[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.

[St. Patrick’s Day] In Bruges (2008)

Director: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ciaran Hinds, Clemence Poesy, Jeremie Renier

Screenplay: Martin McDonagh

107 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language and some drug use.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay

 

In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, I wanted to take a look back at a favorite film of mine from an excellent Irish writer/director, Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths). The film is In Bruges.

Ray (Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) and his partner Ken (Brendan Gleeson, Edge of Tomorrow, Assassin’s Creed) are two hitmen hiding out in the small town of Bruges in Belgium after Ray accidentally shot and killed a child on the job. What’s wrong with Bruges? Seemingly nothing, but, as Ray points out, it’s fucking Bruges. The small peaceful town has a strange way about it, and Ray soon discovers that there is a larger reason they’ve been sent to Bruges by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The LEGO Batman Movie) in this charming bloodbath.

In Bruges is, simply put, spectacular. From the performances of its main cast (in particular, Colin Farrell puts out the best work of his career) to the man behind the camera, everything is spot on. Farrell and Gleeson share some truly wonderful dialogue-driven scenes and when Fiennes shows up, the film only gets better and better.

McDonagh has an eye for dialogue and a visual sense of beauty in darkness, and he shows it here in his first feature (I also recommend checking out the shit-crazy Seven Psychopaths from the director if you get a chance). His focus on characters and real comedy derived from interesting experiences and moments make the film a completely unique thrill-ride.

In Bruges is just damn incredible. My love for it extends back to a screenwriting study I did on the film some years back, and I find that I continue to admire its pitch-perfect writing and tone upon each viewing. The film’s one problem, if there has to be one, is that it slogs a tiny bit in the second act, but trust me when I say that it doesn’t really hurt the film at all. I highly recommend watching In Bruges today or, hell, any day.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

*** Just a side note, In Bruges registers 1.18 “fucks” per minutes. SO yeah, the film is rated R for language.

[Oscar Madness Monday] Straight Outta Compton (2015)

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Director: F. Gary Gray

Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti

Screenplay: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff

147 mins. Rated R for language throughout, strong sexuality/nudity, violence, and drug use.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay

 

Who would’ve thought that Straight Outta Compton would be an Oscar contender? 2015 was great.

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Straight Outta Compton is the story of NWA, specifically Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell, Keanu, Broken City), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins, Non-Stop, Romeo and Juliet), and the effect that they made on the music industry in the 1980s and 90s. It also tells of NWA’s involvement with Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti, Sideways, Ratchet & Clank), the manager of the group.

Straight Outta Compton seemingly came out of nowhere. I didn’t think it would be very good. I was wrong. This was more than just a fun movie. This was excellent film making. To be honest, my immediate dismissal of this film came from F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, Law Abiding Citizen). I enjoyed The Italian Job somewhat, but I absolutely hated Law Abiding Citizen. So I wasn’t too keen. I was, as I said, wrong.

The best elements of the film, though, come from the leads. Jackson, Hawkins, and Mitchell were all amazing, and their performances were aided by Paul Giamatti and his pitch-perfect portrayal of Jerry Heller.

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Straight Outta Compton chooses to cover every side of the beginnings and ends of NWA and everything in between. This movie is a lot of film. It runs a bit lengthy, so spend some time to watch this behemoth. It is worth it.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 75th Birthday!] Citizen Kane (1941)

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Director: Orson Welles

Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorhead, Paul Stewart, Ruth Warrick, Erskine Sanford, William Alland

Screenplay: Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles

119 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Leading Role [Orson Welles]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound, Recording
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture

IMDb Top 250: #67 (as of 5/1/2016)

 

Wow, 75 years. Hard to believe that Citizen Kane, named by many as the greatest film of all time, is 75 years old. A classic by many means, I took the opportunity today to re-experience this film again and showed it to a couple of first-timers in the hopes of teaching them something about the history of film, and I got to witness this film again as if for the first time. Here we go.

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Citizen Kane covers the death of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles, Touch of Evil, F for Fake), a now reclusive businessman and public figure, and a man trying to understand the mystery surrounding him. Jerry Thompson (William Alland, Revenge of the Creature, The Deadly Mantis) sets out to interview Kane’s family and estranged friends to unearth the meaning behind his last words. As Thompson uncovers more and more of Kane’s past in an effort to understand the man, he finds a shocking tapestry of sadness and a man who pined for power but found himself none the happier for it. From firsthand accounts by Kane’s second ex-wife Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore, Prison Train, The Big Night), his closest friend Jed Leland (Joseph Cotton, The Third Man, Shadow of a Doubt), and business partner Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane, The Lady from Shanghai, Someone Up There Likes Me), Thompson finds more questions than answers in his attempt to find the mysterious Rosebud.

Director, star, and screenwriter Orson Welles delivered his first feature film with Citizen Kane, a movie that slipped into obscurity after initial release only to late resurface due to praise from French critics. Though it was nominated for nine Academy Awards, it only won for its screenplay, a top notch work from Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz.

The idea of opening with a newsreel covering the finer points of Kane’s life really helps to contrast the public view of Kane with the truth Thompson discovers later on. The film becomes a mystery of its own, not just for Rosebud, but for the myth behind the man.

Welles’ first picture also holds the distinction of having mostly newcomers to the filmmaking process, or those without much background, and much like the more recent direction from filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Welles displays his cast for the screen, allowing them time to fully explore the character and give a nuanced performance. I’m speaking particularly about Welles himself, Cotton, Sloane, and Agnes Moorehead (TV’s Bewitched, The Magnificent Ambersons), who played Kane’s mother in an early flashback.

Some of the viewers I introduced to Citizen Kane kept asking the same questions. What makes this the greatest film of all time? I had to answer that much of what they were seeing had never been done before and pioneered the filmmaking process. The music, storytelling with framing device, and gorgeous cinematography tackled new frontiers, many of which are still used today, but we take them for granted now.

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Citizen Kane is an excellent example of how to tell a story in Hollywood. It remains one of the most intellectual and beautiful films of all time. Welles was given freedom to do whatever he wanted and have final cut, an ability few have ever been given. He chose to tell the story of a titan, a mogul, based in part on the life of William Randolph Hearst, but in many ways, the film transcends even that to present a stunning portrayal of regret, sadness, and guilt that carries through even now. I suggest this film to anyone looking for a step into the history of filmmaking.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Foxcatcher (2014)

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Director: Bennett Miller

Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller

Screenplay: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman

134 mins. Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Steve Carell)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mark Ruffalo)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

 

I knew nothing about the actual events of Foxcatcher until Foxcatcher.

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Foxcatcher tells the story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street, Jupiter Ascending) and his relationship with millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell, TV’s The Office, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day). The true story of these two men, as well as Mark’s brother David (Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers, The Normal Heart), is a powerhouse tale of manipulation, love, and neglect at the infamous Foxcatcher Farms as du Pont plays the brothers for what they can give him as he furthers himself in the world of professional wrestling in the latest film from director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote).

I’m going to bring up my big beef with this movie right now, because there are so few. I don’t like that we spend so little time in du Pont’s head. Carell’s performance is unbelievably incredible, but we don’t get to delve into the man’s psychosis. I also have some trouble with the runtime, which has some definite places to cut.

That being said, these performances are at a level so incredibly powerful that you forget you are watching a film. I already mentioned Carell, but Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo turn in near-perfect work as well, not to mention their amazing chemistry as brothers. Don’t let me forget Sienna Miller (Stardust, Unfinished Business) as Nancy Schultz, David’s wife.

Bennett creates a world in this film, and he has the ability to really get the best work out of his actors. His vision always gives something completely fresh.

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The editing and screenplay could have used a little more development, but Foxcatcher is an intense film that shows a shocking set of events that I didn’t know all that much about. The impact will not wear off soon, that much I can promise.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Boyhood (2014)

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Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke

Screenplay: Richard Linklater

165 mins. Rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Patricia Arquette)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Ethan Hawke)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing

 

In 2002, director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Bernie) began shooting a film, one that would keep him busy for the next twelve years. That film was Boyhood, a tale surrounding the adolescence of Mason (Ellar Coltrane, Fast Food Nation, Lone Star State of Mind), his mother (Patricia Arquette, TV’s Medium, Holes), his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and his absent father (Ethan Hawke, Gattaca, Predestination). It covers the hurdles that young people encounter in their lives and the many challenged in adjusting to the world. It may appear simple, but this isn’t a simple film by any means. Its assembly, too, was a difficult one, as Linklater gathered his cast and crew together every year for twelve years to film sections of the movie as the actors aged alongside it.

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What a film! Boyhood constantly flips back and forth in my mind for the best film of 2014 (the other possibility being Birdman). I love how the film analyzes those major steps on the way to adulthood. Mason’s journey, aided by powerhouse performances by Arquette and Hawke, is a heartfelt one, one that many others have been on and can completely connect to. Coltrane’s performance improves as the film moves on, but it isn’t anything to mess up the film.

Linklater’s perfectly helmed camera gives us some gorgeous (and somehow unaged) cinematography. His camera elevates the vision to a true art form.

Linklater understood his audience would want to place the film on the timeline. He placed clues to guide the film, like song choices and events like discussions about a seventh Star Wars film.

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Boyhood is a visually stunning, emotionally resonant film that continues to impress and overwhelm each viewing. Linklater’s careful planning (he was to sign over directorial duties to Ethan Hawke if he died during production) led to an incredible film that will be known for its uniqueness as much as for its universality.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Nightcrawler (2014)

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Director: Dan Gilroy

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

Screenplay: Dan Gilroy

117 mins. Rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay

 

In Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, Nightcrawler, we meet Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko, Accidental Love), a severe sociopath looking for something to be great at. When he comes across a collision on the highway, he meets Joe Loder (Bill Paxton, Titanic, Edge of Tomorrow), a man who makes his living being the first man on the scene with a camera, ready to sell his footage to the highest bidding news outlet. He is a nightcrawler. Louis Bloom takes his specific and strange set of skills to this new obsession, and a new fascination in Nina Romina (Rene Russo, Outbreak, Thor: The Dark World), a woman who takes interest in Louis’ footage. As Bloom falls deeper and deeper into fractured sanity, his skills improve, and his methods evolve with truly terrifying results.

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Gyllenhaal is completely unnerving as Bloom here, and his mental transformation is almost more impressive than his physical transformation, and Bloom’s arc is very much like the car crash which ignites his passion: something horrifying to witness, but impossible to look away. He is met on his playing field by Russo’s Romina, an aging ex-anchor who very much misses the limelight. She uses Bloom as he uses her. There is something creepily affectionate about their relationship. Paxton provides a likability to his unlikable Joe Loder. These are characters we don’t like, but we can’t stop viewing.

Gilroy’s cinematography could use some work. The film doesn’t move in the way it should. The pacing doesn’t have the beats it should to make the film flow right. The film’s score complements Gyllenhaal’s performance well. In fact, the entirety of the film exists to turn you away from it. The whole film is enjoyable once but not a film I could watch again.

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Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is a moody character study. Men like Bloom exist, and that is perhaps the most terrifying takeaway from this film. Gyllenhaal deserves recognition for once again proving that he is at the top of his game and is the reason his character is so unlikably likable.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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