Movie Review – The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Written by Terence Winter
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Of all Martin Scorsese’s 21st century films, this was the big one, the movie that reminded everybody how good he is. That doesn’t mean his previous work in the 2000s/2010s was terrible; it just didn’t always match what the director was best at. You might say, “Hey, where are your reviews for Shutter Island and Hugo? Well, I watched & reviewed them both in the recent past and wasn’t too keen on revisiting those pictures. In my opinion, Shutter Island was always okay, while I dislike Hugo. They are two examples of Scorsese going outside his wheelhouse and trying something I have to admire, no matter my feelings about the final product. And while The Wolf of Wall Street feels more like a Scorsese picture, he’s still trying new things. 

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Movie Review – The Departed

The Departed (2006)
Written by William Monahan
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Once again, Scorsese takes a direct-for-hire gig from a studio. Unlike the previous films, this one plays to the filmmaker’s talents much better. It’s a crime story that, while set in Boston, definitely shares DNA with Goodfellas and Casino. However, it’s also a remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. I haven’t seen that original picture, so as much as I’d like to compare the two, we’ll have to discuss this one on its own terms. The Departed has been a movie maligned as a red flag picture by the myopic “anti-film bro” crowd. I always sympathize with a disdain for that type of male fan who always identifies with the characters you’re not supposed to cheer for. It’s a standard American misconception with narrative fiction that the protagonist is the “good guy” whom the audience is meant to support. Scorsese’s work continually presents evil men as his main characters, which does not endorse them. These types of bad people are often more interesting to examine in stressful situations, and they also go along with one of the director’s career-long themes: can a person this bad be redeemed?

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Movie Review – The Aviator

The Aviator (2004)
Written by John Logan
Directed Martin Scorsese

The 2000s was a decade of indulgence for Martin Scorsese’s films. This and Gangs of New York are the chief examples following an interest by the public in historical dramas told in an epic style. I don’t think this format works with Scorsese’s strengths as a filmmaker, but I applaud him for trying something different. Even a middle-of-the-road Scorsese film is better than many directors’ best work. In another director’s hands, The Aviator might play as a standard biopic, but Scorsese makes sure the story remains centered on the person at the center of it and Howard Hughes as a filmmaker, a way into the story that connects with the director. Leonardo DiCaprio is also coming into his own here, taking on a much more mature role than his previous work, no longer attempting to be a “movie heartthrob” but really coming into his own as a performer, willing to do things that push him further in the craft.

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Movie Review – Gangs of New York

Gangs of New York (2002)
Written by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by Martin Scorsese

When we last left Mr. Scorsese, he’d just released his final film of the 20th century, Bringing Out the Dead. I know that picture is experiencing a slight rediscovery & appreciation; I just did not connect with the tone or style. However, it is an excellent example of Scorsese’s fearlessness in experimenting with different techniques, a trait that has dominated his 21st-century work. I don’t think most people would be able to identify who directed The Aviator, Hugo, and Silence if they didn’t know. Those are different movies from each other, and some work while others don’t for me personally, but I always have to hand it to the director for taking risks many filmmakers would never take. Leonard DiCaprio is the one constant in almost every (but not all) Scorsese films in the 2000s and 2010s.

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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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