Posts Tagged ‘Taxi Driver’

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BEHIND THE SCENES OF ‘TAXI DRIVER’

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Joe Giambrone | Political Film Blog

With Wolf of Wall Street Martin Scorsese stomps on Consumerist Christmas like Godzilla on crack.  This is the boldest, most audacious piece in recent memory, a film whose release date holds even deeper meaning than most American audiences could possibly process.  They were assaulted, intentionally, on levels far deeper than their supposed virgin eyes.  The naughty sex and drugs and runtime are the shallow criticisms currently making the mainstream rounds.  Yawn.

Wolf is not about sex and drugs.  The film is about money, power, greed, the legitimacy of this market-based wealth accumulation system.  The sex and drugs are simply window dressing to a far deeper sickness, one that claws right out from the screen like a 3D Craptacular and strangles the audience where they live: their own greedy little insatiable egos.  Because Jordan Belfort did it, he already topped them all.  They could never compete.  It’s been done.

Wolf has meaning across the society, the way we organize ourselves here as buyers and sellers, each competing to one up the next.  Scorsese has finally matured to the point where he can tell it like it is, the American experience, the actual American Way, the American Dream, the myths, the reality, the psychology we’ve all been sold.  This is a far bigger story than the tale of one super con man with a drug problem: we’re all complicit.

I’m of the opinion today that Wolf of Wall Street is indeed Scorsese’s best film, the full 2 hour and 59 minute cut.

Director Martin Scorsese arrives at The Royal Premiere of his film Hugo at the Odeon Leicester Square cinema in London

People will likely respond with Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas.  Of the three, Taxi Driver is the only film to reconsider.

Goodfellas is one of the most overrated of all Scorsese’s efforts.  From the first trailer I saw it was plainly obvious: this is no Godfather.  Scorsese’s artifice, his penchant for voiceovers and intrusive directorial voice left me distanced and unconvinced on any level.  Better gangster films are not difficult to locate.  Sorry, film geek boys; you can stop pitching this as some greatest film.  It ain’t.

Conversely, with Wolf of Wall Street Scorsese’s style meshes gloriously with this over the top exploration of excess and debauchery.  DiCaprio’s voiceovers provide a witness, a sounding board, a then-and-now take on the events that heightens the black comedy and makes for a hilarious counterpoint to the events unfolding on screen.   With Wolf, the intrusive and jarring cuts, freeze frames and confessions all serve to bring the story to life.

Raging Bull was another effort that left me cold. Jake LaMotta was a sad sack, uncharismatic, a chore to watch.  The film felt like penance rather than magic.  Interesting photography couldn’t save this drudgery, in my opinion.

That leaves Taxi Driver (or perhaps you’re rooting for Casino?  Hugo?  Mean Streets?)  Up against Taxi Driver we have an interesting dilemma.  The two productions couldn’t be more different, the budgets, the visual aesthetics, the tone.

But that was 40 years ago.  The world has moved on, and cinema has moved on.  I don’t know if one could reasonably compare the two films.  Is that even a rational thing to do?

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That leaves Wolf, this week’s surprise affront to decency and American blinders.  Scorsese just came off a 3D kids’ movie, Hugo, to turn in probably the single most thought provoking film of the year.  We can’t help but see our place in Jordan Belfort’s world, because we’re not even at the servant’s quarters level.  Everything he does, he does to profit himself in the manner proscribed from on high: greed is good.  Greed is everything.  Our entire civilization is predicated on greed now.  The lurch to self-interested depravity as our religion, the cornerstone of our world, hoarding wealth for ourselves and our own, well, it needs to be acknowledged.  It needs an offensive matinee showing.  It needs shocked, flabbergasted little old ladies squirming in their seats out in Bumblefuck.

 

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Jodie Foster’s Death Wish

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Everything wrong with this film is summed up in three words by producer Joel Silver: “genre based entertainment.”

I took this as a serious movie, because it features Jodie Foster and in a different kind of role, as a disturbed vigilante.  I too wrote a similar psychological story about a character dealing with violence, a novel that needs a rewrite called American Gun Disorder.  I bring it up for the similarities that stand out: both have main characters in New York City dealing with violence and the desire for personal protection, firearms if necessary, in an inherently dangerous world.  Both main characters devolve and go essentially crazy.

Unfortunately, The Brave One is more of an implausible Charles Bronson Death Wish type plot, for the entire middle of the movie.  In rapid succession, Jodie just happens to find herself in the middle of extreme over the top incidents, where she must blast scumbags left and right.  It’s like the producers called central casting.  They placed an order for scumbag gang, psycho jealous husband, generic gangbanger pair, creepy John and suited elite gangster threatening stepdaughter.  Bang, bang, bang, bang…

What’s more, they took this off the shelf revenge fantasy and threw a British artsy-indie director at it, in order to make it appear more substantive.  Besides insulting the audience, he failed in his stylistic choices.  Such a film where the main character devolves from sane to insane, in way too short screen time no less, really needs to be from her point of view.  It has to be experiential.  The camera must capture experience, real time moments, the personal perceptions of a character.

What we got instead were standard setups, voyeuristic treatment.  The shots are more concerned with making it look cool than the actual psychology of the story.  A style like Black Swan, religiously following the main character throughout, would have been appropriate.  Here, we have a nicely lit commercial TV version of New York City.  It feels absolutely nothing like the actual New York City.  As cinematographer Philippe Rousselot revealed it was primarily shot on long lenses, which of course keep the audience at a distance, and it wasn’t “a panaorama.”  Intimate shooting requires wide lenses, proximity, a feel for the environment.  Long lenses, on the other hand, render the background as less consequential, simply window dressing.

A real character in the actual New York is half your work at selling the fear, the desperate sensibility and feeling of helplessness.  Walking among 40 story towering behemoths makes one feel very insignificant and powerless.  Add to that the hardened, aggressive city denizens, the 24 hour working class struggle and the fringes of civilization and you’re 90% there toward selling a descent into dog eat dog paranoia.  Watch any five minutes of Taxi Driver before you start production.  The Brave One failed glaringly there.  It’s simply overlit and filmed Hollywood style.

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The last problem, judging from bonus feature commentary, was Foster herself.  A “public radio junkie,” she was perhaps the wrong person to be steering this story.  NPR liberal head-nodders don’t walk around the city blasting gangbangers to kingdom come.  It doesn’t compute.  It may have been a good opportunity to show off her vocal talents and trade a radio show for unnecessary voice overs (but came off about the same anyway).  Her character, however, didn’t click for this world, for this story.

Now the film had a shot, and some people liked it – that’s why I rented it.  The beginning was okay, and the end had a little bit of inventiveness, not much, but some; I’d rate it 2.5/5.  The stupid action movie one-liners, “who’s the bitch now?” didn’t help.  The film’s middle, however, had no chance to avoid eye rolling and disbelief.  It’s like the various personalities involved took hold of sections of the film ensuring their concerns were included at certain points: just too many chefs.  In the end The Brave One pandered to rightwing conservative notions of payback and the death penalty, the usual point of these “genre based entertainments.”  No surprises on that front, which was a bit off-putting.  It’s like being trapped by conventions, by the idea that doing it differently is somehow verboten.  I found it an unnecessary, poorly done mimicry of harder edged predecessors, just another vehicle that should have stayed on the lot.