Tag Archives: Martin Scorsese

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988, Martin Scorsese)

The Last Temptation of Christ opens with a passage presumably from the introduction to the novel, as it’s the novel’s writer talking about his own feelings. It’s an odd choice, since it somehow removes the drive for the picture from the filmmakers and puts it on someone else.

It’s a very intentional move from Scorsese; Last Temptation is full of very intentional moves. While the film did have a relatively low budget, it still has an amazing crew–Michael Ballhaus’s photography is masterful and Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is sublime (particularly for the first half).

Scorsese and Ballhaus open with muted colors. Willem Dafoe’s narration has to carry the fantastical elements until the journey of self-discovery picks up and color finally leaks in. The supporting cast–Harvey Keitel in particular–also lend to the mundane feeling. Keitel might be playing Judas, but he’s also the stand-in for the viewer. The approach works.

The film has two major transitions. First is when Dafoe and company get to Jerusalem the first time. Instead of journeying about, Last Temptation becomes all about getting to the crucifixion. That change probably isn’t anyone’s fault… at some point it has to be about getting to the cross. Still, Scorsese could have paced it better.

Then the cross itself, when Scorsese respectfully apes 2001. The end does save the picture, but there’s definite rough road.

Great music from Peter Gabriel, excellent lead performance from Dafoe, strong supporting turns.

Even with its problems, Last Temptation’s mostly magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; screenplay by Paul Schrader, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Peter Gabriel; production designer, John Beard; produced by Barbara De Fina; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Willem Dafoe (Jesus), Harvey Keitel (Judas), Barbara Hershey (Mary Magdalene), Verna Bloom (Mary, Mother of Jesus), Andre Gregory (John The Baptist), Gary Basaraba (Andrew, Apostle), Victor Argo (Peter, Apostle), Michael Been (John, Apostle), Paul Herman (Phillip, Apostle), John Lurie (James, Apostle), Alan Rosenberg (Thomas, Apostle), Leo Burmester (Nathaniel, Apostle), Peggy Gormley (Martha, Sister of Lazarus), Randy Danson (Mary, Sister of Lazarus), Tomas Arana (Lazarus), Roberts Blossom (Aged Master), Barry Miller (Jeroboam), Harry Dean Stanton (Saul), David Bowie (Pontius Pilate) and Juliette Caton (The Angel).


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Clockers (1995, Spike Lee)

Clockers opens with actual crime scene photos juxtaposed against filmed sequences of a crowd gathering to watch as the police arrive. Lee is dealing with a lot in the film and opening with that startling sequence—against a beautiful song—at least shocks the viewer into paying attention. Though the film is too apolitical to be “about” anything, it does require undivided attention.

What Lee does do, very carefully and very clearly, is dismiss notions of simple characters. At times, the cops—with the exception of Harvey Keitel—appear the simplest, only to eventually reveal their internal strife in conversational asides. Keitel, top-billed, acts on that strife, though he does not describe it.

The film’s protagonist, a young drug dealer played by Mekhi Phifer (who’s amazing in his first performance), very clearly shows contradictions. But even Thomas Jefferson Byrd’s vicious, heroin-addled psychopath has these moments where he’s showing real concern, just unable to express it. Delroy Lindo’s similarly vicious drug lord has them too, but even Phifer’s gang of subordinate dealers are full of the contradictions. Lee never draws attention to it, instead just presenting reality.

Of course, with Malik Hassan Sayeed’s high contrast photography and Terence Blanchard’s emotive score, the Brooklyn projects become as lush and green as a tropical paradise.

All of the performances are amazing—there’s not a good one or a mediocre one. Keith David, Isaiah Washington, Regina Taylor… everyone’s spectacular.

Instead of simplifying a novel adaptation, Lee furthered complicated it, creating something remarkable.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Spike Lee; screenplay by Richard Price and Lee, based on the novel by Price; director of photography, Malik Hassan Sayeed; edited by Samuel D. Pollard; music by Terence Blanchard; production designer, Andrew McAlpine; produced by Jon Kilik, Lee and Martin Scorsese; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Mekhi Phifer (Ronald ‘Strike’ Dunham), Harvey Keitel (Det. Rocco Klein), Delroy Lindo (Rodney Little), Isaiah Washington (Victor Dunham), John Turturro (Det. Larry Mazilli), Keith David (André the Giant), Peewee Love (Tyrone ‘Shorty’ Jeeter), Regina Taylor (Iris Jeeter), Thomas Jefferson Byrd (Errol Barnes), Sticky Fingaz (Scientific), Fredro Starr (Go), Elvis Nolasco (Horace), Lawrence B. Adisa (Stan), Hassan Johnson (Skills), Frances Foster (Gloria) and Michael Imperioli (Detective Jo-Jo).


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It's Not Just You, Murray! (1964, Martin Scorsese)

It’s hard not to watch It’s Not Just You, Murray! without keeping Scorsese’s subsequent career in mind. The film’s got some moments out of Goodfellas, but also a couple where one wonders if Francis Ford Coppola saw the short before he made the Godfather films. Not to mention Scorsese ends the film with a Fellini homage. The short, from his student days, is really like nothing else he’s done since.

What makes it so peculiar? It’s a comedy. It’s a comedy about a dim-witted guy who lucks into being a mob boss, so long as he lets his best friend (and sponsor) continue to romance his wife.

Scorsese’s got a fine editor in Eli F. Bleich, who doesn’t just keep Murray moving, he keeps it unpredictable. Some of that unpredictability has to do with just how far Scorsese’ll go for a laugh or smile.

It’s good—not great—stuff.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by Scorsese and Mardik Martin; director of photography, Richard H. Coll; edited by Eli F. Bleich; music by Coll; production designers, Lancelot Braithwaite and Victor Magnotta.

Starring Ira Rubin (Murray), San De Fazio (Joe), Andrea Martin (Wife), Catherine Scorsese (Mother) and Robert Uricola (Singer).


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Bringing Out the Dead (1999, Martin Scorsese)

What to say about Bringing Out the Dead… I remember now why 1999 was the hardest year to make a top ten list for–and I hadn’t even seen Wonderland at that point. Whatever. It’s the best. It’s certainly Scorsese’s best work in the 1990s, puts the rest to a kind of shame (it’s odd, then, that Scorsese doesn’t like the film, or maybe not).

I remember hearing a few things (one echoed by IMDb when I looked it up for running time) back when it came out. 1) nothing happens. The answer to that is ‘to hell with anything happening.’ 2) it’s too Catholic. The answer to that is ‘what are you talking about?’ I can’t remember why Bringing Out the Dead was so critically beloved, maybe it wasn’t. I don’t even know that it should have been–isn’t it sort of degrading for those who laud floaters to laud greatness?

I hate writing about great films. I absolutely hate it. Don’t rent this film. Buy it.

Interesting, movielens just told me that I’d give it 1½, which is the first time movielens has been so wrong (that I can’t remember, but I’m not linking to it, so I must be pissed). I’ve rated 836 films at movielens and the recommendations tend to be spot-on, frighteningly so sometimes. But Bringing Out the Dead throws a wrench in the works, apparently. Bringing Out the Dead is a desert island film, I realized while watching it. It’s not enough to say it’s great or that I love it, but it’s a film that I cannot do without. Which makes watching it tonight even the more odd. I was sitting at dinner and all of a sudden I decided I had to watch the film, which I probably haven’t seen since the DVD came out in 1999, but maybe I didn’t even watch the DVD then. I may have only seen this film once. Which is a tragedy. It’s such a tragedy I’m starting sentences with ‘which.’ What the hell? Go and buy it. They’ve got them for $7.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Scorsese; written by Paul Schrader, based on the novel by Joe Connelly; director of photography, Robert Richardson; edited by Thelma Schoonmaker; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Dante Ferretti; produced by Scott Rudin and Barbara De Fina; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Frank), Patricia Arquette (Mary), John Goodman (Larry), Ving Rhames (Marcus), Tom Sizemore (Walls), Marc Anthony (Noel), Cliff Curtis (Cy Coates), Mary Beth Hurt (hospital worker) and Aida Turturro (nurse).