Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Martin Scorsese film festival

On Friday, I surveyed my agenda for the weekend and realized that I did not have much to do. Because of that, I dedicated my weekend to watching the films of my favorite director, Martin Scorsese. I had wanted to do this for quite a while. Everything began Friday night.

Friday night
Raging Bull – For some reason, I can only watch this film at night in a darkened room. Since it was shot in black and white, I assume I do this to enhance the sharpness of the colors. Robert De Niro won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of the explosive boxer Jake LaMotta. However, Scorsese made it all possible. I particularly like the boxing scenes. The scenes were shot from an innovative array of angles. The use of wild animal sounds as part of the crowd noise elevated the savageness of the fighting. Scorsese lost the Oscar for Best Director to Robert Redford for Ordinary People. I don't understand it either.

GoodFellas – This is my favorite Scorsese film. It reunited him with De Niro and Joe Pesci (who played De Niro's brother in Raging Bull). However, this film is mostly told through the eyes of Ray Liotta's character (Henry Hill). Scorsese used narration and a rich musical soundtrack to advance the story through a generation of mobsters in New York. Especially effective was the use of the piano instrumental from 'Layla' to guide the viewer through a series of murders orchestrated by De Niro's character (Jimmy Conway). Conway had used those victims for a multi-million dollar robbery, and he killed them so he would not have to pay them. Pesci won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.

Casino – De Niro and Pesci re-teamed with Scorsese on this one. When it was released in 1995, some unfairly panned this as a sequel to GoodFellas. It obviously was not, but it was another behind the curtain look at the Mob. This time, it dealt with the Mob's operations in Las Vegas back in the 1970s. Scorsese coaxed the performance of a lifetime out of Sharon Stone who portrayed a hustler who married De Niro's character. Stone won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama.

Stroker Ace – Just wanted to make sure you were paying attention. Actually, a double feature of Stroker Ace and Road House would make for an entertaining night (if you know what I mean).

The Departed – Of course, this is the film that got Scorsese his Oscar for Best Director. Though it ranks down the list somewhat of his great films, it was good that he won. For a while, it looked like the Academy would give him the Alfred Hitchcock treatment. In this one, Jack Nicholson played a crime boss, Leonardo DiCaprio played an undercover cop trying to nail him, and Matt Damon played a cop who was a rat for Nicholson. DiCaprio has grown a lot as an actor, and he was smart to align himself with Scorsese. He is no longer a pretty boy teen idol.

The Aviator – Of his films, I believe this is Scorsese's most underrated one. DiCaprio was also in this, and it chronicled the early life of aviator Howard Hughes. It included some exciting flying scenes, but most importantly, the film captured the paradox of Hughes. The things that pushed him to greatness were the things that destroyed him. His obsessive-compulsive drive brought him success in Hollywood and in the air. However, he became a bed-ridden recluse late in life. The movie's best scenes are the filming of Hell's Angels, and the plane crash that resulted in serious injuries for Hughes.

The Last Waltz – As I close this weekend, I am watching The Last Waltz. It is the greatest rock and roll documentary ever made. Scorsese's talent is matched by The Band as this film chronicles their final concert. It's fantastic.

1 comment:

Joltin' Django said...

I'm a huge boxing fan, and I'm a huge Scorsese fan. Put those two together and I love "Raging Bull."

As much as I like "RB," however, I think my favorite "RB" scene takes place in another film ... "Waiting for Guffman."

That said, no Scorsese film fest would be complete without a showing of "The Last Temptation of Christ." The film is nowhere near as good as the book (which was written by a faithful Greek Orthodox Christian -- a lot of "Last Temptation" haters ignore that fact). Aspects of it are still visually stunning, and the "monestary" scenes still make me think each time I watch my Criterion Collection copy ...