some time.

A Decade Under The Influence-2003

A Decade Under the Influence-2003

Director Ted Demme, Richard LaGravenese

Starring Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin

Scott’s Review #392

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Reviewed April 5, 2016

Grade: B+

Produced by the cable network Independent Film Channel (IFC), A Decade Under The Influence explores the decade of 1970s film, a decade that was arguably the most creative and liberating to filmmakers and audiences alike.

A period in film defined by the directors securing creative freedom instead of the studios, where artists instead of corporations finally ruled the roost. A Decade Under The Influence gives us an overview of the era.

Despite some conspicuous omissions, I enjoyed this informative piece a great deal.

The documentary is divided into numerous segments including sections on women in film, the transition into a different period in Hollywood, and the subsequent close of the decade.

The interviews are plentiful including a who’s who of stars: Martin Scorsese, Ellen Burstyn, Clint Eastwood, Robert Altman, Julie Christie, Francis Ford Coppola, and numerous other influential directors, actors, and filmmakers.

Each individual describes his or her perspective on 1970s cinema, and personal anecdotes of experiences or challenges are shared.

Ellen Burstyn, for example, describes how the success of The Exorcist afforded her a plethora of other film offers, but all of the roles were of prostitutes, dutiful wives, or women in peril.

She needed roles more stimulating than those so she chose to star in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which was a much better-written role. What I found a bit sad is how there are still limited, layered roles for women in Hollywood to this day unless one goes the independent film route, which this documentary touts as a savior.

Francis Ford Coppola relays how The Godfather was never expected to be a success, but rather, how he was chosen to direct the film merely because he worked for cheap and was Italian-American.

How ironic that the film became such a monumental success and influential to film making as a whole for generations to come.

The documentary, at times, seems like an overview of the decade, with many clips of classic 1970s cinema interspersed with the talking points.

Despite being three hours in length, I still felt that there was so much more than the documentary could have explored. Not surprisingly, the stars granting interviews were granted heavy screen time for their films.

The documentary was fine, but could have delved much deeper- I could see a multiple-disc set totally of ten or more hours dedicated to the decade.

One conspicuous omission was Robert Altman’s Nashville, arguably, the best film of the decade. While it was briefly mentioned, and a still frame of a scene from it did appear, I felt that it warranted more dissection and discussion.

This was more surprising given that Altman was interviewed for the documentary.

Another miss was Halloween or any mention of John Carpenter films. Halloween influenced many horror films to come and The Exorcist received heaps of coverage, undoubtedly because star Burstyn and director William Friedkin appear at length throughout the production.

Additionally, in the horror genre, Black Christmas (a highly influential horror film) was not mentioned at all.

A celebration of my favorite decade of cinema, A Decade Under the Influence is a documentary that is a basic must-see for fans of 1970s cinema, or film students perhaps immersing themselves into the world of great film for the first time.

Goodfellas-1990

Goodfellas-1990

Director Martin Scorsese

Starring Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Top 100 Films #89

Scott’s Review #349

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Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Director Martin Scorsese adapts Goodfellas, a crime-mob film, from the 1986 non-fiction book written by Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi helped Scorsese write the screenplay.

The film is more matter-of-fact telling than the purely dramatic The Godfather, with more wit and humor thrown in and great editing.

Featuring powerful acting by Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci, it is a classic mob film that is memorable and can be enjoyed via repeated viewings.

Largely ad-libbed, the film is rich in good dialogue and holds the distinction of containing one of the highest totals of curse words in film history.

The film is told from the first-person narrative of the lead character, Henry Hill.

Henry, now in the Witness Protection Program, recounts his years affiliated with the mob, spanning the years 1955 to 1980.

We meet Henry as a youngster in Brooklyn, New York, half-Italian, half-Sicilian, he idolizes the “wise guys” on the streets and has every intention of one day joining their ranks.

From there, the film describes the trials and tribulations of Henry’s group of miscreants. Henry meets and falls in love with Karen (Lorraine Bracco) and their tumultuous love story is explored, through tender moments and affairs.

What I love most about Goodfellas is the love of the characters and the sense that you are part of the action. The film is a highly stylized family drama- gritty nonetheless, but the viewer feels like they are part of things and a member of the family- milestones are celebrated and meals are shared.

We see Henry grow from a teenage gullible boy- idolizing the neighborhood men, to being part of the group.

The other characters, such as vicious and volatile Tommy DeVito (Pesci) and Jimmy “The Gent” Conway (De Niro), age and mature.

Bracco’s character is an interesting one- she, unlike most of the female characters in The Godfather films, is not content to merely sit on the sidelines and look past her husband’s shenanigans and torrid affairs with floozies.

She is a more modern, determined woman and Bracco plays her with intelligence and a calm demeanor. She wants to be Henry’s equal instead of just some trophy wife.

Pesci, who deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role, is brutal and filthy, but so mesmerizing a character.

During a memorable scene, his character Tommy jokingly teases Henry, but when Henry responds in a way that displeases Tommy, the scene grows tense and Tommy becomes increasingly disturbing.

His famous line “What am I a clown- do I amuse you?” is both clever and haunting in its repercussions.

I adore the soundtrack that Scorsese chooses for the film- spanning decades, he chooses songs true to the times such as “Layla” (1970) or “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” (1964) are just perfect.

Worth noting is when a scene plays, sometimes the song is mixed in with the narrative so that it enhances the scene altogether- becoming a part of it rather than simply background music.

If one is looking for the perfect mob film, that contains music, wit, charm, and fantastic writing, Goodfellas is among the best that there is.

My preference is for The Godfather and The Godfather II, but while Goodfellas has similarities to these films it is also completely different and stands on its own merits.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Picture, Best Director-Martin Scorsese, Best Supporting Actor-Joe Pesci (won), Best Supporting Actress-Lorraine Bracco, Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Film Editing

The Wolf of Wall Street-2013

The Wolf of Wall Street-2013

Director Martin Scorsese

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill

Scott’s Review #33

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Reviewed June 17, 2014 

Grade: A

Martin Scorsese’s latest offering, The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) is a tale of overindulgence, chaos, and debauchery in the world of stockbroking during the 1980s.

The film is superb.

It is a drug-filled, sex-filled, over-the-top, loud, testosterone-fueled, frenetic extravaganza that works on so many levels.

Humorous and mouth-dropping scenes occur throughout the film.

The casting is flawless- Leonardo Dicaprio and Jonah Hill deserve the praise and Oscar nominations heaped on them.

The supporting actors are perfect- Rob Reiner, Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin, and Kyle Chandler.

With Scorsese, you will receive an intelligent film, though very R-rated.

Similar in style to another of his masterpieces, Goodfellas-1990, as it is narrated by the main character (Dicaprio).

Comparisons to the 1987 film Wall Street are silly. This film is much deeper, grittier, and frankly, much better.

Do not let the unfathomable running time of three hours discourage you- the time goes by very fast.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Martin Scorsese, Best Actor-Leonardo DiCaprio, Best Supporting Actor-Jonah Hill, Best Adapted Screenplay