11 May 2010

41. Goodfellas

This is one of my favorite movies of all time. It is just about flawless in the way it examines a theme, the way it uses extreme mastery of film technique and language to express mood and emotion, the way it uses genre to explore a personal story near to the director's heart. This is a masterpiece.

Opening scene -- looks up, smart, ironic, action -- leaves us wanting more

first scene -- EYES -- he's watching what's happening in the neighborhood -- he covets what he sees -- parallel to scorsese's life

opening scenes -- teaching us about how the mob works on a LOW level, on a street level -- this is a big change from the old mob movies, which were larger than life and about the men at the top, not the middle men guys. and in teaching us how this works, so much information is packed in -- VO contrasting with visuals. RICH visual world, hitchcockian. parallel to beginning of jules et jim.

examination of POWER, RESPECT, being SPECIAL -- usually through violence.

guy getting shot -- henry is different because he offers HELP.

never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut. -- SET UP is finished.

new thing/new job -- heist. we see the preparation and the aftermath, but no set piece. why? because it isn't needed here.

joe pesci am i a comedian story -- why is it so good? he's charming, turns on a dime. he's a sociopath. creates tension with very little, and then diffuses.

30-40 -- subplot -- lorraine bracco. she takes over the VO -- he likes her spunk.

famous tracking shot -- apex of his power, and he gets to show it off -- he's bypassing a normal existence, and the world unfolds before him, and he's showing that off.

air france -- we walked out with 400,000 without using a gun -- this is big for him -- he's not a violent guy. that separates him from the others.

set-up for a big payoff a few scenes later -- ray liotta CAN get pissed and fuck shit up. shown so well -- we see the gun, we think: uh oh. the tension builds as he walks over. at the end, we see her WATCHING the whole thing, thus implicating her. she's in on it now. that's also their connection -- she's a watcher too.

billy bats scene -- midpoint -- where the good times start to unravel. again, it's about power, respect, status, being special. joe pesci has used violence to be special, to be somebody, and billy bats tries to take that away. pesci can't take it, so: murder.

domestic scene -- dramatic irony -- the irony of what we know vs. what the characters know, and the contrast of how plain and NICE it is from what we saw them just do. plus, we already knew about the knife, and now we see where it came from -- his sweet old mother.

billy bats murder is a set-up to a later payoff of tommy getting killed.

further characterization -- henry is the one who pukes when digging up bats...he's the less violent one.

classic second act stuff: things continue to go bad -- spider situation, karen knowing about cheating.

karen waking him up with gun scene -- TENSION -- what will happen next? -- rhythm and release

then: jail.

IRONY -- showing us how mobster do prison -- MUCH different than we usually see with prison

getting involved in drug trade -- paulie warns him. but he's too far into it. again, shown visually. and then he's getting way too into the coke himself -- repeat of scene with his wife where she gives him BJ, but this time with a mistress.

new score -- morrie's thing. EVERYONE is involved. lufthansa = huge hiest. EVERYONE is spending money left and right, which is an indicator of the heist -- again, we don't see the heist. WHY? because henry isn't involved, that's why. so: no set piece. and the point isn't the heist, but what happens afterward -- the fallout. DON"T BUY ANYTHING, but greed is too powerful and people start fucking up and getting sloppy, so everyone has to die.

samuel l. scene -- surprise -- we don't see it coming that he kills him, it starts like a normal scene and then twists. we see why.

"there's weird moments of tension and negative space where the viewer's wondering what's going on, what's going to happen next." -- conan.

morrie's murder -- "it's off" and then it's a regular scene -- talking about going to get coffee and danish, etc. and then kill him as a surprise. THEN: everyone's dead.

again, a surprise -- we're set up to expect a certain result and the worst possible opposite happens -- they set up to make tommy, and instead kill him. the rug is pulled out from under us, and we love that. OH SHIT moments.

3rd act: almost all of it in one day. the shit is hitting the fan.

aftermath: the last thing we would ever do is rat on these people, but he's completely alone, they won't have anything to do with him and he's proabbly going to get killed. it's not real until karen almost gets killed in a visual, subtextual scene (storefront thing).

He did the opposite of what Jimmy said when he first got pinched: ratted them out. And his reward is suburban mediocrity -- he is no longer special, no longer respected.

so much rhythm and release throughout. tension built up and dispersed, then brought back to surprise us.

here's why joe pesci won the oscar: he's the worse piece of murdering psychopathic shit, and yet, when he dies, we are left breathless because he's also charasmatic.

In the end:
It's about using violence as a way to be special, to be respected, to have power.

It's about showing the mafia world on a ground level for the regular guys and how they lived, not the bosses.

It's about showing how, in this world, violence is so commonplace that it co-mingles with domestic scenes like having your mother cook you a midnight meal.

It's about being able to go in the backdoor of a popular nightclub and having them put a table out for you right away. It's about the singer in the nightclub buying you champagne.

And it's about having it all taken away.

08 May 2010

43. Taxi Driver

Great exposition: "What do you wanna cab for?" "Can't sleep nights." We see from his jacket he's ex-military.

Water motif: hydrants, rain, alka-seltzer (which is also clever foreshadowing), "some day the rain will wash all the scum off the streets."

Set-up is over at min 10, so now we need a task: "My life needs a sense of purpose." -- He sees a girl.

Classic alienation -- "he's a walking contradiction". She rejects him -- "she's just like the others." He is completely alone.

Minute 50 -- The people are beginning to rise -- watches this ALONE, takes it as a message to him. This is classic schizo behavior. Sees Jodie Foster again, takes this as his new mission. He's a military man and must have a mission.

"Suddenly, there is a change." And that change is violent -- buys gun, suits up, prepares for battle.

Full break now -- goes to a Palatine rally (where we don't see Palatine's face -- he's turning him into a figure, not a real person that he's actually met and talked to), VO is getting crazier, "are you talking to me?"

Kills a stick-up man, no consequences. Sport: "Yuou're a real cowboy!" -- inverting notions of american heroism/justice and it's consequences -- shades of modern-day THE SEARCHERS.

Big reveal of mohawk at rally. He fails at the assassination, so he goes and kills Sport and tries to save Foster. Classic 3rd act -- compression of time and space, the logical/surprising conclusion of what has come before. He's been leading up to an extreme act of violence, and now it comes. Foster's reaction, rightly, is horror.

Showing WE THE PEOPLE outside the bloodbath -- this is NOT what they want.

Viewed as a hero by the papers, Foster's family. Actions misconstrued. And we come full circle with Betsy as his last passenger.

Few use color as well as Scorsese (Almadovar comes to mind), so: the use of red. Traffic lights, neon lights, Sport's coke nail, blood. Red is used for sin. This is textbook Catholicism.

44. The Best Years of Our Lives

MC -- he's just a dude trying to get home. has to wait around until he is called, signs at the same time as a sailor. SHOCK: he's got hooks for hands.

they talk about how he came to have those hands, and how it's going to be when he gets back -- he's scared his girl won't like him, will be weirded out.

all three dudes come home to notes of uncertainty -- homer's lady & folks are unnerved; banker's wife seems a little insecure, not entirely glad he's home; captain's wife is living on her own without his knowing. he goes out to find her.

sarge interacts with his family -- doesn't know his own daughter, gives his son gifts he doesn't appreciate, is distant with his wife. he takes them out to a series of nightclubs to get the excitement back.

homer/hands is next. just wants to be treated as normal.

all three meet up at butch's. it's clear that they are more comfortable with each other than with civilians -- they can't leave the war behind.

1st act done when they pass out.

act 2 -- picking up the pieces of their drunkenness.

freddy/captain goes to see his sexy ass wife at her own apt.

freddy goes to try to get a job at his old place, which has been bought out and has no real need for him: "the war is over, mr. deary."

banker/al goes back to the bank to see his old boss, mr. milton. significance of name. he's offered a promotion.

freddy's wife has never seen him not in his uniform. she wants to see him only in his uniform. she's used to him being a solider, not a civilian.

back to homer after a LONG break. he's doing target practice. fiancee still loves him, he beats himself up, feels like a freak.

1:30 -- freddy is broke. his wife wants to live the high life, he can't find a job.

freddy and al's daughter go out together -- they're clearly gonna fuck. kisses her.

classic 2nd act complication stuff -- al is giving a loan to a fellow GI, freddy is trying to cheat on wife, his house is a mess and wife is a nag. peggy is in love with Freddy.

1:52 -- supper club set piece honoring al. he's drunk. counting the number of drinks on the table with a fork. GREAT little visual. he subtly insults his boss and shows where his head is really at -- GREAT TENSION because we don't know whether or not he's gonna lose it or keep it together.
-- good set-up and pay-off

dance afterwards -- freddy's wife reveals herself as a money-grubber, vain, etc.
-- great use of mirrors

2:00 -- ""i'm going to break that marriage up"

where is HOMER? -- totally lopsided narrative, and where does he fit?

3rd act -- 2:05 -- back to butch's, freddy and al. "are you in love with peggy?" he's gonna keep his daughter away from freddy.

homer's back. playing piano. tells peggy off.

homer has finally embraced his disability, has a sense of humor about it. some random talks shit on the futility of the war, freddy punches him out. like classical hollywood cinema, it is conservative in that it reaffirms god and country with homer's ripping the flag pin off and taking it for himself (also the importance of marriage with homer's situation). freddy sacrifices himself by fighting the guy, loses his job.

homer is trying to push her away.

freddy's love with peggy, esp. last lines, is an allegory for america's relationship with the war.

it's about how hard it is to come home from war and be a regular man again. this is always going to be a big theme, and as slowly paced as this film is, is stands up today because of the theme and because of the documentary-like nature of the mise-en-scene.