Archive for 1980

Raging Bull

Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on August 16, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: Paul Schrader, Mardik Martin.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Colasanto, Theresa Saldana, Mario Gallo, Frank Adonis, Joseph Bono, Frank Topham, Don Dunphy, Johnny Barnes, Michael Badalucco, John Turturro.

You punch like you take it up the ass

While shooting “The Godfather Part II“, Robert DeNiro found himself reading the book “Raging Bull: My Story“, based on the life of 1950′s middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta. It was a story he felt very passionate about bringing to the screen and took it to his good friend Martin Scorsese. Scorsese was, at first, reluctant to do a boxing movie as “Rocky” had recently been released to massive success and he himself, was going through a personal crisis at the time due to the failure of their previous collaboration “New York, New York” and his spiralling addiction to cocaine and lithium – leaving him hospitalised with internal bleeding. They brought in screenwriter’s Mardik Martin (“Mean Streets“) and Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver“) and the film eventually went ahead. It became a form of therapy for Scorsese and has since been lauded as a cinematic tour-de-force and voted – in numerous polls – as the best film from the 1980′s.

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Italian-American, middleweight boxer, Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) has inner demons and is prone to obsessive rage and sexual jealousy which threatens to destroy his relationship with his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) and brother/trainer Joey (Joe Pesci). In the ring, he a prizewinner but it’s outside it, that he seems to lose everything.

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On the surface, “Raging Bull” could be seen as just another boxing biopic, much like Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, Russell Crowe’s Jim “The Cinderella Man” Braddock or Will Smith’s Muhammad “Ali”. Scorsese and DeNiro’s vision is an altogether different one, though. It’s not their intention to glamourise LaMotta or deliver a conventional film about pugilism. Their intentions lie in exposing the man beyond the ring – where his real fights took place. The biggest opponent for “The Bronx Bull” was actually himself and his struggle with a raging, psychosexual insecurity and his propensity for self-destruction. It’s here that DeNiro fully takes centre stage in what is, unequivocally, his finest moment (and that’s saying something) throughout an illustrious career of exceptionally strong performances. His transformation is near miraculous; while researching and preparing for the role, De Niro actually spent the entire shoot with LaMotta so he could portray him accurately and went through extensive physical training, entering into three genuine Brooklyn boxing matches and winning two of them. According to La Motta, De Niro had the ability to be a professional fighter and that he would have been happy to have been his manager and trainer. Following this, production was stopped for two months so DeNiro could pile on 60 pounds to portray LaMotta in his older years. His commitment to the role (and project) has now become legendary and highly respected amongst his peers. Quite simply, DeNiro’s smouldering (and deservedly Oscar winning) display is an absolute masterclass in the profession.
Scorsese’s skills manifest in his operatic approach; he’s less interested in cranking up the tension or theatrics of the bouts and more focused on the punishing brutality of the sport. He employs the use of flashbulbs, and several different sound effects – like smashing glass and squelching watermelons – to achieve an overall crunching effectiveness. He’s aided immeasurably by Thelma Schoonmaker’s sharp editing technique and Michael Chapman’s sublime, monochrome, cinematography which serves the film as a whole in it’s mood and noir-ish atmosphere. If the bouts in the ring are claustrophobic then the same could be said for the ‘quieter’ moments outside it; LaMotta’s personal life is uncomfortably scrutinised in his abuse towards his wife and brother. There are very personal scenes of fraught and jealous conversation that are unbearably tense, and fully depict how much of a brute this man really was. It’s testament to the commitment of the entire cast and crew that this highly unappealing and unsympathetic individual can make such compelling viewing.

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A truly searing, cinematic classic, that addresses the unflinching, animalistic, behaviour of a man in need of absolution and redemption. It also happens to possess one of cinema’s most breathtaking and riveting performances. On this evidence, there’s no question that Robert DeNiro is a master of his craft and it’s arguably Martin Scorsese’s finest work as well.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: To achieve the feeling of brotherhood between the two lead actors, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci actually lived and trained with each other for some time before filming began. Ever since then, the two have been very close friends.

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The Shining * * * * *

Posted in Horror with tags on October 31, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Stanley Kubrick.
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson.
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Joe Turkel, Anne Jackson.

Despite being one of horror’s most prolific and impressive writers, Stephen King’s novel don’t always transfer well to the screen. Reportedly, he can’t stand this adaptation of his work as director Stanley Kubrick changed a lot from the original source material. If that’s the case and this is the end result, then maybe more director’s should add their own spin on King’s work as this is one of the genre’s finest horror movies.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a novelist who agrees to become the caretaker of the secluded ‘Overlook Hotel’ during the winter to work on his new book. To keep him company, Jack takes his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) along with him. However, the hotel has a history of gruesome murders taking place at the hands of the previous caretaker. Not before long, evil and spiritual presences influence the behaviour of an increasingly unstable Jack, while Danny begins to experience prophetic visions.

What can really be said about the The Shining that hasn’t been said already? Quite simply, it’s a classic. I could just leave it at that and move along to something else but I’ll shed a little light on why it can be – and predominantly is – regarded as such. First off, for any horror to achieve it’s full potential, it’s essential that it gets the mood right and this can certainly claim to have that. There is a sense of foreboding and feeling of dread that permeates almost every scene. Kubrick’s approach is to linger long on shots and seemingly empty spaces. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a horror where looking at static furniture in a hallway – waiting for something to happen – has ever been more creepy. That something rarely ever does happen but it’s Kubrick’s use of lavish sets, designed in the most meticulous detail, that’s visual arresting. He uses vast, well lit, rooms and corridors yet creates a smothering feeling of darkness and claustrophobia. The power of the setting itself can often be overlooked as to how horrifying it really is, as most of the horror comes in the form of a maniacal Jack Nicholson; his decent into murderous madness is one of his finest and most iconic performances. There’s not many actors that can channel a character so demented and unbalanced yet remain, very much, a pleasure to watch – even root for. My biggest issue with the film would be Shelley Duvall; I’ve never really been a fan of hers and despite putting in a good show here, she’s too irritating and hysterical – leaving you with the feeling that maybe Jack should just ‘bash her brains in’. That being said, the relationship between the two add a curious nature to the story. On the surface it would seem that’s it’s a decent into madness from Torrance but there’s ambiguity involved. Could it possibly be the vulnerability of Wendy and her unresolved past issues with her husband’s physical abuse of their child, manifesting in her own decent? Does she even exist, or is she a figment of Torrance’s imagination? Or is it vice-verse? It’s this very ambiguity that raises the film above a conventional horror story and Kubrick only teases the audience with the details, never fully revealing them and leaving it open to argument. It’s also benefits from a deliberate pace and some sublime camerawork by John Alcott, not to mention a dynamic, sledgehammer of a score that leaves you shaken and overwhelmed.

This is how unrelenting terror should be delivered; slowly assuredly and with consummate skill in maintaing it’s eerie atmosphere. Kubrick delivers one of his finest pieces of work here and Nicholson follows suit. Let this be a lesson to all.

Mark Walker

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