Posts tagged “Taxi Driver

Death Wish (1974)

Death Wish (1974)I’ve been quietly looking out for Death Wish (1974) for sometime, wondering what it was about. Then reading a brief description it became clear that this was Michael Winner‘s version of The Searchers (1956). Two years before Martin Scorsese‘s own take on the film – Taxi Driver (1976) However architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is not an outsider of society. In fact he lives a middle class lifestyle. Even making his mark on his country by helping design the future for an undeveloped section of Tuscon, Arizona. Unlike Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) who drives the streets of New York at night, unable to have a normal relationship with a woman. We have moved on from John Ford‘s original wandering Confederate Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) who will never have a place in civilised society. He does have more in common with Bickle though, we all know or have seen someone who doesn’t quite fit in, standing out and whom we fear for some reason.

So how else is this quietly violent film like The Searchers and other Westerns, we must first look at the women that are/were in Kersey’s at the beginning of the film. He loves his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) who he has just returned from a holiday with. They are enjoying their freedom from their now grown up daughter, a second flourish of love, it’s a rosy picture. All this is soon lost after not even a word has barely been uttered by anyone. Normality in their lives restored, mother and daughter Carol Toby (Kathleen Tolan) have been out together. Where we meet three men, criminals out for their next easy victims who have plenty of cash to steal from. These thugs/criminals take the place of Native Americans on the street, the wild and uncontrollable, the lost and disillusioned youth of the streets with no-where to turning on the successful and affluent who have the image of an easy life. These three men track down and follow the mother and daughter home, the defenseless women are soon in the arms of the gang who leave the women ravaged, not quite raped but beaten within an inch of their life.

Nearly on a par with the ultra-violence of A Clockwork Orange (1971) but still with some way to go. The effect of the violent is soon felt when the absent men in their lives are at the hospital, who are left to accept the consequences of the crime. Joanna soon dies (not from her external injuries at least) and Carol traumatized to the point she’s moved into a psychiatric hospital. Reminding me of the powerful scene in The Searchers when Ethan and Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) come across two women who are little more than scare children after their time with the savage natives. Time as a squaw is an experience that’s compared to a fate worse than death in the classic genre.

The women in Death Wish are silently labelled “Comanch” they are victims of street crime.  For the men they both deal with their loss’ in different ways. Jack Toby (Steven Keats) Kersey’s son-in-law accepts his wives condition and does what he feels medicine and society can do for her. Whilst the elder who has lost his wife doesn’t take that option, justice has failed for him. Needing to find another way to grieve and right the many wrongs which is beginning to see on the streets of New York City. It takes him a business trip to Tuscon, working on designs for new homes on yet untouched land. He has left the East to go to the old West where. He is helping to define the future for more settlers who want to move West, except there journey is a lot safer.

It takes a trip to a Wild West film set which I recognised from a few films, where Kersey along with his colleague Sam (William Redfield) a member of a gun club awakens the gunfighter and eventual vigilante in the conscientious objector of the Korean War. A man who for years had not picked up a gun and for good reasons too. his principals are thrown to the wind on his return, his first act of self-defense becomes a chance to clean up the streets. Taking law into his own hands, a reversion to an outmoded gunfighter, long after law and order has been instated in the country. Here comes a gunfighter who wants to kill for good. Having the to break the law, to kill in order to make the streets safer.

Soon getting the attention of the police, lead by investigating officer Frank Ocha (Vincent Gardenia) who wants to restore civilised law and order. Or to put him back on-top, allowing the police to do their job. Not exactly the kind of guy you would expect, full of a cold, but wants to see this vigilante who he begins to understand, methodically getting to Kersey who is attracting attention and wannabe vigilantes, not to the same level. He’s enjoying the attention from behind the comfort of his apartment. Collecting newspapers that mention his acts/work. This the gunfighter basking in the glory of his good deeds, writing his own history, without the media even knowing him.

Instead of bringing Kersey to justice he is eventually persuaded to leave, helping to create a modern legend. To be a legendary gunfighter today you have to be a vigilante, it still happens even forty years later as have-ago-hero’s, citizens arrests. The violence in the film is far less in your face, it’s a collection of moments of tension that are built up. We first meet the criminal in the urban setting before Kersey the possible victim turns around and kills them, easing the tension. More death, but less crime as a result, does that make the act of violence right? From a man who abhorred violence soon comes to get a thrill out of it, yet feels like a hero, killing only for good. The first in a string of sequels (which I am toying with watching) he has yet to avenge his wife and daughter.

The Native Americans of the urban streets are not seen again, complete with spray paint and few words. Is he looking out for them or others like them on what has become life’s work. A frightening prospect when you think about it, an architect who allows for progression forward, yet reverts to an outmoded way of life. Much like Ethan Edwards who spent 7 years of his life filled with racial hatred looking for Comanches to kill, whilst searching for his family, was he out for his family or for blood, that’s one of the bug questions you come away with. He’s already an outsider, a Confederate who has not accepted surrender so cannot progress with the forward thinking country. Kersey is a 20th century take on that, before the more iconic and dangerous Bickle, not as prolific in his violence he is not one to get close to, there is more humanity in Bronson’s take on the outsider, a man whose known for his violent roles shows a sensitive side before he becomes the iconic role for a generation.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the original and let you decide how far we have come.

“It just so happens we be Texicans. Texican is nothing but a human man way out on a limb. This year and next, and maybe for a hundred more. But I don’t think it’ll be forever. Some day this country’s gonna be a fine, good place to be. Maybe it needs our bones in the ground before that time can come.” – Mrs Jorgensen (Olive Carey)

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Nightcrawler (2014)

Nightcrawler (2014)Another film I have been meaning to catch for some time, after seeing Enemy (2013) a few weeks back I was spurred onto catch Nightcrawler (2014) a sure sign that Jake Gyllenhaal is hitting a stride of successful films, much like Matthew McConaugheywho knows it could be Gyllenhaal picking up a heap of trophies soon or is he just laying the groundwork for greater things to come. I was advised to watch Nightcrawler when it was dark, which is harder this time of year with the shorter nights I decided to just go for it. The whole atmosphere of this film makes things darker without the need of even drawing the curtains. The moment that you see Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) an unemployed internet educated loner tries to get a job, using unconventional methods that just alienates prospective employers.

He’s a creepy pasty looking guy who is driven to get a job, a head filled with business jargon. Not a guy you want to meet in the office and stuck in a conversation with. After a few failed job interviews (if you can call them that) more like sales pitches, finds his calling on the dark streets on L.A. when he sees a car crash being filmed by amateurs, known as nightcrawler’s, feeding on the suffering of the victims. He’s find his calling (if you can call it that) begins what is disturbing yet compelling film. Scoring his first scoop and selling to a local news station for the night-shift lead by Nina Romina (Rene Russo) who is grateful for the footage that is raw, unpolished. Even more scary is that Bloom shows potential which she encourages. Herself a rating hungry, a reflection of the modern media hungry for anything that grabs their audience’s attention. 

You could say Nightcrawler is a culmination a few a films film, or an extension of them. Going back as early as Peeping Tom (1960) that sees a wanna be film-maker taking the art of film to levels of voyeurism we had not seen on-screen. The desire to see raw emotion, to see the power of danger and the moment of death in the eyes of the victim. Moving forward we have both Network and Taxi Driver (both 1976) which have their influences. It took me a while to really see the connection between Lou Bloom and Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) who travelled the streets of New York at night. However his aims were more honourable, to save those who had fallen into a world of despair, trapped you could say. He was an outsider who wasn’t really able to have a proper relationship, much like Bloom I don’t really see this as an extension, more a strange coincidence between both films. Moving onto Network the news station that is hungry for ratings, driven by a career hungry Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) now in the form of Romina who is at an equally struggling station, much more prophetic than Nightcrawler which reflects those ideas back in the 1970’s.

Moving away from the comparisons to the more technical aspects of the film, it’s visually a very striking film with the contrast cranked up reflecting the intensity of the film’s content. A fast-moving soundtrack to match how fast the amateur film-maker is improving, the lengths he goes to in order to get the best footage. With the aid of intern Rick (Riz Ahmed) the audiences way into the film and able to question Blooms motives and drives. Like many of us he’s also been out of a job needing something, anything to get him back on his feet. Able to maintain some level of morality which becomes blurred over the course of the film, when the drives of money, ratings and success. Something that really attracts Bloom as he gets better and better, using his police scanner and Rick on the sat-nab he’s on the tail on incidents that affect the white middle class, striking fear into the audience. Its something that is not immune to American audiences, I have seen myself people slowing down on roads to get a glimpse of traffic accidents, to see the damage, hopefully see some blood, cinema is no longer able to compete with this lust for danger that TV news can cater to, if you go for the lowest common denominator.

All this comes to a climax when Bloom gets to a shooting in an affluent borough, entering the house to capture all the gruesome detail. He crosses the line between us and the police, seeing what the public only imagine. Usually our imaginations are left to run wild. That no longer happened the footage is slightly pixellated and transmitted. Also crossing the line between news coverage and withholding evidence from the police, We know we shouldn’t cross into a crime-scene, Bloom allows us to do just that, like a video game brought to our screens. The line between reality is being blurred, no longer are we kept behind the police tape, we can breakthrough that to see all the gruesome detail we are hungry to see.

It’s an incredible film in terms of the lengths that the characters go to, none of them get away scot-free from the world of sleazy journalism is brought to life here. My experience of American news is pretty slim, I’m reminded of the poor coverage of Fox News when their expert of Muslims believed that there were no go areas for non-Muslims in Birmingham, all nonsense, but enough to engage the audience, playing their primal fears, getting them hooked and ultimately boost their ratings. Here we see the other side of the news world, as it gathers local stories, satirised by Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) that saw car crashes becoming leading stories. All part of cinemas comment of news media today. I was left shocked at what I had seen as it goes steadily worse, I was more gripped. Was I being pulled into that world, wanting to see the events unfold hungry for the story to appear on the news? I really don’t know and that what makes this film so compelling, the characters mostly immoral which allow us to question them and our own desire for stories, are we as desperate those in the media for stories or are we just programmed in a way now that want them, like a baby wants feeding?

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Hugo (2011)

Hugo (2011)The minute Hugo (2011) began I knew I had made a massive mistake in not seeing this in its intended format of 3D, something that I’ll be kicking myself for ages. There are certain films that once I have seen then in 3D I won’t want to see them any other way as my first encounter is the intended way it should be screened. Putting that niggle to one side I sat down to the only children’s film that Scorsese has ever made that is daughter can watch until she’s old enough to see the likes if Goodfellas (1990) and Taxi Driver (1976) et-al. At least she is able to see the passion that drives the man who has sneaked in a message of film preservation during an enchanting film that follows a young boy Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who wants to complete his late clock working father (Jude Law) work on an automaton that vaguely resembles the professors robotic creation in Metropolis (1927).

Silent movies are at the heart of this film that is opened up to a whole new generation, exploring the directors passion for film, not just when he was growing in the fifties, but that further exploration that influenced his films. Here relying not on the old techniques but those of the future of cinema filmed in 3D, instead not relying on gimmicky spectacle of the format, of things coming out at you, the camera moves into the immersive world of the Parisian train station with all the steam and the cogs of the clocks that Hugo is left to maintain. His drive to complete his fathers work comes to ahead when the note-book that was kept is confiscated by the owner Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) of a clockwork toy booth in the station. What begins is a fascinating journey for Hugo as he completes the automaton which is only the beginning of this exciting adventure.

Along with Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) who is in the care of the toy shop owner who is evasive of the determined boy. Together they embark on an adventure through the station and Paris. As much as it is a children’s film there is still plenty to engage older viewers from the rich all british cast of character actors and Sacha Baron Cohen as the classic station inspector there really is something for everyone here in the slower moving film that allows everyone to take in the world of steam, cogs and projected images.

At the heart is a love for cinema, in its purest form from the beginning with the Lumiere Brothers first that first scared audiences as a train pulled into a station as a novelty act that scared audiences, lovingly recreated for a modern audience to view, history is brought alive in the perfect cinematic format. Yet it’s when we get to Georges Méliès and the films he made do we really see the director come into his own for this film. Taking us to a time where it was never really thought about documenting the making of early film, only the few remaining films of that era. You can really forgive the modern sensibility of restoration being discussed here, even building on the life of Georges Méliès

I really am kicking myself this time for not seeing this film earlier and in the intended format, for which us usually used to increase box-office takings or as a novelty attraction that really can ruin a film. I don’t really think that Scorsese will make many if any more children’s film, concerned more with adult themes that are the bulk of his body of work, this surely is him at play with one of his passions that works for everyone young and old.  

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The King of Comedy (1982)

The King of Comedy (1982)It’s been a while since my last Scorsese film Taxi Driver (1973) which blew my mind with what was built up on-screen. Here I saw the pairing of Robert DeNiro again and the skilled director in The King of Comedy (1982). a disturbing portrait of a fanatic fan, real emphasis on the fanatic.

Following the live and day-dreams of wannabe stand-up comic Rupert Pupkin (DeNiro) which often said and pronounced wrong, has a fascination with stand-up comedian Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) who is tired of the attraction of fame, just wanting to do his job without harassment. Something that constantly plaques him in the form of the adoring public that sometimes never keeps its distance for long enough.

We are invited into the screwed world of the fanatic and the extremes that they go to. First we see the casual fan trying to catch a glimpse of a the comedy star Jerry Langford, which soon turns into a more dark a serious tone when one fan saves him from another Marsha (Sandra Bernhard) who personifies the other extremes that we associate with the unstable characters who stalk the rich and famous. As we learn this is all part of a carefully worked plan to get to the comedian who wants to be left alone, whilst an aspiring Pupkin wants to learn and get near to him. We are let into his dreams and the sad life he really lives. Harassing Langford’s team, all to get his big break. A careful balance between reality and fantasy is on display, throwing the audience into confusion, just as Pupkin tries to make his fantasy a reality, a goal that is slowly slipping away from his grasp. DeNiro is taken a break from his heavy gangster roles to gives us another intense performance which sees him become what he may indeed fear himself at times, the super-fan, who has for some famous people has cost them their privacy or even lives. Playing opposite Sandra Bernhard who strangely suits her role down to the ground, on a different level of delusion, wanting other things from the comedian.

A symptom of modern western life, that for those who want and achieve fame comes the darker side, those who are loved by the fans can become some dark and dangerous, as the seemingly sad man who stalks Langford seeing him as more than an inspiration, but the way to fame and fortune. To access him is to achieve his goal of being a stand-up comedian. Going to extremes that most would never dream of. Of course we all have moments where we would want to meet a famous person, even do more, but then dreams can take on a more dangerous form, reality for those who want only to do their job.

A very contemporary film that will never lose its edge, with serious performances by DeNiro and Bernhardwho together paint a dark picture of modern life, how fame can create desires and mental instability that is fuelled by the media, that used to be good for the famous, even protect them. Which now has taken a new form to be able to communicate on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, we want to know more, to know what they are doing. Magazines dedicated to what they eat, wear and go on holiday. The final touch in the whole film is turned on its head, becoming a fictional account of the film we have just seen. Making a fictional biopic of a fictional account, a false fact, a confusing and intelligent thing to do at the end.

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Drive (2011)

Drive (2011)I have probably viewed one of the best films of recent times the other night, short in length yet make up for it in volume for what you get on-screen with Ryan Gosling who is indeed on fire in Drive (2011). Which sees a by day stunt driver and mechanic single handedly take on the world around him in Los Angles.

From the get go, we know we are in for a thrill-ride that like a race around town and many twist and turns, never looking back, always forward with the action. Pulling in for a few pit stops to take in an o-off romance with Irene (Carey Mulligan) who lives conveniently next door. We only know Goslings character by his job description, driver, opening up all kinds of possibilities for the audience who see man different men in combined into the lone man who wants to do what is right.

We first see Driver going about his night job as a getaway driver, staying impartial and cool under the pressure of the police pursuit that could draw the curtains on his night-time activities. He does it more for the thrill, knowing he has the upperhand, the skill to outsmart them, He treats it like a game or a science, with a radio tuned into the police frequency, whilst also listening to a game. One to distract him, the other to stay on top of it all , whilst he moves his car with great precision around night time L.A. Before we see the next day, him making a few bucks with his boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) on film set. A man who means well to all he meets, throughout his life getting in over his head and paying the concequences all the time. It seems that Cranston is in a period of great success, from the early 2000s with Malcolm in the Middle to more recent a cult success Breaking Bad. He can do no wrong. Here he is the champion of the lone man who drives the streets, Much like Robert De Niro‘s Travis  years before in Taxi Driver (1973). Everyone needs someone to root for.

What could be seen as just another possible romance between neighbours Driver and single mother Irene with her son, whilst her husband is in jail, is something more than just another screen romance, complete with sexual tension that goes untapped until one other tense scene in a lift that is destroyed in seconds. He wants to be there for a woman who wants the company of a man, whilst feeling obligated to her husband Standard (Oscar Issac) who is soon released from jail. The final element that brings everything that has been building to the epic second half. All the strands which could have been passing character start to come together. From the racing car syndicate owned by Shannon and Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and his gang ties with Nino (Ron Pearlman).

It’s Goslings presence as a macho driver complete with racing jacket of the scorpion that makes this all worth while, biting back in brutal fashion against all those who cross him. Wanting to get his neighbours out of an awful situation. Wearing it with pride, like a suit of armour that brings him more than just protection, it transforms him into a street fighter who can take on the world and all that it throws at him. Fighting for good, wanting to be fair to those who deserve it, which is reversed to the criminals who want to destroy the lives of innocent people.

Complete with heavy eighties tones of style and soundtrack that transports us to a world of speed and danger, the thrills of live on the edge whilst want to skirt away from it. A tender and techno soundtrack that emphasises the lone driver and the heroine who doesn’t know she’s being saved. Gosling becomes a Brando-esque figure who wants to save Mulligan’s princess from the thieves below her castle tower.

The sparse dialogue is made up in volumes by the beautiful driving scenes that just happen and drift us through the film, gliding through the city with purpose in grand style of youth and living on the edge. A film that is rare these days, Gosling is lucky for now to work in mainly independent films that are benefiting his career, a turn at Batman in the next few years may change all that, unless he keeps his eyes open to the fresh scripts that can go unnoticed and forgotten. Thank god for Gosling.

Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver (1976)The 1970’s really did produce some real gems of cinema that just aren’t quite matched today, at least in quantity. When looking at Taxi Driver (1976) I knew I was in for something special, seen partly as Martin Scorsese’s The Searchers (1956) that sees a Vietnam war veteran adjusts to life on the streets of New York, something he has a hard time doing.

Unable to sleep during the nights he decides to take up a job as a New York taxi driver, something that allows him to earn a living and take his mind of being alone, picking up and dropping all walks of life which take him all over the vast city. He begins to detest the “scum” that walks the streets, something he didn’t fight for. Wanting to clean up the streets he later develops his own personal method that we see much later on.

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) our lone man of the streets constantly writes to his parents, announcing that he has found a girl who he hopes to protect. A woman who we learn is more confident and assured than we were first lead to believe as Travis creates his own ideas about Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) work at the campaign office a presidential candidate Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris). Travis is not the usual type that we believe she would be attracted to, surrounded by men such as Tom (Albert Brooks) more intelligent but not as confident in front of the lone soldier on a one man mission to clean up the streets of New York.

His time as a taxi driver starts to wear him down, especially after having an angry husband who boasts about killing his philandering wife who is only two floors above. Finding solace in his fellow drivers who have armed themselves with guns. Turning also to a wise man of the yellow cab; The Wizard (Peter Boyle) who has seen it all in the world of a taxi driver. Needing to feel save he later invests in not one but for guns to arm and protect himself. They become a suit of armour which he crafts to his body in the event he may need to use them. When he is unable to hold down a relationship with Betsy his energy of romance turns to revenge,wanting to take it out on the presidential candidate which he builds up-towards, un-nerving the audience as to when he will carry out this assassination, to right the wrong of not having Betsy in his life.

There is however a glimmer of hope and shred of humanity in him, wanting to find once more the young prostitute that he nearly took away from her life on the streets. When he finally tracks her down we discover her Iris (Jodie Foster) a confident 12 1/2 years old girl who has adapted to a life of prostitution. Travis sees the innocence in the young girl wanting to restore what is left and return her to her parents. Something that she doesn’t want. Already having had to grow-up faster yet with a lot still to learn. Portrayed by the amazingly talented and young Jodie Foster. 

We are seeing two sides to this man, one who arms himself to the teeth and the kind man who wants to save a young girl/woman from a terrible life on the streets. channelling his energy he once had for Betsy into this young girl who doesn’t know she needs to be saved. This is at the end of a long and disturbing journey from freshly released onto the streets veteran of the Marine Corps to wannabe assassin who transforms himself into a dangerous man with a heart. Living by the trigger of a gun to keep him safe on the streets that he wants to clean up, having lost faith in the politicians who have failed his country and damaged the man who returned from war.

An incredible film that doesn’t put a foot wrong, like many of the period, I want to re-watch this with the same passion I have for the near-perfect Chinatown (1974). With one of the last scored by the great composer Bernard Herrmann create a subdued jazzy atmosphere of the streets if New York. I’m not even bothered by the cheeky cameo by Scorsese which builds up his relationship with the De Niro that has worked so well over 30-plus years. We see a troubled man return to civilian life, struggle to adjust and finding hope in a real damsel in distress. The modern cowboy who great and dangerous feats, a man who has all but lost faith in humanity in a dirty world that he fought to protect.