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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gangs of New York (2002) - A movie by Martin Scorsese, and a big commercial success

With Gangs of New York (released in 2002), Martin Scorsese was back to where he makes his mark, the gritty streets of New York, with lots of hard violence, mafia and gangs, rock music based soundtrack, and people with an inclination for violence. However, with the movie, Scorsese starred a different set of characters, with the starring roles being taken up by Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz. The movie was set at the time of the American Civil War of the 1960's, and was based on a pretty old book by Herbert Asbury, with the same name "The Gangs of New York".
This was another movie that Scorsese had been wanting to make for a long time, but kept on getting put off for various reasons (over a period of greater than 2 decades); even when the movie was finally made in 2001, the release was delayed for a period of around an year while Scorsese and the producer Harvey Weinstein negotiated on the final cuts in the movie, and the actual length of the movie. The movie was finally released to a majority of critical acclaim, although many critics found the movie not as good as some of his better movies. The movie, made at a budget just under $100 million, went on to make approximately $200 million worldwide.



The movie is about a conflict between 2 warring gangs, led by their leaders. William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a White Protestant Anglo-Saxon and leads the gangs called 'The Natives', since they are already residing there; further, Bill has a hatred of immigrants and their attempts to muscle into the territory where he is the primary gang leader. He comes into conflict with a gang comprised of recent immigrants, with the gang called "Dead Rabbits," led by Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson). He has a young son called Amsterdam (who will later become Leonardo DiCaprio when he grows up). These 2 gangs have a bloody fight in which Bill kills Vallon, witnessed by Amsterdam. Amsterdam finds the knife with which his father is killed and buries it, and then is taken to an orphanage. This entire situation is set in the year 1946.
Change to 16 years later, when Amsterdam is now an adult, the Civil War between the North and the South is in full swing, and the draft is in commission. Amsterdam finds that his father's old gang members are mostly now part of Bill's gang. Amsterdam is introduced to Bill by an old friend, Johnny (without telling Bill who Amsterdam actually is). Amsterdam also meets a pickpocket called Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz), and is attracted to her (although his friend Johnny is also attracted to her); Bill starts trusting Amsterdam more and Amsterdam keeps on gaining some amount of influence, and also saves Bill once in an assassination attempt.
Bill trusts Amsterdam enough to talk about Priest Vallon with him, including the fact that he respected Vallon, and it was that incident that gave him strength and character to fight all his enemies. The rest of the movie is about the final fight between Bill and Amsterdam, once Bill has learnt who Amsterdam actually is, while the Union Soldiers are quelling riots that have broken out in the city over the draft laws.

Gangs of New York (2002) - A movie by Martin Scorsese, and a big commercial success

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bringing Out the Dead (1999), directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Nicholas Cage - movie did not do too well

After a couple of movies such as Casino and Kundun, Martin Scorsese returned to the same location that is a staple of his movie, the gritty New York areas where he takes people with deep emotional conflicts and shows up the progression of these conflicts. In 'Bringing Out the Dead', Scorsese made a movie where he depicts the life of a deeply traumatized paramedic working the night shift in a New York Hospital (he has been traumatized by some of the experiences that he has seen, especially that of a young homeless girl; and his job is one that exposes him to profound grief shown by others - typically the relatives of people who area admitted to emergency services and who often do not survive). He is what you would call a typical recipe for a person heading to a collapse, with his nerves and emotions driving him to a point of collapse.
He realizes that he is headed to towards burnout, already suffers from insomnia, and wonders whether he will, in his current condition, meet another victim whom he cannot save; and he attempts to try and get fired. And then he gets salvation.
The movie was based on a novel by Joe Connelly (screenplay for the movie by Paul Schrader); but even though the movie is now considered a pretty good movie, it was a disaster at the box office with the US box office collections only making half of the $32 million budget.



The movie is a frantic 3 days, where the main character has 3 different partners in terms of his work as a paramedic (and the 3 partners also portray their roles - with 3 entirely different types of characters, one being very engaging, the second being more of a stirring type of person, and the third being more crazy). The path to salvation for Frank Pierce (Nicholas Cage in a pretty fine performance) comes from his meeting with the daughter of a heart attack victim that Frank had helped save; he meets Mary (Patricia Arquette) when she often comes to visit her father in the hospital.
It is Mary who, in her interactions with Frank, passes on her compassion and her feelings of helping others, which finally takes Frank out of his depression; repair his feelings about the people he was not able to save, and finally cure his insomnia.

Bringing Out the Dead (1999), directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Nicholas Cage - movie did not do too well

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kundun (1997) - Directed by Martin Scorsese, a film about the Dalai Lama

Martin Scorsese is persona non grata in China, and will never be allowed there. But I guess he would have expected that if he made a movie about the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama, the 14th in line, is the spiritual leader of the people of Tibet and the administrator before the Chinese invaded the region and took complete control of Tibet (declaring that Tibet was always a part of China and another province); the Dalai Lama now has a base in the northern Indian town of McLeodganj and no longer supports the concept of Tibetan and independence, instead asking for more autonomy for Tibet inside China. However, China, mindful of the position of the Dalai Lama in the minds of the people of Tibet, considers the Dalai Lama as a separatist leader and refuses to try and let him get any legitimacy. Any film maker who makes a movie on the Dalai Lama that does not position China's viewpoint will be viewed with hostility by the Government of China; and that is what Martin Scorsese has faced (in fact, the first studio that was to make the movie, Universal backed down once it became clear that China will be openly hostile; the second one, Disney refused to back down).
The movie is called Kundun (another title for the Dalai Lama, which means 'The Presence') is made very beautifully, but for a movie with drama and wonderful scenes, the movie did pretty badly at the box-office, earning only around $6 million. The movie was written by Melissa Mathison, and is based on the life and stories of the Dalai Lama.



The Dalai Lama is typically selected by a test where a young child (often as old as 2-4 years) must satisfy a group of experts that the child is the incarnation of the previous Dalai Lama,and so it was with the 14th Dalai Lama; the regent Reting Rinpoche had a vision, and based on that, senior lamas go to the location of the vision, finding a young child who is able to identify objects that belong to the previous Dalai Lama. On completion, he along with family come to the Potala Palace in Lhasa (the traditional headquarters of the Dalai Lamas); once he comes of age, then he will be enthroned.
The Dalai Lama is a young child after all, and passes through some emotional trauma including becoming homesick, but is comforted by the regent (regent Reting however loses a power struggle and is imprisoned), with the Dalai Lama becoming more active. However, this is the same time in which the Communists have taken over China and claim Tibet to be a part of China. They soon invade, and after some initial reconciliation, the Communists are recognized as oppressors. The Dalai Lama even meets Mao in Beijing, but the Dalai Lama will not fit in the overall plans of the Communists and is seen as a powerful influence against the interests of China. When he is threatened, the Dalai Lama makes his escape to India through a difficult journey ahead of the pursuing Communists.

Kundun (1997) - Directed by Martin Scorsese, a film about the Dalai Lama

Monday, March 15, 2010

Casino (1995) - Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone

Casino was a movie released in 1995, and ranked to be one of the best movies made by Martin Scorsese. The movie was somewhat of a departure from the traditional New York setting of many of his other movies, although the use of mafia, violence, and rough language was still common (in fact, the movie was somewhat controversial because of the use of the word 'fuck' for almost 400 uses in one movie). The movie was based on a book by Nicholas Pileggi, with the screenplay for the movie written by Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese. The movie was based on a some real incidents, including the fight between a mob guy named Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal (a real life person based from the 1970's and early 80's who used to oversee multiple casinos for the mob) and his wife Geri McGee, a former topless dancer).
This concept was the idea of Nicholas Pileggi, who approached Martin Scorsese for the movie, and Scorsese was an eager supported of this thought, and decided to make a movie. When the movie was released, Martin Scorsese also have a tremendous reception, and this movie continued the trend, with the movie having got an overall positive acclaim. However, the movie did not do anything great at the Academy Awards, with a single nomination for Sharon Stone.



Robert De Niro stars as Sam "Ace" Rothstein, called in by the mob to oversee the operations of the Tangiers (non-existent in real life) casino in Las Vegas. In addition, Nicky Santoro (played by Joe Pesci) is a mob enforcer sent in to ensure that money keeps on coming to the mob, and that the mob's investments in the casinos are kept safe. Sharon Stone plays the role of Ginger, a devious lady who is also the wife of Ace (the skillful portrayal of a woman on the edge did get her a Golden Globe award for Best Actress).
The movie starts with an explosion in the car of Sam 'Ace', but he survives, and then the movie starts in flashback, moving back to the time in 1973 when Ace is brought in to run the Casino Tangiers. Ace is good at his job, and in a short period of time, he doubles the profits of the casino; however, the mob takes its cut before reporting to the tax authorities. Nicky is sent in to ensure that Sam has protection as he does his work. However, not everything works as intended; since Nicky works out to be nuisance with his attitude, and is banned from many casinos. Sam meets Ginger McKenna, and marries her after they have a baby girl.
Their is a difference that starts growing between Sam and Nick, and he also draws public attention when he gets into a dispute with the County Commissioner, and getting public attention is something that is bad for the mob. Things reach a boil pretty quickly after that, when Sam gets into a dispute with Ginger, and soon after, also begins a sexual affair with Nicky (something very severely frowned upon in the mob). This dispute between Sam and Nicky gets the FBI involved when some loose comments are overhead, and things quickly reach a stage where the entire business starts to unravel. And then the mob bosses, who are now in trouble themselves, have to decide whom to silence to ensure their safety. What happens to Sam, Ginger and Nicky ?

Casino (1995) - Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Age of Innocence (1993) - Directed by Martin Scorsese, and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder

The Age of Innocence (released in 1993) was a movie directed by Martin Scorsese, that won one Academy Award (Oscar) and was nominated for a total of 5 awards, but not the top awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor or Actress). Winnona Ryder was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress role, but did not win. The movie eventually won the Oscar for Best Costume Design (Gabriella Pescucci). However, the movie won awards in other places such as the Golden Globe, BAFTA, National Board of Review Award. The movie was based on a novel with the same name, written by Edith Wharton (winner of the 1921 Pulitzer Prize). The novel is set in the 1870's in New York City, set in the upper class (the distinction of the prize was that this was the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to a woman, based on her accurate depiction of the life of the upper class in the 19th century New York).
The name of the novel / movie is ironic, given that while the upper class was all genteel and published on the outside, inside it was all conspiracies and controversy. The movie was filmed in New York, with some portions being shot in Paris and the opera scenes being shot in the Philadelphia Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The movie earned positive reviews from critics.
Like some of his other movies, Marin Scorsese did a cameo role in this movie, as a photographer in a wedding scene.



The movie was dedicated to Martin Scorsese's father (Charles Scorsese, who died before the movie got released); both his mother and father made cameo appearances in the movie. Another surprise about the movie is that the lead actors in the movie were all the first choices of Martin Scorsese.
The movie is a tale of passionate love, never being consummated because of society and its bonds. The story is that of a young rich lawyer, Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), who is eager and happy about his forthcoming marriage with another member of society's elite, May Welland (Winona Ryder). However, his feelings start changing with the emergence on the scene of her cousin, 30 year old sophisticated Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer). She is separated from her husband, who has cut her off, and to the horror of society and her relations, she wants a divorce (you can separate, but a divorce would be a huge scandal). Newland starts feeling a passionate attraction for her, and she for him, but because of the impact this would have on May, she backs off, deciding to keep a distance.
And then Newland finally marries May (he had asked May to get married sooner since he is not sure about his feelings for Ellen and whether they could make him change his mind); but his marriage is soon passionless, and he still longs for Ellen. Ellen finally agrees to have an affair with Newland, and Newland even decides to follow her for Europe, and then May tells him that they are having a baby; and now, because of the child, they again agree to not have an affair. But is this the end of their interactions ?

The Age of Innocence (1993) - Directed by Martin Scorsese, and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) - a very controversial film directed by Martin Scorsese starring Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel

Religious issues tend to be very controversial, and if it concerns the founder of a religion, any depiction that deviates from the well-accepted view can provoke a number of feelings. And so it was with this movie, The Last Temptation of Christ (released in 1988), that sought to depict some events and theories that are not part of accepted Christian lore. For example, if a movie seeks to portray that Christ was not the son of God, or had a relationship with a woman and had a child, or did not die on the Christ, there can be a huge backlash. And so it was with this movie, which remains banned in some Christian dominated countries, and also provoked a backlash that was far more severe than the studio and the director (Martin Scorsese) expected. In recent years, there has been some acceptance of the movie's portrayal of Jesus as one who confronts all the human weaknesses and overcomes for his vision; the movie sought to explore all the sentiments that would have driver such a person. In the end, the movie did not too well at the box office.
Scorsese had been looking to make a movie on the life of Jesus for many years, and had taken the film rights of the 1960 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, even getting a screenplay for the movie ready by the late 70's by Paul Schrader, and production was even planned in 1983 with Paramount as the studio. But by late 1983, the project was cancelled by the studio, and then Universal Studio took up the project again in 1986 with photography starting in 1987. The movie was entirely shot in the African country of Morocco.



The movie has many concepts that do not gel with standard Christian philosophy, such as the concept of Jesus making crosses used by the Romans to kill Jewish prisoners by crucifying them, by portraying Judas as a far more complex and positive character (obsessed with ensuring a revolution by the Jews against the Romans rather than the betrayer he is positioned in standard Christian philosophy).
The movie starts out with the internal conflict in Jesus, who realizes that God has some plan for him, but that he is also human. When he starts to make the crosses for the Roman army, he is branded a traitor by Jewish revolutionaries. Judas is sent to kill him, but he waits and watches Jesus's message about love, and joins his ministry. Jesus starts preaching to people, saving the life of Mary (a prostitute) from a mob. Jesus is still working his way through what his aim in life is, and starts attracting disciples. Satan tries to sway Jesus 3 times, but each time Jesus refuses to get swayed. More events happen in the life of Jesus, but which convince him that the path of violence is not for him. He has asked Judas to get the temple guards to take him away, which happens after the Last Supper.
And then Jesus is put on the cross by the Romans since he is deemed a security to their current rule; and then the most controversial part of the movie. He is convinced by an Angel (actually Satan) that he is not the Son of God, and he should lead a normal life; where he meets Mary, makes love to her and then has a family. In the end, he is found by Judas near his death, who calls him a traitor, and that the angel was actually Satan. Jesus goes back to the cross, and then it is revealed that all this was a dream, and dies on the cross.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) -  a very controversial film directed by Martin Scorsese starring Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Hustler (1961) - Starring Paul Newman - a huge hit, a modern classic

The Hustler (released in 1961) was a movie ostensibly about a pool game, about the efforts of a talented pool player to defeat the reigning pool champion, about the tribulations that he had to suffer in this process, including the losses. In reality, The Hustler is now defined as a movie defining the character of a person, the winning and losing that makes up the character. The movie is classified as a classic movie, continuing to rate positive reviews. The characters look like real characters, with their anguish, their weaknesses, their obsessions, and how they shrug off adversity in the face of an ambition. The movie also benefited the game of pool to a very high degree, since pool was declining in popularity for decades; but the movie had a big role to play in pushing the popularity of the game into reverse direction, making pool popular again. The movie is now compared with the later 'The Color of Money', but while the later movie is more smooth and polished, The Hustler is a much more raw look at human emotions, about what makes a person win or lose. The Hustler got a number of Oscar nominations, 9 in all, and won 2 (Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (Harry Horner and Gene Callahan) and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Eugen Sch├╝fftan)).
Newman was nominated for Best Actor role, but did not get the award, instead getting it decades later for a role that was a continuation of the movie, The Color of Money (with some critics calling the Oscar award as a recognition that he should have got the award for the Best Actor role for The Hustler).



The movie was based on the 1959 novel (of the same name) by author Walter Tavis, and the book was adapted by Sidney Carroll and Robert Rossen for the movie, with Rossen directing the movie. The main stars of the movie are Paul Newman as Eddie Felson, Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats, Piper Laurie as Sarah and George C. Scott as Bert.
The movie is the story of "Fast Eddie" Felson (Paul Newman), who is traveling with his friend Charlie (Myron McCormick) chasing "Minnesota Fats" (Jackie Gleason), a famous pool player. He meets Fats at Fats home town, and they agree to play for money. Eddie is ahead, but gets carried away and refuses to quit even when Charlie asks him to quit; then a professional gambler Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) is called over by Fats, and he diagnoses Eddie as a loser, without character; and sure enough, by the time that everything is through Eddie has lost everything except for $200.
Eddie meets an alcoholic girl, walking with a limp, Sarah Packard (portrayed pretty well by Piper Laurie); she refuses to take him in initially, but after they meet again and again, she lets him into the house. Eddie continues to hunger to challenge Fats again, and Charlie and Eddie have a face-off and then separation. And then Eddie ties up with Bert, who agrees to back Eddie in return for a 75% take from the returns. And then Eddie will challenge Fats again, but at what cost to Eddie ?

The Hustler (1961) - Starring Paul Newman - a huge hit, a modern classic

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Color of Money (1986) - Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise

The Hustler was a film released in 1961, starring Paul Newman in the role of the pool hustler Edward "Fast Eddie" Felson. Then in 1984, a novel was published with the title of 'The Color of Money', based on the same character, and with the story of the continuation of the life of Felson. After a period of 20 years, he is back into the pool world; and like many such sequels, the only continuation of the story is in terms of the same character, without needing to watch the previous movie. The novel was written by author Walter Tevis; and he was hired to write a screenplay for a movie based on the novel; and then the screenplay was not used at all. Instead the movie finally used a new screenplay (written by Richard Price); and if you have seen the movie 'The Baltimore Bullet', you will find many sub-plots to be similar (The Baltimore Bullet was a pool comedy released in 1980). The Color of Money is an interesting title, and seems very logical if you consider that a dollar note is based on a green background, and so is the color of the cloth used to cover a pool table. The movie was directed by Martin Scorsese and also starred, besides Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver and John Turturro.



Scorsese also appears in 2 cameo instances in the movie, once while walking a dog, and playing pool in the other instance. The movie also included many real life top pool players from the 1980's with them having small roles. The movie is not only about pool, since pool is only the instrument, it is actually about human behavior and what drives people, and if you were to compare the pool shots with the earlier, "The Hustler", you would find the quality of pool shots to be much better in the previous movie.
Newman is no longer in the game, but at heart, remains connected to the game. He is now a liquor salesman; but then comes across a brash cocky young kid, Vincent (Tom Cruise), and decides to take him on the circuit, teaching him how to hustle money, which makes for interesting viewing, since you have 2 people with egos against each other and having to work with each other. And you have seen what happens after this in numerous movies, where the protege moves away the mentor (with his own brash confident manner combined with the influence of the girlfriend) and then they have a show-down with the game (you see this in the Rocky movie where Rocky promotes a kid who moves away from him and they have a final street fight); and then he learns that Vincent really did learn the full contours of making money, including when to fold and when to win.

The Color of Money (1986) - Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise

Thursday, March 4, 2010

After Hours (released in 1985) - A dark comedy film, directed by Martin Scorsese, the misadventures of a man

From viewing Martin Scorsese's movies, it would seem that Robert De Niro was a perpetual favorite of Scorsese, so when he would make a movie without De Niro, it was always a surprise, like the movie After Hours, which was the first movie in a decade by Scorsese that did not star De Niro. Martin Scorsese was not supposed to be the original director for this movie, which was based on a screenplay that Joseph Minion wrote (given that he was only 26 years old when the movie was made); the screenplay was wrote when Minion was doing an assignment as part of a film course at Columbia University. The movie also faced a court case after release since the radio host Joe Frank claimed that the screenplay and parts of the dialog were based on his radio monologue (and there was a settlement in which he must have got a good settlement). The movie was a fairly low budget movie, costing around $4.5 million to make, and made around $10 million; and of course, like many other movies, this was not very acclaimed when it was released, and only later was classified as a cult movie.



The movie deals with the sudden happenings in the life of Paul Hackett (although the night finally ends with everything turning out okay in the end). He meets a lady called Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette) while in a cafe and they discover that they have a common interest in Henry Miller. They exchange phone numbers, and Paul also gets to know that Marcy lives with Kiki Bridges (Linda Fiorentino) - a person who sells Plaster of Paris paperweights. Paul is interested, and goes to meet Marcy, but he loses his $20, and has no money left to pay the cab, which of course means that Paul has to face the hostility of the cab driver. And then in the apartment, Paul comes across some photos of Marcy which imply that she has serious burns; he leaves soon after, with the would-be-relationship between them ending, and then he learns that those photos were not true.
No longer able to afford a cab, he tries to use the subway, but with a fare increase coming into effect just at the stroke of midnight, he no longer has enough money. He goes to a bar, but the owner does not have the keys to the cash register to help him, so he takes the keys to the apartment to get the keys to the cash register, but then things keep on happening .. which eventually ends with him being turned into a plaster of paris cast, which is then stolen and falls off at his place of work, and he is ready to start a fresh day. Interesting movie ..

After Hours (released in 1985) - A dark comedy film, directed by Martin Scorsese, the misadventures of a man

Monday, March 1, 2010

New York, New York (released in 1977) - Directed by Martin Scorsese - a musical drama film starring Robert De Niro

Martin Scorsese is known for his movies about the seedier side of New York, with violence, emotional trauma, fast music; however, he has made a number of other movies with different tones. New York, New York is a musical drama, released in 1977, meant as a tribute from Martin Scorsese to his hometown of New York. The movie stars Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli in the lead roles (playing lovers who are musicians), and has songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb. However, the movie did not do well, earning less ($13 million) than the budget ($14 million), and the failure depressed Martin Scorsese, and sending him to drugs. The failure of the movie meant that the movie studio (United Artists) cut down the movie length by around 19 minutes, however, the deleted scenes were restored in a re-release in 1981. The Theme from the movie became famous when Frank Sinatra released a cover version in 1979. The movie opens on the day that the World War II ended in 1945, a time of glorious celebration.



During a celebration in a New York nightclub, with music provided by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, a smooth talking self-centered saxophone player Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro) bumps into an upcoming singer Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli). Jimmy wants to get Francine's number, but Francine wants to evade him. However, due to Jimmy's persistence and luck, they end up sharing up a cab the next morning and she also accompanies him to an audition. At the audition, their joint act impresses the owner, and he offers them a job. They also get into a relationship, but Jimmy is not ready for a deeper commitment, even when Francine gives birth to his baby, and he leaves. Separate, they prosper, and several years later, are both significant figures. But when Jimmy proposes that they reconcile, what does she do ?

New York, New York (released in 1977) - Directed by Martin Scorsese - a musical drama film starring Robert De Niro