[Oscar Madness Monday] Gangs of New York (2002)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson

Screenplay: Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan

167 mins. Rated R for intense strong violence, sexuality/nudity and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Leading Role [Daniel Day-Lewis]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song

 

I’ve really wanted to revisit Gangs of New York for some time. I recall catching it back in college, and I also recall not liking it very much. Since college, I’ve grown to love and respect Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, The Irishman) and his filmography. He’s since become a director, in my eyes, that I would place on a Mt. Rushmore of all-time directors, but a few films by the director just didn’t click with me at the time, but I’ve wanted to watch those films again. Gangs of New York is one such picture. During this time of social distancing, I now have that time to rewatch Gangs of New York. Let’s see how this plays out.

The year is 1862, and Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood) has return to New York City, to a place called the Five Points he fled from years ago. Vallon only has one goal in mind: to kill Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread), the man who killed his father in a brutal gang fight when Vallon was a child. Vallon finds himself infiltrating Bill’s inner workings in order to gain his confidence and get his vengeance, but matters are complicated when he comes into contact with an attractive pickpocket named Jenny (Cameron Diaz, There’s Something About Mary, Annie) and the lines are blurred among the Five Points.

It’s impressive that Leo is able to maintain a presence onscreen with Day-Lewis. This is still a film relatively early in the career of Leonardo DiCaprio, and his subdued yet strong performance is still able to hold his own. I really like DiCaprio here because he is able to portray Amsterdam Vallon’s internal flaws, which is something that becomes more complex as the narrative unfolds. Vallon’s emotional strain is stretched to the snapping point by what he is forced to endure at the hands of Bill “The Butcher” throughout the film.

Make no mistakes, though, no one is outshining Daniel Day-Lewis here as Bill Cutting. His fast-talking molasses-drawled speech is engaging, and his menacing visual performance is so catching and engaging. I love how DDL stays in character throughout shooting (he reportedly had dinner with Scorsese and DiCaprio in character after shooting wrapped for the day), and it seemingly helps his performance because he owns every film he appears in.

I know I’m beating a dead horse with this, but because of all the performing prowess displayed by not only DiCaprio and Day-Lewis but most of the supporting cast, it is quite noticeable how out-of-her-element Diaz is. Her broken accent as Jenny Everdeane is only overshadowed by her seeming disinterest in her character or the film she’s in. She just doesn’t engage on an entertainment level.

The screenplay for Gangs of New York is from Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan. There’s some prowess to this screenwriting crew, but I have a lot of problems with the screenplay. I feel like it was written very capably but it isn’t accessible. It’s a screenplay made for the audiences of 1862 instead of for today. The first time I watched it, I just couldn’t get into it, but I will say it was much better on the second viewing, but even then, I find some real problems with the screenplay. There’s a lost quality to the narrative at the beginning and near the end, with the second act of the film finding its footing.

Martin Scorsese is really trying something new with Gangs of New York. His directing style is a little more erratic, ambitious, and violent. Not all of it works within the confines of the film, but it showcases Scorsese’s interest in evolving. You can complain all you want about Martin Scorsese as a gangster filmmaker, but he is so much more than that, and Gangs of New York is a very different gangster film, or film in general, than anything else in his oeuvre. As stated, not all of the visual storytelling Scorsese presents here works, and I think, again, it works on a second viewing better than the first time around.

Gangs of New York is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s more positive than negative in all this, but it still struggles getting going and finishing strong. There’s a lot of good meat to the film, but it both works and doesn’t work, with the positive outweighing the negative. I enjoyed it on the second viewing way more than the first, mostly from the incredible work from DiCaprio and DDL. This will work for historical buffs or anyone with a bloodlust for bloody violence as well, to varying degrees.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, click here.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Director: Cathy Yan

Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor

Screenplay: Christina Hodson

109 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material.

 

It feels like the DCEU has found its footing under the new leadership. After Justice League, the DCEU was handed off to others, and both Aquaman and Shazam! achieved generally positive reviews, so where does Birds of Prey land in all this? Did it continue that hot streak? Well, yes and no, but mostly no.

The Joker has dumped Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street, Peter Rabbit), and now the queen of mayhem is alone on the streets of Gotham and everyone wants her dead. It seems like all of Gotham has a vendetta against Quinn, including mob boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge!, Doctor Sleep), who tasks her with stealing a diamond, but this is all an attempt to take her out. Harley is in over her head, and in order to stop Sionis, she needs help from others who have been wronged by him.

Cinematic universes have changed the way these stories are told. Relationships and characters evolve across multiple films, but this is a problem for Birds of Prey. It seemingly assumes that we, as audience members, understand the relationship between the Joker and Harley Quinn. Hell, the inciting incident of the film is the destruction of that relationship. The issue with that assumption is that we didn’t get a good look at the central relationship in Suicide Squad; there simply wasn’t enough time dedicated to the relationship or the Joker in general to make the breakup have any impact. Since Jared Leto doesn’t appear in Birds of Prey, we again get nothing to go on that made me really connect with what Harley is going through in the film.

Thankfully, Margot Robbie is excellent in the role of Quinn, and yet again, she is such a dynamic presence onscreen that makes up for the lack of empathy and stakes to her central character journey. This is great because, for a film that sold itself as being a Birds of Prey film with a tiny hint of Harley Quinn, this is really a Harley Quinn film with a dash of Birds of Prey. Given that so much screen time is dedicated to Quinn, it’s great to know that Robbie continues to captivate as the Maid of Mischief.

Even Margot Robbie’s tremendous work as Quinn cannot save a very muddled and convoluted plot. I think the idea was to make Birds of Prey into DC’s version of Deadpool, so the film is edited to give it a loose narrative structure that hops around, but it lost me several times. I was never confused, but it lost my interest every time it left the main narrative.

Birds of Prey was very fun, but it struggled to consistently maintain my interest throughout its run time. I enjoyed several chunks of the film, and overall I really enjoyed the film, but altogether, this film is an absolute mess. It’s saved by an engaging Robbie performance and the awesome turn from Ewan McGregor, and I still believe that the film is worth watching for fans of the Harley Quinn character and the DCEU, but it’s a bug jumbled mess of a movie.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!, click here.

[Black Lodge Day] Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

Director: David Lynch

Cast: Sheryl Lee, Moira Kelly, David Bowie, Chris Isaak, Harry Dean Stanton, Ray Wise, Kyle MacLachlan, Madchen Amick

Screenplay: David Lynch, Robert Engels

134 mins. Rated R.

 

Today is a big day for Twin Peaks fans. Today is the official day that Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan, Inside Out, TV’s Carol’s Second Act) entered the Black Lodge on the television show. To celebrate that, I decided to revisit Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the only official feature film for Twin Peaks, which followed the series as a sequel/prequel which covers a lot of the events leading up to the first episode while also setting the stage for what was to come in 2017’s revival series.

Fire Walk With Me dives deeper into several pivotal events in the larger Twin Peaks mythos, including the investigation into the death of Teresa Banks, the missing of several FBI agents, and the days leading to the death of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee, Vampires, Cafe Society) at the hands of the killer BOB.

Without a doubt, this is not a film for the uninitiated. This is a Twin Peaks film but this is not a good way to jump into the world of Twin Peaks. It’s constructed as the first in a potential series of films or possibly a trilogy, each one exploring the world and creating a conclusion. That in itself is a mistake that I made going into it. I had expected to find answers, and that’s not what David Lynch is all about. His films create more questions that provide answers, and the expectations that you will understand everything that happens in Twin Peaks the television series or Fire Walk With Me will lead you nowhere. It’s only if you sit back and drink in the experience of being in this world, it goes a lot better.

Sheryl Lee is pretty damn solid as Laura in this, her first real chance to play the character. Up to this point, she’s been a presence in Twin Peaks, but from the moment the first episode begins, Laura’s dead, so it’s nice to deep dive into the Laura’s mind, and the way she permeates the rest of the series. I really liked diving into her mind and the way she interacts with her father, Leland (Ray Wise, Batman: The Killing Joke, TV’s Fresh Off the Boat). Leland takes the death of Laura so painfully in the show that it is nice to dive further into that contentious relationship.

Outside of the Laura and BOB story, which I found quite interesting, I felt the absence of my personal favorite characters, like learning more about the fate of Dale Cooper or Pete Martell. I would’ve liked a few more minutes with the Horne family or perhaps Lucy Moran, but this narrative, for however unfocused it is, is intent on Laura, and in that arena, it shines.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a frustrating experience upon first viewing, but allowing oneself to sink into its mystery and mysticism only furthers the emotional ride of Laura Palmer’s last days in a way that adds to the world of Twin Peaks, not in a story-furthering sense, but an emotional and spiritual-furthering sense. This one is for Lynch fans and specifically Twin Peaks fans only, all others need not apply. You probably wouldn’t know what the hell you were watching in the first place.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

New Episode of Kyle & Nick on Film Discusses The Departed

Hey everyone! There’s another new episode of my video series, Kyle & Nick on Film, where Nick Palodichuk and I discuss the Martin Scorsese film The Departed! We talk the merits of the film and break down the historic Oscar win for the film and Scorsese himself.

Give the episode a watch, and if you enjoy the episode and want to support the show, check out the Show’s Patreon here. If you cannot support the Show in that way, give us a like, comment with your thoughts on The Departed, and don’t forget to subscribe to the channel! That way, you don’t miss the next episode!

-Kyle A. Goethe

Hustlers (2019)

Director: Lorene Scafaria

Cast: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, Cardi B

Screenplay: Lorene Scafaria

110 mins. Rated R for pervasive sexual material, drug content, language and nudity.

 

I recall the surprise that surrounded Hustlers when it turned from a movie that no one really had much faith in to a critic-beloved darling of a film. It was so shocking to find that it wasn’t garbage, and I was suddenly interested in seeing it after thinking it looked it absolute garbage. I did get a chance to actually see the movie, and I was surprised, but how?

The year is 2007, and stripper Destiny (Constance Wu, Crazy Rich Asians, TV’s Fresh Off the Boat) is working to make money and support her grandmother when she meets Ramona (Jennifer Lopez, Gigli, Second Act), an experienced stripper who seemingly captivates everyone in the audience. The two women form a close friendship and things go well for awhile, until the financial crisis forces them to reevaluate their plans. Destiny is invited to join Ramona and two other women as they hunt down rich men, seduce and drug them, and take their money. This plan is quite successful, but like all stories of crime, this one is headed for an unfortunate ending.

Let me start out by saying that, overall, I think it’s a good movie. I’m not praising it as an Oscar-worthy film by any means, but it’s good. I think director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, This is Heaven) does the real standout work here. Her film has a style that is quite engaging, taking a story that I feel is a little simple and turning it into something more fascinating. Her screenplay showcases a group of women that become selfish Robin Hoods, robbing the rich and keeping it for themselves until they become the very people who they target. It’s a fascinating story, even if it falls into cliche as it goes on.

The cast, particularly Wu and Lopez, do quite well in showing the radicals of women in their situation, desperation to greed to desperation again. Wu and Lopez have solid chemistry together and they’re both engaging onscreen. The less said about Lizzo (UglyDolls) and Cardi B’s performance, the better though.

Stripping is a talent and skill, and in order for the film to work, the stripping scenes had to be authentic, and it appears that the cast was trained well in translating this skill to the screen with precision. Lopez took this very seriously, even installing a pole at home and visiting strip clubs with her husband to research.

Hustlers is a fun little crime thriller with some front-and-center solid work from Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez and solid direction from Lorene Scafaria. The script is a little lackluster but overall, this is a fun experience that surprised me by being good at all, and I’m fine with good.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] Walk Run Cha-Cha (2019)

Director: Laura Nix

Cast: Chipaul Cao, Millie Cao, Maksym Kapitanchuk

Screenplay: Laura Nix

20 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Short Subject [PENDING]

 

Walk Run Cha-Cha is another Oscar-nominated short doc, this one a bit lighter fair than the others, focused on a couple, Paul and Millie Cao, who suffered in their younger years dealing with the fallout of the Vietnam War, who have now discovered, in their older years, an affinity for dancing.

This short documentary, written and directed by Laura Nix (The Politics of Fur, Inventing Tomorrow), chronicles both Paul and Millie’s background, the journey that brought them together, that brought them to America. It also looks at what brought them to dance, a mutual love they have both found. Initially, the doc, while entertaining and interesting, seems a little simplistic. Why this doc short for the Oscar?

It’s only upon seeing the climax that Nix builds the story to, a choreographed presentation made by this couple that accentuates their craft, their feelings for one another, and their feelings toward the dance. It’s a powerful, moving, and beautifully shot sequence that drives the whole film home in an elegant and memorable way.

Walk Run Cha-Cha does not reinvent the wheel, but it’s a moving and beautiful story that showcases a love that we should all hope to achieve in life. Aided by terrific pacing and an interesting set of subjects, this is a lovely story worth watching.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] Life Overtakes Me (2019)

Director: John Haptas, Kristine Samuelson

Cast: Henry Ascher, Nadja Hatem, Mikael Billing

39 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Short Subject [PENDING]

 

Okay, I’ll be real. I didn’t know anything about Resignation Syndrome. This was all new to me, and in that way, Life Overtakes Me was a real learning experience.

Life Overtakes Me, from directors John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson (Tokyo Waka, Barn Dance), chronicles refugees searching for sanctuary and the children dealing with the trauma caused by uncertainty. The children in these families have internally shut down into a sleep-like state, almost comatose, and the documentary shows how the families are forced to deal with the situation and pray for the best.

As I said above, I’ve never heard of Resignation Syndrome until seeing this, and it’s both an interesting view at this condition and also perhaps a little too simplistic of a look. It doesn’t delve deep enough to really be effective, but I was quite interested in the subject material. I just wanted more.

Life Overtakes Me was effective in breaking my heart, and I think it’s a very timely piece. Especially now, in America, looking at the way our country treats newcomers and people looking for safety and security in a new land, this short absolutely sickened me. I keep thinking about our borders and all the children dealing with trauma and it haunts me.

This short film, while not as in-depth as I would have liked, was still a strong viewing experience. Hell, it’s on Netflix, you have no excuse to ignore this 40-minute lesson in something I doubt many people even know of. Check this one out when you can. It’s worth you time, and it may just get you thinking.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

[#2020oscardeathrace] For Sama (2019)

Director: Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts

Cast: Waad Al-Kateab, Hamza Al-Kateab, Sama Al-Kateab

96 mins. Rated TV-14.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Feature [PENDING]

 

There’s been a lot of cinema in recent years about the conflict in Syria, and many documentaries have presented unique filmmaker voices spread across the area. One of the more recent and unique voices comes from filmmaker Waad Al-Kateab, who documented her life in Syria from 2012 to 2017, from falling in love to getting married to having a child, Sama. The film is made as a video journal intended for Sama to understand exactly what Waad and husband Hamza had to get through in order to survive.

This is another hard-hitting documentary look at the situation in Syria. It was incredibly hard to watch, much as the other documentaries have been, but this one was all the more effective because it follows life, day-to-day, and families, or the potential fracturing of family. I cannot begin to understand the world that Waad and her family existed in, the kind of difficult choices that had to be made in order to survive and live. People need to be able to live their lives, or life just isn’t worth living, and the love letter that Waad tells to her child is so tense and frustrating.

For Sama is an excellent time capsule from Syria, a tale of family, that is jarring and painful to watch, but it contains small moments of beauty as well. The film runs on a little long, even for an 86-minute film, but it works quite well at examining Syria from a different viewpoint. Check it out when you can, the film can be discovered for free care of PBS.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2020oscardeathrace] Honeyland (2019)

Director: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov

Cast: Hatidze Muratova

86 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best International Feature Film [PENDING]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Feature [PENDING]

 

Fun little bit of Oscars trivia for you. No film has ever gotten nominations for both Best International Feature Film and Best Documentary Feature…until Honeyland. There, you learned something reading this review.

Honeyland was filmed over the course of three years, chronicling the story of Hatidze Muratova, a women living in the wild mountains of Macedonia and operating an ancient beekeeping lifestyle, one that seems to be based on a symbiotic relationship between humans and bees. By not taking more than is necessary, she is able to successfully maintain an almost endless supply of honey, but when a family moves into the area nearby and attempts to get in on the honey money, Hatidze finds her world forever changed.

Honeyland is a powerful view of a world I’ve never seen. Hatidze’s world at the beginning is nicely juxtaposed with her world after the moving in of the new family, who seem to not understand this symbiotic relationship with the bees that Hatidze gains from. It features some of the most incredible real footage of her world in Macedonia.

Directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov spent three years recording footage and molding it to fit this fairly-tight narrative, and that intimate closeness between the directors and their subjects creates a truly in-depth and emotion-laden story. It was heartbreaking to see Hatidze dealing with her ailing mother while simultaneously striving to survive her work and the competing work of the new family.

Honeyland is very worth watching. It’s one of the best documentaries of the year and also one of the best international films of the year. I highly suggest you take this spiritual journey of a woman and nature and check the film out as soon as possible.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑