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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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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Paul Newman…Tom Cruise…Martin Scorsese. Heaven on film. A sequel 25 years after the fact, Scorsese takes over for The Hustler helmsman Robert Rossen (who died in 1966) and continues the story of “Fast” Eddie Felson…a hustling pool player who uses his exuberant charm and extreme good looks to his benefit at every pool table he plays. The tale Scorsese spins here is much different than Rossen’s tale of 1961. This film is more stylized and a little glitzier…at least as glitzy as pool halls can get. Here, Felson encounters a young man whom, seeing a lot of his young self in, he begins to groom into being a proper hustler. The protégée is crass and way to smart for his own good. Felson teaches him some of the lessons he learned over the years…though at times the protégée has trouble listening. The Hustler will always remain the quintessential Fast Eddie film. But, this one adds depth and experience to the aging hustler’s character.

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The Aviator is a good film. It is the kind of film that has epic qualities…large scope, vast landscapes, array of characters, historical, romance, action, drama…things that Lawrence of Arabia and more recently, Braveheart have. But, an epic by Martin Scorsese is guaranteed to have at least one other thing…quality. Basically a biopic of billionaire Howard Hughes in his early movie-making and piloting days, Scorsese choose Leonardo DiCaprio to play his Hughes…and even though my feelings are highly mixed on DiCaprio (basically, I don’t like him as an actor), I admire how Scorsese uses DiCaprio in this film and the chances the actor takes with the role. Though DiCaprio is good, what makes this film a grand epic is the way Scorsese shot it. When Hughes is working on his Hell’s Angels film, Scorsese is able to capture both of determination of Hughes and the danger of the stunts on the screen. Yet, when Hughes’s character retreats into himself and shows the first stages of the recluse he will become in later years, Scorsese also captures that using his camera…the inner pain and turmoil of Howard jumps out at the audience, even though often there is no dialogue to indicate that. In recent years, Scorsese has steered away from making personal films about New York and/or Italian-Americans, such as his earlier works like Raging Bull, Mean Streets, and Goodfellas. Even 2002’s The Gangs of New York, though about his hometown, felt less personal and more epic in scope. The Aviator might not be Scorsese at his best, but I would take his “epic” films any day of the week over some other films out there.

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Off the top, I would like to state that I’m a huge Edith Wharton fan. I’ve read almost everything by her…including nonfiction and short stories…and love her style. I’m always leery when an “adaptation” comes out of a novel I love. Bonfire of the Vanities is one of favorite books of the latter part of the 20th Century and I’m still reeling from that debacle. So, when I heard that this novel was being adapted for the screen, I immediately got nervous. But, then I heard it was being directed by Martin Scorsese and I knew Wharton’s work would be in capable hands (though I thought there might be one or two added scenes of violence that old Edith didn’t really bank on). But, alas, I needn’t had worry about any blood shed…Scorsese held true to Wharton’s vision and created a modern masterpiece out of a classic masterpiece. Sticking pretty close to the novel, the plot is about love that goes unfulfilled. Newland Archer and May Welland look like they are destined to be a happy married couple. Enter May’s slightly colorful cousin Ellen Olenska…who Newland takes a shine to — and vice versa. Visually, this is by far Scorsese’s most prominent use of color on film. The film looks and feels like a fabulous artist’s salon we can all just step into. And when I read the book, I had a feeling that’s exactly what Wharton wanted us to envision. Which, I think, is the best thing an adaptation can hope for…capturing the author’s true vision. I doubt Tom Wolfe would say the film version of Bonfire of the Vanities has anything to do with his vision!

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