Movie Review – Bringing Out the Dead

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
Written by Paul Schrader
Directed by Martin Scorsese

By the time the 20th century was winding down, it had been twenty-six years since Scorsese released Mean Streets. To finish out the century, the director re-teamed with his previous collaborator Paul Schrader to adapt a novel about a paramedic’s emotional & spiritual struggle on New York City streets. The result is not Scorsese’s best work, a strange aesthetic and characters that are very difficult to get a handle on. In an interview years later, Scorsese would admit that he was working out a lot of his own issues on the screen about his aging parents and his relationships with the people in the hospitals he was encountering. It’s clear something about this picture didn’t click as it was the only Scorsese film of the 1990s to receive zero Oscar nominations.

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Martin Scorsese: My Favorites

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

From my review: Scorsese delivers a pitch-perfect comedy-drama that never once feels phony. He ends up presenting one of the most honest mother-son relationships I’ve seen in a film. Alice is by no means a conventional mother, and she regularly engages in arguments with her son that seem more appropriate for a friend. She is still a parental and is determined to keep her son out of trouble while allowing him space to mistakes and learn. The things she exposes her son to might cause some viewers to judge her for being immature and irresponsible. Tommy is present when Ben becomes violent with Alice. When Alice gets involved with David, Tommy is a part of their going out. It makes sense, though, because Alice’s life has a big chunk devoted to Tommy, so any person she might partner with is going to need to understand and get along with her child.

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Movie Review – Kundun

Kundun (1997)
Written by Melissa Matheson
Directed by Martin Scorsese

When I was eleven years old, I watched the Oscars and saw actor Richard Gere come out to give an award. Instead of going into the teleprompter text, he spent thirty seconds talking about China and its occupation of Tibet, imploring then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to move his soldiers out and allow Tibet to be free. I had no idea what he was talking about, but it certainly left an impression on me. All I knew about Tibet was that it was close to the Himalayas at the time. I certainly didn’t comprehend the history of Tibet and China. I also had no idea who the Dalai Lama was.

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Movie Review – The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence (1993)
Written by Jay Cocks & Martin Scorsese
Directed by Martin Scorsese

New York City has played a central role in almost every Scorsese film. I think Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Cape Fear were the only movies at this point that didn’t take place in and around NYC. Mainstream perceptions about Scorsese probably think he’s most concerned with a specific NYC era, but I’ve found he’s interested in the city at all stages of its development. Other than Temptation, this is the film that had occurred the furthest in the past in the director’s filmography. The movie adapts Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence, set when New York City had a very prevalent aristocracy with its own subculture of ritual & performance in public. This creates tension between our characters’ relationships and their inner thoughts, and it’s on that tightrope the whole film rests.

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Movie Review – Cape Fear (1991)

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.

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Movie Review – Goodfellas

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.

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Movie Review – The Last Temptation of Christ

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Written by Paul Schrader
Directed by Martin Scorsese

It’s absolutely fascinating to see two artists who have delivered masterpieces (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) so spectacularly bomb a film. I think it’s especially interesting because this was such a passion project for Martin Scorsese. He first read Niko Kazantzakis’s novel while filming Boxcar Bertha for Roger Corman in 1972. In turn, Scorsese gave the book to Schrader, and the two planned to make this as the follow-up to The King of Comedy. Right-wing fundamentalist Christian groups and Catholic morality organizations started letter writing to complain about the production, and Paramount pulled back. 

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Movie Review – The Color of Money

The Color of Money (1986)
Written by Richard Price
Directed by Martin Scorsese

The Color of Money is a very appropriately titled film because it feels like Martin Scorsese made it to progress other projects, mostly The Last Temptation of Christ. This was essentially a work-for-hire picture that helped keep Scorsese busy and honing his craft. He doesn’t really use any of the stable of actors you might expect, even in minor roles. John Turturro, who had a “blink and you’ll miss him” cameo in Raging Bull, has a small supporting role, but overall, this is a group of performers Scorsese was working with for the first time. Paul Newman and Tom Cruise are the co-male leads, with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as the female lead. It’s also a sequel to a film made twenty years earlier. All these elements make for a movie you probably wouldn’t guess Scorsese made unless you saw the opening credits.

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Movie Review – After Hours

After Hours (1985)
Written by Joseph Minion
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Following Raging Bull, Martin Scorsese made The King of Comedy, a thematic companion piece to Taxi Driver. The audience’s expectations didn’t match what the director had in mind and so it did not perform well at the box office while being well received by critics. Roger Ebert tussled with the film and declared it “one of the creepiest […] and best of the year.” The 1980s would prove to be an odd decade for Scorsese and he seemed to embrace that strangeness in After Hours. This was a dark comedy based on a stage monologue and Scorsese would come to explain that the film reflected his personal frustrations dealing with studios while trying to get The Passion of the Christ produced.

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Movie Review – New York, New York

New York, New York (1977)
Written by Mardik Martin & Earl Mac Rauch
Music by John Kander & Fred Ebb
Directed by Martin Scorsese

If you were like me, growing up, you just assumed the song “New York, New York” was just some old song from back in the 1930s/1940s. However, I discovered that it was initially written for Martin Scorsese’s musical film of the same title in 1977. It makes sense that I might be tricked into thinking it was an older piece of music as it was written by Broadway legends Kander & Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago). They have a pitch-perfect ear for the sound of Broadway and a specific period, so the song feels like it’s just been around forever. The problems came from having the wrong mix of elements, Scorsese trying to blend ingredients of harsh realism with something that clearly made out of love for the golden age of Hollywood musicals. 

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