Gangs of New York

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, we will take a look at Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, and Daniel Day-Lewis. It is rated R for  strong violence, sexuality, and language.

In this Scorsese classic, we follow the Irish mobster Amsterdam Vallon as he navigates his way through the turbulent mid-1800’s. Amsterdam, played by Leonardo Dicaprio, attempts to avenge his father’s old Irish gang, The Dead Rabbits, by getting close to his father’s killer, Bill Cutting (Daniel Day Lewis). Amsterdam is soon forced to keep up a false identity and hold back his own feelings for Cutting’s lover, Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz). Along the way, Amsterdam becomes acquainted with New York’s seedy underground and the corrupted political figures who are run by it.

6.5 out of 10

I just wasn’t really feeling this film. I guess it was good, but then again I’m not sure. Maybe it’s that Gangs of New York really isn’t my type. But then again, I’m a fan of gang movies. So what is it that makes me feel so lukewarm towards this movie?

Hate to say it, but I wasn’t too impressed with Leonardo DiCaprio in this one. I can’t place the blame entirely on him though. Amsterdam Vallon is not very well written, as he’s got only two emotions: angry and angrier. The entire film he’s just annoyed, even when he’s getting it on with Cameron Diaz. He’s very one-sided, which hurts the film significantly since he’s the heart of the film. Cameron Diaz played her character rather blandly as well. She was a formidable female lead, but not one that I would fall in love with.

I would have been totally bored of the acting if not for Daniel Day-Lewis, who was electrifying. The first movie I had ever seen him in was Lincoln, and I wasn’t sure I could imagine him as anyone else. He just got so into his role, so much that he was permanently associated in my mind with Abraham Lincoln. So much for that. Daniel Day-Lewis is equally as immersed in his role as Bill “The Butcher” Cutting. He is as brutal, evil and as cold blooded as any movie character I’ve ever seen in a while. It’s not quite Javier Barden as Anton Chigurgh or Heath Ledger as The Joker, but it’s still pretty damn impressive. He’s vocal and charismatic, while maintaining his detestable persona. He really drove this film. Fun fact of the day; He refused to take medication or wear a warmer coat after he caught pneumonia while filming. His reasoning: it didn’t fit the period. Jesus Christ.

Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis

I don’t have many more positive things to say, really. I thought the plot was skewed and out of focus. The movie was 2 hours and 40 minutes, and I can tell you that this was excessive. It’s not even like the typical Scorsese film, where it’s 3 hours long and has no plot. It had a plot, one that couldn’t decide when to end, and it just ended up building to an anticlimactic ending that we all expected. It couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be an estranged love story or a story about revenge, or both, and it struggled to find the happy medium. It was boring, confusing, and hard to follow, to keep it simple. It was just so unappealing.

I really felt shades of Goodfellas throughout this flick. The opening fight scene was infused with an upbeat hip-hop kinda thing, a bold music choice, but one that I didn’t think fit the period. I know it’s a pretty Scorseseish thing to do, but with the way the rest of the movie was scored, it just didn’t work for me. It was filled with traditional Irish tunes, so the upbeat hip hop was out of place and messed up the tone of the film.

Overall, I was not the biggest fan of this film. It was uninteresting and excessive, plot-wise and character-wise, which is obviously something you never want to see. Watch this movie for Daniel Day-Lewis but that’s it. Otherwise, you’ll just be disappointed.

9.5 out of 10

Why must Italians get all of the infamy?

Believe it or not, every ethnicity has its turn on the “dangerous minority” merry go round. And for, the majority of the back-half of the First Immigration Wave, Irish people got a long turn in the gangster seat.

Because immigration was no quick-fix as some make it out to be. It was a gruelling process that occurred concurrently with the rise of our nation that the Irish (Among many others) lagged in. In the race to prop up an American Way, people were soon labelled as “winners” and “losers”. The losers (Often poor immigrants who resorted to working as violent enforcers) were promptly forgotten or cartoonized (I must ask, which do you think is worse?).

Well, Marty Scorsese had a look in the history books and eventually entered that nihilistic Irish kick that began with Gangs of New York and ended with The Departed. Two very appropriate movies for the holiday. So stop drinking, actually look up from your beer and learn about my people through the culture of bloodshed and lawbreaking, darnit!

Like plenty of Scorsese’s films, Gangs is very obsessed with the role of fathers. Not just the role of the father, actually, the role of prestigiousness. If you were to watch Scorsese’s filmography, you’d notice that the past acts as a supporting character to a lot of these guys’ actions. Its not a series of events, its a model they must live up to. Fathers are vessels for those models. Living relics of the times they must live up to. So its no wonder why most of Marty’s main characters are estranged or left behind by their parents.

The main character of Gangs, Amsterdam starts off in this exact template. Amsterdam is clearly somebody who’s trying to fill some sort of void. This is where Scorsese drags violence into play. Its something tangible that these orphans can throw out there to impress their father figures. In fact, I can’t really tell if Amsterdam is trying to impress his passed father or his father’s murderer, Cutting, in some twisted way.

amsterdam vallon

Leonardo DiCaprio

And in the background of it all is the rise of America. Our model. That bloody one which we discussed a few paragraphs ago. Marty loves him some American backdrop. If you missed it all (I wouldn’t blame you. Daniel Day Lewis had one of his best performances that distracted me here too), this idealized time which we tend to skim through is still viewed as a time that was rife with bloodshed. We get a couple of corrupt leaders strewn here and there too to remind us that we inhabit a nation that was built on a lot of guts (Figuratively and literally). There was plenty of struggle to be had and Scorsese isn’t going to let you forget about it any time soon.

But we already have. This is an arc that was lost in that Antebellumish time between the Revolution and the Civil War along with all of those other things we forgot. There were still people, like Amsterdam, there though. Immigrants whose battle has been lost in the shuffle. Whether that makes their warring more pointless or our’s has to be left up to you.

I did say it was nihilistic, didn’t I?

IMDB: 7.5
Metacritic: 72
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%


The Wolf of Wall Street

To end our Oscar season, we’ll take a look at the one of the most polarizing films of year, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Directed by the aforementioned Scorsese, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, and Matthew McConaughey. It is rated R strong sexual content, graphic nudity, heavy drug use, explicit language, and some violence throughout.

In Scorsese’s 3 hour epic, DiCaprio stars as Jordan Belfort, a Long Island stockbroker as he indulges in a life of corruption and indulgence that regularly features drugs, sex, and money. Belfort teams up with Donnie Azoff (Hill) and starts the brokerage firm Stratford-Oakmont. The company, using corrupt and illegal tactics, quickly grows in both size and relevance. However, with the FBI watching Belfort’s every move, he must find creative ways to cover his tracks and maintain his life of fortune and fun.

Thanks to Nic and Emma for being guest writers this week.

8 out of 10

The Mighty Roar. This is how Jordan Belfort describes the sound of his board room. It also happens to be how I would describe The Wolf of Wolf Street to someone who has not seen it. A Mighty Roar of a movie. It begins with Belfort tossing a Midget at a bulls-eye with dollar signs on it. We proceed to follow a pretty coked up Belfort through his life of extravagance and debauchery. All the while taking us back through how he made it to the top. When I first saw the trailer, I thought that it would be reminiscent of Inside Job, a wall street documentary about the financial crisis of 07-09. I was dead wrong. Unlike in his memoir, Belfort skips all of the wall street talk and moves straight to what people went to the theater to see: International crime, and Leonardo Dicaprio and Jonah Hill double teaming a secretary. And he delivers too. Money is stuffed into briefcases, rained on prostitutes, used to snort cocaine, thrown into wastebaskets, and taped to a mostly naked woman so that she can smuggle it across the border to Switzerland.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio

After reading the memoir, I understood one thing about Jordan Belfort. That he didn’t truly care about other people, especially women, because they were his playthings. Sometimes during a scene where a woman was yelling at him (the water splashing scene !!!) he would take that time, not to describe the argument but to describe their bodies and how horny he was. Scorsese decided that he would make the women in his life strong and calculating, as opposed to willing and objectified. At one point he agrees to give a female broker 100,000 dollars if she will shave her head in front of the whole board room. A marching band comes in and strippers deck the board halls. Belfort is looking proudly over his board room, and not looking at the girl who has already been given the money and looks like she is on the verge of tears. As she walks away from the shaver some people give her an understanding pat on the back, as if doing anything for Belfort’s money was routine. This is the opposite of Belfort’s T and A thoughts about his employees.

Leonardo DiCaprio really could not have done a better job at capturing all of the nuances that come with a character like Jordan. There are some times in the film where you can actually identify with his character, as a man who has lost himself. DiCaprio was supported by a surprisingly good performance by Jonah Hill as his equally greedy right hand man, Donnie Azoff. Margot Robbie not only feigns an awesome accent but held her own among bigger names, portraying Belfort’s wife as calculating and smart not just a bimbo. These performances were backed up by Jean Dujardin, Rob Reiner, Matthew McConaughey, and even a small cameo from Spike Jonze. All in all the amazing performances many of these actors gave, among other things, gave The Wolf of Wall Street the depth it has past just a memoir.

7 out of 10

Looking over the list of nominees for the Best Picture this year, there is no shortage of films with something to say. From Dallas Buyers Club’s thought-provoking treatment of the AIDS epidemic to the story of an old woman searching for the son taken from her by the Church presented in Philomena, the field is certainly rife with moral tales. Martin Scorsese in his latest film The Wolf of Wall Street, however, has little time for such sentiment. His protagonist Jordan Belfort, played adeptly by Leonardo DiCaprio, leads a life of debonair debauchery with remarkably few consequences. Belfort truly can have his Quaaludes and pop them too.

That is not to say, by any means, that the film is not enjoyable and indeed the first hour goes by in a flurry of excess and wonderment at the lifestyle Belfort and his fellow Wall Street newcomers live. It is certainly not for everyone but few movies in the past few years can claim to have constructed such an escapist ideal as this one has. Sure, there are a few moral speed bumps, prime among them that Belfort steals unsuspecting investors’ money and livelihood. But as Belfort says, he “spends it better anyway”, so it’s all okay really. But as the minutes stretch into hours, the Wolf’s legs seem to run out a bit, tired by the earlier frantic pace and one questions the necessity of some later scenes.

The obvious comparison to make would be to Scorsese’s earlier work Goodfellas as both track the legally questionable rise and fall of a handsome, enigmatic male plagued by demons. But where Goodfellas seemed continuously fresh throughout, Wolf gets somewhat stale. And where Scorsese did a masterful job of walking the moral tight rope with his last character which allowed him to portray how terrible some of the things his protagonist did were whilst maintaining sympathy for him, Belfort can be difficult to connect to.

Margot Robbie (left), DiCaprio, and Scorsese (right)

Margot Robbie (left), DiCaprio, and Scorsese (right)

But Belfort is not a hero, he is an anti-hero and DiCaprio embraces this fully. In doing so he certainly shines the brightest of all the cast and wholly deserves the award attention given to him. The rest of the cast is largely serviceable and little more. Margot Robbie however, playing Belfort’s second wife, does deserve a mention for her accurate portrayal of a feisty female without the coldness that is all too often characteristic of intelligent females in male-dominated films. And of course, Matthew McConaughey turns in a virtuous turn as Belfort’s mentor and provides the greatest moment of the entire film.

Some people will hate The Wolf of Wall Street. But most of these people were always going to hate it long before the first reel of film was shot. For the rest of us, it is an undeniably good film and provides fantastic entertainment for two hours. Sadly, the film is not two hours long and it is this final hour that makes what could have been a great film simply a good one.

IMDB: 8.3
Metacritic: 75
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%