It is rare to consider nostalgia as a tool to deploy on films that may have fallen out of favour with generations older than ours. Rarer still it may be to actively fight against it, hence why there is currently a cult of Robots fans defending that Ewan McGregor masterclass to their dying breath. With that, though, the Blue Sky Studios feature is deserving of its acclaim. Sharp writing, an ensemble like no other and sleek animation, it is everything Dreamworks could not provide with Shark Tale, a feature that relies on the popstar variety that plagued early-2000s comedies. From David Bowie appearing in Zoolander to Britney Spears in Austin Powers: Goldmember, the cameo construct was inescapable. To place rap artist and actor Will Smith at the heart of this made sense, but there are hopes buried deep that it did not.
Religious warfare spilling out onto the streets of a fractured America should be a fantastic draw for the great actors of the early 2000s. It was. Gangs of New York has such a strong cast to it and a great director behind it, Martin Scorsese. It is a bold and brash piece that features all the typical treatises and topics of a period piece that sets the Catholic and Protestant forces against one another on the streets of America. Scorsese is keen to guide that scope with some incredible casting choices and a knack for knowing how to handle that. Smooth the egos, set up the right levels of screentime and capture captivating performances from actors getting to grips with a thick and promising screenplay.
Pooling the resources of five years of documentation, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan marks one of a handful of Martin Scorsese’s profiles of Bob Dylan. Vision and ambition are the two words Scorsese hopes to associate with Dylan in his three-and-a-half-hour documentary on the man. He does that well with a bulky feature detailing a few years in the life of Dylan. Scorsese and his subject have the benefit of hindsight. The dust has settled on a varied and lengthy career, especially on the pocket of influence Scorsese wishes to analyse. He combs through these five years finely, stretching the details out and picking them apart as much as he can. Scorsese knows what his audience will want from this feature, an out and out washing of Dylan, who is happy to oblige the questions and commentaries.
If Martin Scorsese wished to show off his connection with the greatest musicians of a generation, then The Last Waltz serves him well. Bob Dylan, The Band, Eric Clapton and Neil Diamond litter the casting for this documentary on one final tour for the immensely talented group, The Band. Their work as artists buoying the finest works of Dylan and their own, independent releases, are some of the most influential, integral albums to have ever released. Their impact, both short term and long, is monumental. That much is captured within The Last Waltz, not just through smart direction from Scorsese but an understanding of what made their music so powerful, and why it lasts over forty years later.
Unity through imagination, that is what Dreams offers. Akira Kurosawa adapts his own fictional creations, deep in the throes of sleep, he casts a light on his mind in his first of three 1990s features. Eight little segments are offered by Kurosawa, each with a delightful, transcendent feeling to them. They are certainly the stuff of dreams and magic. Visually, thematically, and messaging, all are brought to the screen with an airy lightness to them. Even the darker moments, the dismal nightmares that are sure to plague everyone at some stage, Dreams tackles those with the same beauty. It is the inference and detail that will suggest the fear and love Kurosawa holds within. The imitable nature of his dreams, the personal relationship he has to these scenes, and the duty he has to bring them to the audience as functional narratives is a large challenge indeed.
Somewhere deep within, director Martin Scorsese had surely hit a form of rock bottom. Burnout, perhaps. He had hit the high of Taxi Driver, and while cooler heads have prevailed in recent years, initial readings and reception of the film were less than stellar. What better way to get into the good books of the Hollywood system than to make a musical? New York, New York, the Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli-led feature, is by no means bad. It is simply not the classics we know Scorsese is capable of crafting time and time again. Considering Taxi Driver was the project before it, and Raging Bull the fictional work to follow a brief interlude with documentary filmmaking for the great Scorsese, this romantic drama blurring musical connotations feels like a low ebb in a career full of highs.
Taking inspiration from both the Gospel and Nikos Kazantzakis’ book of the same name, The Last Temptation of Christ offers director Martin Scorsese to channel his unflinching, unguarded beliefs and passions into a piece depicting the death of Jesus Christ. So much of The Bible and its message is open to complete interpretation, and Scorsese uses this to his advantage. He depicts an ancient story with pangs of modernity, both in soundtrack and style. His growth as a director can be seen here, and as his maturity sparks, so too does his adaptation of Christ and his final days among the people of Jerusalem.
A sucker for jazz I may be, the sultry tones of saxophone overlaying the montage shots of taxicabs within the Big Apple is gorgeous, even if it does look seedy, bleak and grim. It is, as the protagonist says, as if a sewage pipe had been let off in the city. Director Martin Scorsese tackles the underbelly of city living rather well throughout Taxi Driver, but it is more the strange individuals encountered in the back of taxi cabs and what they proclaim of their own future that is more concerning and erratic. Such is the brilliance of this piece, and the devolution of the schizotypal inflicted lead is not just cause for concern, but an unveiling of how criminals operate on the fringes of society.
Well, I’ll be damned. A Scorsese film that isn’t a gangster film, nor does it have Robert De Niro appear anywhere throughout. It’s quite a shock to the system, and that’s exactly what I needed. A jolt of energy that would rekindle at least some passion for the films I’ve been heaving myself through as of late. Rather ironic then that the subject of Bringing Out the Dead, Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage), is suffering from burnout. He’s desperate for a break, doing anything in his power to weasel his way into getting fired from a job he just can’t seem to quit.
When Martin Scorsese finally announced he would be directing Silence, I was hesitant to dive into it right away. Such a large leap, going from The Wolf of Wall Street, a biopic of stockbrokers, shady dealings and drug abuse to Silence, a distressed musing on historic religious disputes. Rich in its history and dedicated to telling its story in as much detail as possible, Silence is a marvellous film that highlights some of Scorsese’s finest work.