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“Your Reminiscence”: Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear”, Nostalgia, and Parental Anxiety…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, continued our belated Summer of Scorsese last week with a look at Goodfellas. This week, we’ll looking at Casino. It is a fun and broad discussion that is well worth your time, but the season skips over large swathes of Scorsese’s filmography. So I thought it might be worth taking a look back at Cape Fear.

Cape Fear is often overlooked in terms of Martin Scorsese’s filmography.

It falls in the gap between the instant classic Goodfellas and the sleeper masterpiece Casino. It shares that gap with The Age of Innocence, which is one of the films in Scorsese’s filmography that has been begging for a reappraisal and seems more likely to receive critical attention than a trashy remake of a pulpy sixties thriller. (The Age of Innocence recently received a re-release as part of the high-end Criterion Collection.) Indeed, Cape Fear seems designed to be seen as disposable in the context of Scorsese’s filmography.

At best, Cape Fear is typically seen as a curiosity – and potentially a worrying one. While Roger Ebert praised the film, he lamented “a certain impersonality in a film by this most personal of directors.” There was a whiff of moral panic to Kenneth Turan’s review, which asked, “Are we, perhaps, too quick to heap praise on films just because they are expertly done, shrugging off the troubling nature of the content? Is an audience’s increasing avid addiction to increasingly twisted thrills any justification for cheering on the people who provide them?”

However, there’s a lot interesting happening in Cape Fear. Most obviously, the film is a vehicle for Scorsese’s love of a certain style of directorial technique. The original Cape Fear had been directed by J. Lee Thompson, who had worked as a dialogue coach under Alfred Hitchcock. The film arrived two years after Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and the influence of Hitchcock is obvious on Thompson’s work; it’s scored by Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann, editted by Hitchcock veteran George Tomasini and features art direction from Robert Boyle and Alexander Golitzen.

However, what’s particularly interesting about Cape Fear is the way in which it actively translates the original movie from the early sixties to the early nineties, playing not only on the same underlying fears that informed the original, but also understanding that they existed in a different context during the nineties. It’s a movie that cannily and shrewdly transposes those two times, tapping into the same fears, but in a way that demonstrates both how those fears have evolved – and also how they haven’t.

Cape Fear is a lurid b-movie thriller, but in the most interesting and unsettling ways. It is a film fascinated by what lurks beneath the surface.

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Non-Review Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is Aaron Sorkin’s second feature film as director, following on from Molly’s Game.

However, the project originated with Steven Spielberg. The finished film includes the Dreamworks logo. Watching the movie, it feels like Sorkin is channeling Spielberg, particularly with the film’s delicate balance of historical accuracy and its relatively heartening final act. Indeed, The Trial of the Chicago 7 feels like something of a companion piece to Spielberg’s most recent film, The Post. It is another movie about the troubled transition from the flawed utopian idealism of the sixties to the brutal political cynicism of the seventies.

Cycles of mistrust.

In many ways, The Trial of the Chicago 7 appeals to Sorkin’s strengths as a writer. After all, Sorkin rose to prominence as the writer of A Few Good Men, another court room drama. The basic premise of The Trial of the Chicago 7 involves placing a bunch of similar-but-distinct characters in a locked room together and focusing on the group dynamics, which provides a lot of space for Sorkin to demonstrate his skill with dialogue and characterisation. There’s a lot of clever detail and definition between the protagonists in The Trial of the Chicago 7.

To be fair, The Trial of the Chicago 7 suffers slightly from being a little heavy-handed in places. As with Spielberg and The Post, Sorkin is very much aware of the movie’s contemporary resonance and occasionally leans into it a little too eagerly. Beyond that, the depiction of events from the eponymous trial can occasionally seem a little episodic and haphazard. Still, there’s a lot to recommend The Trial of the Chicago 7, particular as an old-fashioned example of an ensemble historical drama.

Courting controversy.

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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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133. Saving Private Ryan (#28)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn 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, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.

It is D-Day. Allied troops are launching the liberation of France from Nazi occupation. Having led his men on the beaches of Normandy, Captain John Miller receives a unique set of orders. He is to track down lost paratrooper Private James Ryan and return him home, no matter what the cost.

At time of recording, it was ranked 28th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #22!

Almost caught up on the backlog of the Scannain podcast.

This week, I join Donnacha Coffey of Filmgrabber, Jay Coyle and Ronan Doyle to discuss the week in Irish film news. An eclectic discussion as ever, topics include the tragic loss of mid-budget nineties thrillers like The Peacemaker, the sad and angry later work of Orson Welles, the perfect age at which to watch Steven Spielberg, a lightning round on the Galway Film Fleadh, the Inaugural International Week of the Trailer. New releases include Hereditary.

Give it a listen at the link, or check it out below.

 

Non-Review Review: Ready Player One

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Reader Player One is a very curious piece of cinema. It is an incredibly flawed piece of work, with a lot of its flaws so fundamental that they are threaded into the very architecture of the film. Screenwriter Zak Penn has offered a very thorough and involved reinvention of Ernest Cline’s source novel, a ground-up renovation of Cline’s catalogue of popular culture references and collection of narrative tropes. Indeed, Penn’s screenplay improves a great deal on the novel that inspired it; junking and reworking entire sequences, bulking up supporting characters, trying to find a beating human heart.

Worlds apart.

More than that, Ready Player One provides Spielberg with the opportunity to go “all out.” There is a sense watching Ready Player One that Spielberg has approached the film not as a collection of popular culture references and in-jokes, but instead as an attempt to reconnect with a younger audience. Whether or not Reader Player One is the right source material for such an attempt, there is no denying Spielberg’s energy and vigour. Ready Player One is a dynamic piece of film, Spielberg demonstrating all the technique for which he is known, but with an enthusiasm that puts younger directors to shame.

However, there is no escaping the biggest issue with the film remains its source material. The problem with Ready Player One as a film is that it is an adaptation of Ready Player One as a novel.

Back to the past.

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Non-Review Review: The Post

The Post is clean, efficient and timely.

Even to those unfamiliar with the historical events that inspired the film, there will be very little in The Post that is surprising. The Post follows a very clear trajectory for a prestige picture coming into awards season, setting up its character arcs and trajectories in a very straightforward manner and following them all on their clearly defined paths towards the end credits. It is very easy to see where the story will end up, and there are surprisingly few twists and turns in the narrative as it develops.

Food for thought.

However, there is something endearing in this efficiency. The Post famously came together in a hurry while director Steven Spielberg was waiting for postproduction work on Ready Player One, and the film serves as a showcase for the effectiveness of the creative talent involved in the production. The Post is unlikely to become a defining or signature film for anybody involved in its production, but instead exists as a testament to the sheer technique and craft of that production team.

The Post is not a masterpiece or a classic, but it is a sleek and well-made film.

Old news.

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Non-Review Review: The BFG

The BFG works better as setting and setpieces than it does as a story.

The first half of the film is largely episodic in nature, allowing director Steven Spielberg the opportunity to craft a delightful fantasia built upon the work of Roald Dahl. The world that The BFG builds through motion capture and computer-generated imagery combined with models and sets is quite striking. As befits an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel, the film is rich in imagination. The first half of the film often feels like a child in a candy store, wandering with its protagonist from one magical set piece to the next.

Keeping it handy...

Keeping it handy…

It is enchanting in a way that evokes the best of Spielberg’s output, the wonder and imagination that has inspired a whole generation of filmmakers. More than that, Spielberg controls the camera with a deft ease that helps viewers to get a sense of why he is so often copied and so rarely equalled. For its first half, The BFG is pure and whimsical Steven Spielberg. Indeed, the film has a somewhat understated eighties setting, which serves to underscore the sense that Spielberg is consciously reconnecting with his crowd-pleasing blockbuster phase. He does not miss a step.

However, The BFG struggles in its second half once the script tries to impose a story upon these meandering and wandering adventures. Although this second half is very much carried over from the source material, it sacrifices a lot of the whimsy and charm that made the first half so endearing. In fact, although the ending is adapted quite faithfully from the novel, it also feels like a concession to modern big-budget film aesthetics. The BFG is a film that works quite well, up until the point that it chooses to emphasise “big” over “friendly.”

They might be giants.

They might be giants.

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My 12 for ’13: Django Unchained & Suckerpunching Expectations

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 2…

Slavery seems to have been bubbling away at the back of the American pop cultural consciousness this year. Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln were both Best Picture nominees at this year’s awards ceremony. 12 Years a Slave is making pretty impressive head-way for next year’s Oscars, embarrassing moments like the film’s European marketing aside. They are all superb and moving films, but Tarantino’s Django Unchained is probably the strongest of them.

djangounchained8

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The X-Files – Pilot (Review)

The X-Files is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’ll be spending Month X looking back at the first season.

There was a time, around the third season, when The X-Files became the show. It had grown from the quirky newcomer of Fox’s prime time line-up, through its status as a cult hit, into a bona fides pop culture touchstone. Looking back now, twenty years after the show first began, it is something entirely different. It’s weird to look back over a long-running television, divorced from the immediacy of broadcast, a sort of “if I knew then what I know now…” sort of thing.

However, looking back at The X-Files, it’s more than just knowing how it ends. It’s more than just knowing about the show’s slow and drawn-out two-year death. It’s more than knowing that the conspiracy plotline kinda (but not quite entirely) makes sense, if you look at it the right way and don’t over-think it. Approaching The X-Files now, twenty years later, is more like opening an old tomb, unlocking a time capsule. The musky smell of the past seems to seep out of the television screen, transporting the viewer to a time that really isn’t that far away, but feels like centuries ago.

The X-Files is, undeniably, a pop culture artefact from the nineties, a show that seems to slot almost perfectly between the end of the Cold War and the start of the War on Terror. It’s an exploration of a version of America that simply doesn’t exist any longer, the long and silent pregnant pause where the United States was the world’s sole unchallenged superpower. The X-Files really embodied that period of time, much like 24 managed to channel the anger and the rage of the post-9/11 era into piece of the zeitgeist.

And, to be fair, you can sense that sort of nineties existential anxiety even as early as The Pilot.

Beam me up...

Beam me up…

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