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202. Casino – Summer of Scorsese (#141)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, and this week 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 Casino.

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, Raging Bull, After Hours, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Irishman. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

Against the backdrop of the seventies, the mob pushes westward. Hustler and gambler Sam “Ace” Rothstein is sent to Las Vegas to oversee the mob’s holdings in the Tangiers, and he discovers an unspoiled paradise just waiting for exploitation. However, Sam doesn’t count on the inevitable complications that will bring that house of cards crashing down.

At time of recording, it was ranked 141st on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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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: Antebellum

Antebellum never seems entirely sure whether it wants to be a biting social commentary or a pulpy genre exercise.

To be clear, this is a false dichotomy. One of the most interesting aspects of horror is how frequently it can satisfy both of those objectives. Get Out is perhaps the most obvious recent example of this, and it is telling that (like so many modern horrors) Antebellum markets itself as “from the producers of Get Out.” However, this has always been a feature of horror, as demonstrated by the films of directors like Wes Craven and John Carpenter. Antebellum shouldn’t have to choose between being socially relevant and being an effective horror, but it insists on doing so.

Shining some light on the matter.

There is a good movie buried somewhere in Antebellum. It is very clear that writers and directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz have a good idea that resonates in the current moment. Indeed, Antebellum hammers that point pretty heavily. It opens with a quote from William Faulkner, reminding audiences that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In case the audience doesn’t get how that applies to the movie’s set-up, a character repeats it about forty minutes into the runtime. Antebellum has things to say, and is not shy about saying them.

However, what Antebellum is trying to say is muddled by a number of awkward structural choices. Antebellum is a film that is consciously built around a number of developments that are intended to wrong-foot the audience and catch them off-guard, to invite the viewer to ask questions about what is happening and why, and maybe even add some compelling gif-able content for the film’s marketing. This structuring of Antebellum is wrong-headed on a number of levels, but most profoundly in the way that it reduces the movie’s biting thesis to a cheap narrative hook.

Burning unease.

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200. Goodfellas – Summer of Scorsese (#17)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Jenn Gannon, with Andy Melhuish, Jack Hodges and others, 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 Goodfellas.

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, Raging Bull, The Colour of Money, The Aviator, The Departed, Hugo, The Wolf of Wall Street. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

As far back as he could remember, Henry Hill always wanted to be a gangster. However, the life that Henry leads doesn’t turn out exactly as the young hoodlum might have expected, as he finds himself navigating a web of betrayal and violence involving his closest friends.

At time of recording, it was ranked 17th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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“It Had Nothing to Do With Me”: The Moral Sloth of Henry Hill in “Goodfellas”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, continued our belated Summer of Scorsese last week with a look at Raging Bull. This week, we’re looking at Goodfellas. 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 1990 gangster classic.

There is a long-running debate concerning the films of Martin Scorsese, one that arose most recently around The Wolf of Wall Street.

To his critics, Scorsese is seen as a director who glorifies and venerates a certain form of toxic masculinity. There’s a certain logic to this argument. After all, whatever Scorsese’s intentions may be, there is no denying that his films attract a certain unironic fandom that gets swept up in these stories of tough men who do terrible things. This is reflected in everything from the ubiquity of Goodfellas as a “dorm room poster” to celebrations of its depiction of masculinity to the fact that real-life gangsters reportedly love it.

This criticism largely derives from the fact that Scorsese effectively surrenders control of the film’s narrative to his central characters. His movies are often literally narrated by their central characters: Henry and Karen Hill in Goodfellas, Ace Rothstein and Nicky Santoro in Casino and Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. These characters are given ample room to espouse their worldview and their philosophy, to craft the story that they want to tell.

Scorsese undoubtedly pushes back against his characters in interesting ways – often ironically juxtaposing their conceited monologues with brutal imagery to underscore the dissonance between their narrative of events with the reality of the situation. However, Scorsese largely avoids overtly moralising. He avoids the easy route of having external characters comment too obliquely or too loudly on the moral decadence at play. Indeed, the most interesting thing about Karen Hill is her own complicity in Henry’s immorality rather than any condemnation of it.

To be fair, there’s a lot to recommend this approach. American cinema has come a long way since the days of the Hays Code and the Breen Office, and there is a lot to be said for the importance of treating an audience as mature enough to grapple with complicated ideas or giving them room to reach conclusions on their own terms. Psycho is a classic piece of American cinema, but it suffers greatly from a closing scene where a new character shows up to lecture the cast (and implicitly the audience) on the film that they just watched.

Indeed, this is ultimately the beauty of Scorsese’s approach to these characters. Scorsese gives them all the room that they need, and they still manage to incriminate themselves. Their robust attempts to glorify and mythologise themselves inevitably backfire. Like a good detective or lawyer, Scorsese shrewdly just allows characters like Henry Hill to talk and talk and talk, knowing that they have been given enough rope with which they might hang themselves.

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Non-Review Review: The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time demonstrates that the adjective “novelistic” isn’t always a compliment.

Writer and director Antonio Campos is clearly aiming for an epic sweep to The Devil All the Time. The film unfolds over the course of several decades, following several intersecting lives in rural Ohio in the space between the end of the Second World War and the height of the Vietnam War. This is a tale that spans generations, with an impressive density. Small characters get huge arcs, dramatic twists hinge on chance encounters, and a large amount of the film’s plot is delivered by way of folksy omniscient narration.

Holland of the Free?

It is easier to admire The Devil All the Time than it is to appreciate it. Campos has drawn together a formidable cast to tell a story that explores a host of big ideas about small town life. The Devil All the Time clearly aspires to be a piercing study of religion, sex and violence in the American northeast. The film maintains an impressive atmosphere, in large part due to Campos’ moody direction and the work of Lol Crawley and the rumbling soundtrack from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans.

However, nothing in The Devil All the Time has room to breath. There are so many elements competing for narrative space that even films two-hours-and-twenty-minute runtime feels overstuffed. Characters are never allowed to stew or develop in a way that a story like this demands, instead reducing the movie to a series of plot points and thematic observations delivered in a rich and moody manner, but without any real substance to bind them all together.

Book ‘im.

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199. Raging Bull – Summer of Scorsese (#146)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Grace Duffy, 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 Raging Bull.

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, Goodfellas, CasinoGangs of New York, The Departed, Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through his filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

Jake LaMotta is a boxer who dreams of a shot at the big time. However, Jake does not play by the rules of the game. Over the course of his life and career, Jake struggles to tame the violence inside himself as he proceeds to push those closest to him further and further away.

At time of recording, it was ranked 146th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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198. Taxi Driver – Summer of Scorsese (#107)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn, Jay Coyle and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair and Alex Towers, 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, kicking off our Summer of Scorsese season, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.

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: Raging Bull, King of Comedy, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed, Shutter Island. The Summer of Scorsese season offers a trip through the director’s filmography via the IMDb‘s 250.

Travis Bickle cannot sleep. So he splits his nights between the Times Square porno theatres and his job as a taxi driver. Bickle immerses himself in the nightlife of New York City, finding himself adrift in a world of anomie and urban decay. Thoughts begin to formulate in his head, thought he can’t articulate or express, but thoughts that push him in a horrific and unsettling direction.

At time of recording, it was ranked 107th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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196. The Terminator (#245)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Joe Griffin and Emmet Kirwan, 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, James Cameron’s The Terminator.

In 2029, Los Angeles is a burning hellhole. In 1984, it is not much better. In the dead of night, two soldiers from an apocalyptic future escape into the urban landscape. These mysterious veterans of a coming war make their way across the City of Angels, with only one name on their minds: Sarah Connor.

At time of recording, it was ranked 245th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On How “The Dark Knight Rises” Abolished Its Billionaire to Build a Better Batman…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. TENET reviews are dropping in under an hour, and DC Fandome is happening this weekend, so it seemed an appropriate time to take a look back at Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.

The Dark Knight Rises is a particularly interesting project in the current climate. It’s become common to criticise the idea of Batman as a billionaire who spends his fortune to dress up as a bat instead of actually using it to help the poor and impoverished of Gotham. In that context, The Dark Knight Rises is a work ahead of its time. It’s a story about how Bruce fails Gotham in his role as a billionaire, how maybe Batman shouldn’t be “a man from privilege” and a story in which Bruce donates his family home to the city’s “orphaned and at-risk youth.”

The Dark Knight Rises is the rare superhero story to posit an actual and meaningful ending for its protagonist, and The Dark Knight Rises argues that the only possible happy ending for Batman is for Bruce to lose his fortune and be declared dead, understanding that maybe the mantle of Batman should go to another person who is more keenly aware of what it means to live in Gotham. It’s a very clever and very insightful commentary on the Batman mythos, and one that has aged remarkably well.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.