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209. Shutter Island – Summer of Scorsese (#156)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, with special guest Kurt North, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season, Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Who’s That Knocking at My Door?, Boxcar Bertha, Cape Fear, CasinoThe Aviator, The Departed, Silence. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

Federal Marshall Teddy Daniels makes a trip across Boston Harbour to visit the psychiatric institution on Shutter Island, investigating the mysterious disappearance of one of the patients. However, as Teddy probes deeper and deeper into the workings of the facility, it becomes very clear that things are not as they appear.

At time of recording, it was ranked 156th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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208. The Departed – Summer of Scorsese (#44)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, with special guest Aoife Martin, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ, Age of Innocence, KundunThe Aviator, Shutter Island, Hugo. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

Boston gangster Frank Costello believes that boundaries are fungible: sinner/saint, hero/villain, cop/criminal. Sending one of his young followers to infiltrate the local police department, Costello quickly discovers that something similar is happening to him. As the stakes escalate, the boundaries between policemen and gangsters blur, as Colin Sullivan and Billy Costigan straddle the gulf.

At time of recording, it was ranked 44th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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“I Erased You”: Identity, or Lack Thereof, in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, continued our belated Summer of Scorsese last week with a look at The Aviator. This week, we’re looking at The Departed. It is a fun and broad discussion that is well worth your time, but it spurred some of my own thoughts about Martin Scorsese’s Best Picture winning gangster film.

The Departed is about a lot of different things.

As one might expect from a Martin Scorsese film, it is very much an exploration of a certain type of masculinity. It is a story about fathers and sons, but also about how a man’s worth is measured. Indeed, The Departed arguably takes Scorsese’s fascination with a certain kind of hyper-exaggerated American masculinity to its logical endpoint, as Frank Costello serves as a nexus point tying together sex and violence without producing an heir and Colin Sullivan is forced to discuss his impotence as his girlfriend eats a banana.

However, The Departed ties into some of Scorsese’s other core themes – most notably the director’s recurring fascination with identity. Of course, The Departed is an adaptation of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, so it makes sense that identity would be a core theme. The film is the parallel stories of two undercover movies; Colin Sullivan and Billy Costigan. Colin is a criminal posing as a cop, while Billy is a cop posing as a criminal. Naturally, the theme of identity and self-image inevitably ends up tied up in all this.

That said, The Departed is perhaps most interesting for how it ties back to Scorsese’s larger filmography. So many of Scorsese’s films are tied back to the idea of human connection and belonging, even as extreme counter-examples in films like “god’s lonely man” Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Particularly in Scorsese’s crime movies like Goodfellas and Casino, there is a clear emphasis on the idea of “belonging” and “conforming”, with his films often focusing on outsiders (like the Irish Henry Hill or the Jewish Sam Rothstein) trying to blend into the largely Italian American mob.

The Departed is largely built around the Irish mob in Boston, and so exists at a remove from Scorsese’s typical interest in the Italian mob in New York. (Notably, despite its Boston setting, large parts of The Departed were actually shot in New York City.) However, Scorsese’s portrayal of criminal life in The Departed marks a clear point of contrast from Goodfellas and Casino. While the characters in Goodfellas and Casino inevitably betray the bonds of family and loyalty to bond them together, they still acknowledge their importance. This is not the case in The Departed.

In The Departed, all of the characters eventually confront the reality that they exist in liminal spaces, caught more in the gravity of larger forces than held in place by ties of blood. The Departed marks a departure from Scorsese’s earlier crime films – arguably including Mean Streets and even Age of Innocence – because it completely disregards any sense of common community or shared identity. As Frank Costello opines in the opening scene, “When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”

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207. The Aviator – Summer of Scorsese, w/ The Movie Palace (#—)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season, a special treat.

Darren appeared on The Movie Palace podcast back in march, discussing Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. This was before we kicked off our Summer of Scorsese, but we thought we’d share it with listeners. The bulk of the episode is a discussion between Carl and Darren over The Aviator, but we did record a special intro with Andrew and Jay just to offer a brief discussion of the film.

At time of recording, it was not ranked on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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204. Gangs of New York – Summer of Scorsese (#—)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of Scorsese season, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.

Martin Scorsese is one of the defining directors in American cinema, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that have shaped and defined cinema across generations: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, KundunThe Aviator, The Departed. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

New York is a furnace. As Irish immigrants arrive off the boats, they find an old conflict waiting for them. As the Civil War wages and passions stir, young Amsterdam Vallon seems to avenge the death of his father by slaying the local crime lord Bill the Butcher. However, things are never as simple as they appear; worlds collide and loyalties shift as the city begins to settle around them.

At time of recording, it was not ranked on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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“The Blood Stays on the Blade”: The Birth of a Nation in Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, continued our belated Summer of Scorsese last week with a look at Kundun. This week, we’re looking at Gangs of New York. It is a fun and broad discussion that is well worth your time, but it spurred some of my own thoughts about Martin Scorsese’s complicated and messy 2002 passion project.

Martin Scorsese had wanted to make Gangs of New York for over thirty years.

The director had reportedly stumbled across a copy of Herbert Asbury’s book while house-sitting for a friend over New Year in 1970. Gangs of New York became one of the projects that Scorsese desperately wanted to make, alongside The Last Temptation of Christ, which had been given to him by Barbara Hershey on the set of Boxcar Bertha. Of course, Scorsese would not get to make either The Last Temptation of Christ or Gangs of New York during the seventies. Instead, the implosion of New York, New York would set his plans back years.

Scorsese had reportedly been hoping to make either The Last Temptation of Christ or Gangs of New York following the release of New York, New York, when Robert DeNiro convinced him to direct Raging Bull instead. Scorsese would spend the eighties adapting to the collapse of the New Hollywood movement, and would just about manage to get The Last Temptation of Christ produced. He never gave up on Gangs of New York, and the film went through various iterations over the years. It might have starred Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd or Mel Gibson and Willem Dafoe.

When the possibility of making Gangs of New York emerged in the late nineties, it might have seemed like a culmination. As the project lurched closer and closer to actually materialising, it must have seemed like it would be one of Scorsese’s last major motion pictures. After all, Scorsese was almost sixty. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were the only two other “movie brats” who were still making high-profile and big-budget films. There was perhaps a sense that Scorsese might just about have this film left in him, before retiring to less mainstream and more esoteric works.

While Scorsese had entered the nineties on a high note with Goodfellas, the films that followed were not as universally welcomed. Roger Ebert complained about “a certain impersonality” in Cape Fear, the film following Goodfellas. The Age of Innocence arrived with a shrug. Casino was treated as highly derivative of Goodfellas, with Peter Travers sighing that “the black cloud of letdown hung over Scorsese’s epic tale.” Kundun sparked a diplomatic incident with China, and was quietly buried by Disney. Bringing Out the Dead felt like a curiosity more than a classic.

Of course, history has been kind to all (or at least most) of those films. Scorsese’s nineties output is recognised in hindsight as a vibrant and important part of his career. Nevertheless, as Gangs of New York slowly and awkwardly forced itself into being, it might have looked like the last swing of the bat from one of the great American directors. A film that had been simmering in the director’s imagination for decades, it might serve as a definitive and concluding statement about the city and the nation that he loved.

More than twenty years after the shutters came down on the New Hollywood movement, Scorsese would finally get to make an epic that was comparable to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now or Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. Of course, those sorts of projects feel like capstones – Heaven’s Gate famously brought United Artists tumbling down, while Coppola would never direct anything with as much freedom or cultural impact after Apocalypse Now. As such, Scorsese’s long-delayed shot at making his epic passion project seemed like closure.

Looking back at Gangs of New York, this seems absurd. Almost two decades after Gangs of New York, Scorsese is still making films. Scorsese is enjoying larger budgets on films like The Irishman and The Killers of the Flower Moon than he did earlier in his career. If anything, Gangs of New York is a watershed. It is not Scorsese’s epic finale, but is instead the first in a series of epics that includes films like The Aviator or The Wolf of Wall Street. It introduced Scorsese to a young actor who “reignited” his enthusiasm for film making.

Indeed, time has been very kind to Gangs of New York. The film seemed to arrive at a crucial moment, both for Scorsese as director and for the United States as a nation. Gangs of New York offers a snapshot of American history that resonates strongly. It is not so much a historical picture as a dive into the depths of a shared unconscious and an excavation of the scars left on the American psyche. The catchy Oscar-nominated theme song might have boasted that the film was about “the hands that built America”, but the film was decidedly less optimistic in its perspective.

Gangs of New York is a story about the blood that stains those hands, and how history tends to repeat for those who refuse to learn from it.

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187. Catch Me If You Can (#194)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Luke Dunne and Jess Dunne from The Breakout Role Podcast, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can.

When his parents announce their divorce, high school student Frank Abagnale runs away home. He never stops running. The enterprising young man reinvents himself as a dashing airline pilot, a debonair doctor and a diligent lawyer. However, Frank can only stay ahead of the long arm of the law for so long. As the ground starts shrinking out from him, as FBI Agent Carl Hanratty closes in, Frank wonders if he’ll ever be able to stop running.

At time of recording, it was ranked 194th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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“They Are Touching Things!” The Aviator, and the Yearning for Human Contact…

I was thrilled to get back invited on The Movie Palace with Carl Sweeney to talk about Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. It’s a film that I hadn’t watched in quite a while, and which had a much stronger impact on me than I expected. You should listen to the whole podcast conversation, but I had some thoughts I wanted to more properly articulate.

Q-U-A-R-A-N-T-I-N-E…

The Aviator is about many things.

Most obviously, it is about famous Hollywood director and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes. Hollywood had been trying for decades to bring Hughes’ life to screen. Directors like Christopher Nolan and Warren Beatty had failed to get their Hughes-related projects off the ground. Indeed, The Aviator almost feels like a work-for-hire project from Scorsese, who replaced Michael Mann as the director of this project at the behest of lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Having previously collaborated on Gangs of New York, The Aviator cemented Scorsese and DiCaprio’s partnership.

However, despite his late arrival on the project, The Aviator feels very much like a Martin Scorsese film. After all, the second half of the film is given over to an impassioned creator dragged out into the limelight and forced to justify a spectacular and costly failure while arguing for his exacting creative vision. This aspect of the film would undoubtedly have resonated with Scorsese, who had just come on to the project fresh from the debacle of Gangs of New York, which involving fighting with Harvey Weinstein over the cut of a movie “whose box office returns weren’t overwhelming.”

Still, there’s one aspect of The Aviator that feels much more pointed and resonant in the current context of global lockdowns and self-isolation. In a very fundamental way, The Aviator is a story about the paradox of touch. It is a story of a man who longs for human connection, but whose neuroses make that sort of connection impossible. The Aviator tells the tale of a man who locks himself away from the world, but must eventually find the strength to put himself back in it.

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Non-Review Review: Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is a fairy tale, for better and for ill.

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The Great Inception, and the Movies that Made Us…

This week, the podcast I host, The 250, will be marking its one hundredth episode with a look at Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” I’m very much looking forward to it. It’ll be available on Saturday from 6pm UTC. I also have a book coming out on Christopher Nolan, titled “Christopher Nolan: A Critical Study of the Films.” This is a much more personal (and much less detailed) discussion of Inception than the one in the book. So, if you like this piece, it might be worth a look.

I’ve always been somewhat wary of Inception.

I mean, Inception is a fantastic movie. There is a reason that it is so beloved and so highly regarded. It is perhaps one of the four core Christopher Nolan films, along with Memento, The Prestige and The Dark Knight. It is the rare big budget blockbuster with no longstanding association to established intellectual property, and one of the few to succeed on that sort of level. Indeed, the only other comparable examples on a similar scale are Interstellar and Dunkirk, both directed by Christopher Nolan.

More than that, Inception has permeated the popular consciousness. It is a film that has become part of the broader conversation. It seems that barely a few months can go by without another hot take on that closing scene, with news coverage of commencement speeches or interviews with actors. More than that, the film itself has become something of a critical and popular shorthand. It is a stock comparison for any movie or television show with a vaguely similar concept. Maniac is the most recent example, even inviting the comparison with an elaborate hallway action scene in its penultimate episode.

And yet, in spite of that, Inception is a movie of which I’ve had a somewhat strained relationship. I still adore it, as I adore most of Nolan’s filmography. I think its reputation is well-earned, and I think it excels by every measure that it sets itself. It delivers on just about every front, showcasing Nolan as a director with incredible command of both the form itself and the audiences watching these films. Inception is a big and broad crowdpleaser that is also a surprisingly intimate and personal film, which works as both a story and as a showcase. It is thrilling, it is engaging, it is compelling.

However, there’s something underneath the surface that makes me feel a little uncomfortable. A large part of this is simply down to the fact that it’s a movie that is fundamentally about movies. This is nothing new of itself. All of Nolan’s movies are about stories, whether personal or cultural. In fact, it could be argued that the central trilogy of Nolan’s work is actually The Prestige, The Dark Knight and Inception, a trilogy of films that seem to be about the challenges of constructing and maintaining spectacle, arriving at a point in the director’s career where Nolan was transitioning from smaller films to high-profile epics.

Inception is the most transparent of these films, exploring most directly the mechanics of how storytelling works within a cinematic framework. There are even scenes of characters discussing in relatively clinical terms the mechanics of catharsis and how best to emotional manipulate their target audience. Inception feels very much like Nolan is stopping and deconstructing his stopwatch storytelling for the benefit of the audience, revealing how the trick is done and how the pieces fit together. As with everything Nolan does, he does this with a great deal of skill and nuance. However, it can’t help but feel a little cynical.

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