[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.

[Early Review] Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)

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Director: Sharon Maguire
Cast: Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Gemma Jones, Jim Broadbent, Emma Thompson
Screenplay: Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer, Emma Thompson
122 mins. Rated R for language, sex references and some nudity.
Nobody was more excited for Bridget Jones’s Baby than…my fiance. Me? Meh. While I mildly enjoyed Bridget Jones’s Diary, I had nothing but bad things to say about The Edge of Reason, so now, some twelve years since we last saw Bridget, was I excited? No. Did I end up enjoying it? Perhaps.
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Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger, Chicago, Case 39) has finally reached her ideal weight, but that doesn’t seem to be solving any of her other problems, especially in her love life. So when a work friend drags Bridget to an outdoor music festival, she meets and spends the night with Jack (Patrick Dempsey, TV’s Grey’s Anatomy, Transformers: Dark of the Moon). A week later, she reunites with her ex Mark Darcy (Colin Firth, The King’s Speech, Kingsman: The Secret Service). Then, the shocker: Bridget Jones is pregnant, but she has no idea who the daddy is or what to do with the two men who now want her heart.
I can’t believe I’m about to say this: I actually enjoyed Bridget Jones’s Baby. Way more than I thought I would. I found Jack Qwant to be a much more interesting foil to Mark Darcy. I like that Hugh Grant’s Daniel Cleaver is dealt with in an interesting way that allows his absence to not halter the film’s progression. I even enjoyed the surprising celebrity cameo.
Now, I had plenty of problems with the film. I felt like the first act of the film takes way too long to get going. You know the film is called Bridget Jones’s Baby, so you know she is having a baby, but it takes so long to set it up that it does lose focus. The finale also has the opportunity to take a few risks but instead the plot takes a safe route and the film suffers for it.
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Some of the best moments from Bridget Jones’s Baby had me laughing out loud in the theater and they were scenes that featured in the trailer but worked so much better in the finished film. The cast all know their characters well by now and the new additions like Dempsey and Emma Thompson (Love Actually, A Walk in the Woods) as Dr. Rawlings fit in nicely. Altogether, it’s a fitting conclusion to this trilogy of sorts that should work for fans of the original.
3.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Brooklyn (2015)

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Director: John Crowley

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters

Screenplay: Nick Hornby

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role [Saoirse Ronan]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

 

It seems that every Oscar season, a film comes along, usually with a Best Picture nomination, that I just don’t think will be any good. Some years, I get pleasantly surprised (thinking Philomena here) and other years, I get The Grand Budapest Hotel (which, I get it, many of you enjoyed, but I most certainly did not). This year, that film was Brooklyn. But do I have a winner here or more of the dreckish variety?

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Brooklyn features Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Lost River) as Eilis, an Irish immigrant living in Brooklyn in the 1950s. The film follows her leaving of Ireland and learning to adapt to the American lifestyle. It also shows her finding love in Tony (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines, The Gambler), a nice young Italian man she meets, and how their relationship is tested by her family, her situation, and her past. In comes Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as a more comfortable alternative to Tony and Eilis finds herself in a painful position where one heart is destined to be broken.

Brooklyn feels from the surface like a film we’ve seen before, and in fact, from the very beginning, I was doubting its ability to keep me interested. Indeed, it did take me about 10 minutes to be absolutely sucked in, and I was. The film’s pacing picked up almost immediately and didn’t drop off.

Saoirse Ronan commands the screen in her portrayal of Eilis, a young woman torn between the promises and duties she has been tasked in life. Eilis is a woman who doesn’t not own her life at the beginning, but she learns to take charge in order to survive.

Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson play two perfectly opposite sides of the coin, each presenting Eilis with an entirely different complete with pros on cons. Both actors seek to aid Nick Hornby’s (An Education, Wild) excellent screenplay.

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Lastly, the musical score is a beautiful bow to place on this film, which pollinates multiple genres without truly sticking with just one. Brooklyn is a wonderfully nuanced and performed film with a terrific script backing it up. Saoirse Ronan may not walk away with the trophy for her work here, but Brooklyn is another great showcase of the young actress’s multi-layered skills.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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