Movie Review – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) Written & Directed by John Huston
John Huston served in the U.S. Army during World War II, making films for the Signal Corps. He directed several films, both narrative & documentary, about soldiers and the war during this time. Despite the acclaim these pictures received, they were ultimately banned because some of them focused on failures of the U.S. military. The brass labeled them as “demoralizing to the morale of the troops.” He seemed to develop a fascination with war documentaries for the rest of his life as his daughter, Anjelica, said that when the family moved to Ireland, that was most of what they watched at home. I think something about men put in desperate situations surrounded by violence must have appealed to Huston, and it was the basis of his next film.
Casino (1995) Written by Martin Scorsese & Nicholas Pileggi Directed by Martin Scorsese
After the success of Goodfellas, both with audiences and critics, it was reasonably sure Scorsese & author Nicholas Pileggi would collaborate again on something. Five years later, they told another true story of organized crime and its deleterious effects on people’s lives in Casino. Like Goodfellas, the movie focuses on an outsider to the Italian Cosa Nostra, a Jewish man with a remarkable ability to gamble and win big. Unlike Goodfellas, Casino feels more epic in scope. These people deal with amounts of money that are far beyond what Henry Hill ever got his hands on. The story is also more balanced with its three central cast members in a way that Goodfellas never really did.
Cape Fear (1991) Written by Wesley Strick Directed by Martin Scorsese
Cape Fear came to Martin Scorsese on a trade. Scorsese had been working on Schindler’s List after Steven Spielberg had walked away at first. Spielberg was offered Cape Fear but found the story too violent for his personal filmmaking style. In turn, he offered it to Scorsese, who realized he wasn’t the right fit for Schindler’s List. The result of this switch is that we got a gorgeous remake of the 1961 Cape Fear that leans heavily into the filmmaking territory of Alfred Hitchcock.
Goodfellas (1990) Written by Nicholas Pileggi & Martin Scorsese Directed by Martin Scorsese
Goodfellas is without a doubt one of the most influential films of the last 50 years. I would argue this movie has influenced East Coast Italian Americans’ portrayal far more than Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather films. While Coppola’s work is concerned with the mythic figures at the top, Scorsese explores the regular working class wise guys who have to hustle every day to make money and stay alive. This makes them incredibly relatable. Audiences will always relate to the guy who’s just trying to get by, then the mafia kingpin at the top. I would say Goodfellas is the best gangster film ever made.
Mean Streets (1973) Written by Martin Scorsese & Mardik Martin Directed by Martin Scorsese
Mean Streets was not the first film made by Martin Scorsese, but it certainly is the first Scorsese film. By that, I mean it is the first movie he wrote & directed that begins to explore the themes and types of characters that would turn up in his work for the next nearly five decades to the present. You can see the seeds of future projects like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas beginning to emerge. Scorsese’s signature use of music explodes from the opening scenes, and his ambition far exceeds the modest budget of this film. Mean Streets was a significant sign that new talent was emerging from the 1970s shoestring moviemaking culture, an auteur whose work would resonate for generations.
Search Party Season 4 (HBO Max) Written by Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, Christina Lee, Emily Heller, Jordan Firstman, Matt Kriete & Andrew Pierce Fleming, and Starlee Kine Directed by Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers, John Lee, and Alia Shawkat
Every season I ask myself, “Where could this show go next.” When I step back and look at the four seasons of Search Party that have been made, it is quite hilarious and stunning how its creators can morph and shift the narrative into something surprising. Sarah-Violet Bliss & Charles Rogers continue to explore, ruminate, skewer, and satirize Millennials. It’s clear they are a part of a particular gentrifying class in New York City, but they are honest about their peers’ neuroses and incredibly harmful psyches. These characters exist in a world where it’s stunningly easy to compromise your values; you’re encouraged to do so. And anytime someone tries to escape, they are inevitably roped right back in.
Assassination Nation (2018) Written & Directed by Sam Levinson
You will probably hate this movie. I can’t say I liked it, but it certainly was a terrible mess like I expected it to be. After seeing the trailer in 2018, I was worried we had another #Horror on our hands, one of the worst “Hello, fellow kids” movies I’ve seen in recent memory. Assassination Nation is nowhere near that bad. At its worst, the film is a little overly ambitious. It’s heavily preachy & on the nose in the final scene, which irked me a little. I think the same themes could have been communicated in just as clear but more subtle manner.
Marnie (1964) Written by Jay Presson Allen Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
All good things must come to an end. Marnie would mark the downturn of Alfred Hitchcock’s directorial career. He’d just come off a fantastic streak of films: Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds. That many consecutive movies that immediately became iconic is quite an achievement, so it is a little unfair that critics turned their noses up so hard at what Hitch released for the rest of his career. On the other hand, he set the standard so high that we expect something brilliant. Marnie has all those things you expect in a Hitchcock movie but done so much more clunkily, with a deep strain of misogyny boring through the entire production. In some ways, Marnie is Hitch letting the mask slipping and showing too much of his true self to us.
North by Northwest (1959) Written by Ernest Lehman Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
In my opinion, Alfred Hitchcock’s best works are his dark, psychological films. But, he did manage to deliver something outside of the box with North by Northwest. This is a classic Cold War espionage story about a case of mistaken identity and the fallout that ensues. It’s filled to the brim with Hitchcock’s wry humor and livened up by screenwriter Ernest Lehman. The final product is a lavish and certainly expensive film with the production traveling across the United States as its protagonist tries to get to the bottom of how he became entangled in this mess.
The Kid Detective (2020) Written & Directed by Evan Morgan
When I was a kid, I was a fairly regular reader of the Encyclopedia Brown book series. Brown was a middle school student who worked as his neighborhood’s local kid detective. Each book had around ten interlinked stories that end on a cliffhanger. The reader is expected to notice an inconsistency in a suspect’s dialogue that hints at their guilt. I can say only once do I remember solving the mystery before checking the back of the book for the answer. Brown has served as an inspiration for many other kid detectives and many satire pieces on the genre recently. I recall The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno and Donald Glover’s Mystery Team as pieces of media that touch on the concept of child detectives turned adults.