This film is not one I can watch over and over again like most of my other favorites. Why? Well, just see it and you might get some sense of that. It’s a hard movie to watch…violent, extreme, and scary in its realistic bloodiness. It is not the type of film that I think of putting in the DVD player on a cold night when I want to make myself feel better. This, of course, does not lessen its impact on me. The first time I saw this film, I was shocked and dazed…between the violence I had just witnessed and the remarkable film I just had seen, I didn’t know how to feel. Director extraordinaire Martin Scorsese does this a lot with his films…he wants the audience to go to such emotional extremes that when the film is over, all we feel is drained. Taxi Driver is really a film about a lost and wandering man who just wants to find where he belongs. This is a VERY basic premise on what is a complicated, stylized story with Robert De Niro playing one of the century’s most complex characters, Travis Bickle, best known for the line, “You talkin’ to me?” Bickle’s confusion and desire to change the world into his own bizarre vision is what drives the film. The second film from the working relationship of Scorsese/De Niro (the first being Mean Streets), Taxi Driver is a masterpiece of filmmaking and also an intense psychological study about the downfall of a man.

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When young rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) becomes involved in a case that requires the assistance of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), she quickly finds herself in over her head. Clarice is assigned to the case of a serial murderer who calls himself Buffalo Bill. In order to track down Buffalo Bill, Clarice needs to talk with Dr. Lecter, a psychiatrist turned cannibal, who is serving a life sentence for his crimes. Dr. Lecter might hold the key in unlocking the identity of Buffalo Bill, but in exchange for information, Clarice has to give up some of her past secrets to him. The crimes and horror of this film are not what makes this a stellar movie, but rather it’s the intense psychological battle that is fought between Clarice and Dr. Lecter that adds to the perfect combination of fear and tension to this film. Ms. Foster’s performance as the inexperienced, innocent agent who is not emotionally ready to take on the evilness of Dr. Lecter is right on target. The audience can see the terror in her eyes as she does her best to stare down Dr. Lecter. Mr. Hopkins, though, steals the show with his cunning and tense portrayal of the intelligent, shrewd killer. Dr. Lecter plays a game with Clarice as he tries to weed secrets out of her. Both performances were honored with Academy Awards, and when you watch the film, you will most definitely see why. In addition to Academy Awards for acting, the film, directed by Jonathan Demme, won Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay (based on the novel by Thomas Harris).

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In rating movies about mobsters, Goodfellas is right up there with The Godfather. Martin Scorsese took everything he knew about Italians and gangsters and New York and created one of the finest pieces of American cinema ever made. Goodfellas could really be called “Everything You Wanted To Know About Being In The Mob But Were Afraid To Ask.” The main character, Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, is a half-Irish, half-Italian Brooklyn kid who wants nothing more out of like than to be a gangster. He watches mobsters as a kid and knows…just knows…that one day, that will be him. And, sure enough, when he gets older, he gets in with the “right” crowd, and bada-boom, he’s a “made” man. The fascinating part is how Scorsese’s camera follows around Henry Hill, capturing his rise (where he can walk into a nightclub and get any seat he wants, etc.) to his downfall (the breakup of his marriage, etc.). It almost feels like every moment of Hill’s life is being recorded…as if this is more a documentary on Henry Hill, as opposed to a feature film with him as a character. Well, that last part might not be far from the truth…Goodfellas is based on the nonfiction book Wiseguys by Nicholas Pileggi. Yes, nonfiction. Hill is a real person. So, in a way, Scorsese making a documentary here is not that far from the truth. Though, I don’t want to give the impression that this film is a dry, boring look at one man. It most definitely is not that…it is a fast-paced, realistic look into the inner-workings of a crime organization, the men who run it, and the women who suffer the consequences. Given how common Mafia movies (and television shows) are, skip the rest and watch this one. Trust me.

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This is the one that started it all…we are introduced to John McClane, from the NYPD, for the first time. We like him, though we see he has an edge. And he’s troubled about his estranged relationship with his wife, who accepted a lucrative job in Los Angeles months ago and ended up moving up the corporate ladder quicker than expected. Even without seeing any back story, we know instantly that John is not an “L.A” kind of a guy. So, take this worried, disgruntled man and put him in a skyscraper where he is the only one who is not taken hostage when a gang of slick international terrorists come to rob the joint…to say that his adrenaline kicks in is a vast understatement. All John can think about his that his wife is in danger and he needs to save her. And that means he will go to any lengths, which he does with gusto, humor and incredible vigor. This film became the late 1980-1990s icon of the action film. Films, for years after this one, used the “man trapped someplace alone with baddies” formula. But, none of those imitators came close to the rush of the one and only (and the original) Die Hard.

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I am not a big fan of recent war movies…especially those about the Iraqi War. The ones I have seen have had a distorted message that messes up the story so much that it ruins the movie. But, the cast was so good here…I thought I would try it. And, it turned out to be a good, strong movie that is more about what war does to the people and less about why we are over there. The story revolves around three lost souls…who are on month leave from the Army and from the Middle East. Two of them want out of the Army…one is just confused with her life in general. But, in the end, they all find that the Army not only provides them with common ground, it is the stability they all need. Wonderful!

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