Shutter Island


Shutter Island is not a low-point in Scorsese’s career, but simply an indulgence. It has similar elements to his past films, with 40s dressed men and a classic, noirish feeling and tone, but doesn’t satisfy on all aspects. With a plot as complex as Shutter Island, after the fact plot-holes keep appearing in the after-glow thoughts, and that is the kind of distraction that takes attention away from the main themes. Yet, what are the themes of Scorsese’s recent film? Confusion, denial, desperation..

The movie does not at all lack beauty in its camera-work; its first scene is a wonderful pan onto a mist-covered boat, with detective Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) leaning on the handling with his partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) smoking a cigarette; Teddy leave s soon, his sea-sick rising in his stomach, for the bathroom. They are headed to investigate the merit of a psychiatric institution, but what their looking for is not told to us from the start; and even if it was, it would end up an entirely different thing. The movie strives on paranoia and fear, from conspiracy to mystery: the two investigate a case where a woman seems to have disappeared from her room, while at the same time not being seen escaping by the night guards. The island is searched, nothing found. The rest of the film is dedicated to finding her-as well as Teddy dealing with his own past troubles.

Their were flash-back sequences in the film, or dream-sequences, of Teddy with his wife as she fades away and out of existence from him. These I feel are derivative and a low-point for Scorsese’s cinematic inventiveness. She flakes away like a burning newspaper, and she is gone leaving Teddy teared-up and devastated. It creates no mood, nor visual ecstasy,  and is like a sequence trying to mock Lynch’s methods; a hand flying up as he was thinking of her, or hugging a corpse even: He resorts to the weakest of metaphors and imagery.

The film easily sums up its whole with facets of the mentally ill; this character acted like this, because he was paranoid or delusional. But this seems like the only thing that does work right, there are other things that are never bothered to be explained or elaborated; you can definitely get the feeling that this could have been smarter if Scorsese wasn’t making a movie for commercial success. It’s a bold horror entry no doubt-but with more assumptions being done than an actual plot, it’s a misty film in itself.

The King of Comedy

The King of Comedy, the nickname given to the legendary comedian Jerry Lewis, is a film about lonely passion and rejection. It was directed by Martin Scorsese in 1983 and is one of his most ignored films  in his career, although I found it to be very sensitive and well-made. It stars Robert Deniro as sociopath Rupert Pupkin, a self-idealized sociopath who wants nothing else than to become a talk-show host and comedian, like Lewis.

The film starts out with some unique scenes that contrast Rupert’s existence with the fantasies he has about his existence; he imagines he is sitting at a five-star restaurant with Jerry Lewis, arguing with him about taking over his show “for only six weeks”, when in reality, he would be lucky to squeeze out a two-word conversation with Jerry Lewis. A glimmer of hope shines at the beginning, when Rupert acts as Jerry’s bodyguard when he is being harassed by his fans. He gets in the car with Jerry and says he put his head out for him, a gash on his forearm as proof, and starts pitching his desire to be a comedian, not the act itself.

The comedian, Rupert, has a cut-out stage in his basement where he practices his routine. His mother periodically beckons him to be quiet, but we never see her face, like the mother in Psycho. What the film expresses unlike any other film is awkward tension; when Rupert is out on a date with a bar-tender he likes, when he is sitting in the reception room and says, “I’ll wait”. It is all about this inner tension and his desire to rid himself of it through comedy and personal demands.

If the movie was more successful, the final scene would be considered a classic: After forcing himself onto the stage, Rupert surprises us all with a magical act of witty comedy. Jumping on the bar-counter, Rupert plays the bar t.v. for the bar-tender, finally able to impress her with something real, not told. The King of Comedy is a brooding film, a meditation on popularity and star-power in American society, and an entree in Scorsese’s filmography that is on the same shelf of his greats, like Taxi Driver and Raging bull.

Peeping Tom (1960) – Film Review

Peeping Tom is a great film as its main character guides us hand-in-hand through his atrocities, a self-conscious first-person technique that creates mountains of tension. As the audience, we’re peeping into Mark Boehl’s life and his strange hobby and obsession with recording people at the cusp of their being victimized by him. The story is pieced together in a literary form in the way that everything we learn of, like the mothers blindness for example, has a cause and an importance later on.

The director, Michael Powell, establishes the time and place very well, almost like a stage-film in which highly-decorative scenes remain static for long periods of time; the layout of the apartment, the ground-floor, the secluded bunk-like upstairs where Mark dwells and develops his celluloid.  Films that are constantly jump-cutting to new places can be uncomfortable to watch; to better understand the character is by their environment, and with a character like Mark, who keeps to himself, it can be troublesome when trying to probe why he does what he does. And essentially, without the necessary information we need to understand him, all we have is the performance of Karlheinz Böhm to attempt to make us feel some tangible form of sympathy for the man.


The film is a dense, unforgettable character study. Mark Boehl is an obsessive 8mm film recorder. He works for a film company, not yet achieving his goal of becoming a director, and lives a quiet and methodical life, doing photo-shoots for women on the side. When he becomes interested in a woman who lives next door, his secrets begin to unravel, and he must choose between his hobby and the girl he now has come to enjoy; to say, “who he’s come to love” would be unfitting for Marks character, because he’s the sort of person who proclaims that he ‘enjoys your presence’, nothing more, nothing less.

Peeping Tom didn’t do wonders for director Michael Powell’s film career, as its reception was similar to the reaction Kubrick received following the release of A Clockwork Orange. But thanks to Martin Scorsese’s restoration of the film, Powell-fans can see and admire the voyeuristic work of the director even more.


Goodfellas, directed by the now master director Martin Scorsese, is a mess of a gangster film, following the rise and fall of gangster Henry Hill and his friends, played by American-film gangster icons Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci. Henry Hill is played with nuance and panic by Ray Liotta. Joe Pesci is a side-man in at least every American gangster film, and is usually the ignorant one: that is certainly true here, as he plays cowboy Tommy DeVito. And Robert DeNiro need not be built-up; he is a legend and plays James Conway, the keen-observer and conniver in GoodFellas.

The structure of GoodFellas is what makes it the original masterpiece that it is: It’s a whistle-blowing riot, while also a serious study in mob dynamics, and like the Godfather, it never lashes out into the view of a police-man or a morally-slanted person; not even Karen, Henry’s Jewish-born sweetheart, has anything to say about issues of morality. Paul Cicero, the main Italian organizer and early-recruiter of Henry, a fatherly image, holds the same beliefs as The Godfather. He wants no drugs in his business. Illegitimacy is synonymous with that stuff. And Henry Hill rebels against this belief, while still trying to remain on good terms with Pauly, eating and making the grade-A Italian food that puts all American’s to shame; “Make sure he doesn’t stop stirring the tomato-sauce!”

The characters are all actors who’ve appeared in a long-line of American mob movies, but here their names are engraved in legend. When I think of Joe Pesci, I think of Tommy DeVito. When I think of Robert DeNiro, okay I think of many characters with his name, but I definitely think of Jimmy Conway. And that goes for Henry Liotta too, who displays a huge range of acting ability as Henry Hill.

When the mobsters go to jail, they run it. They use voice-over to proudly explain this, going on to explain the excellent dinners being created: they never explain how they are allowed such prestige, rather that is meant for our own assumption. It’s through this that Scorsese creates a looking-glass of the inferred, of the secret and the symbolic.

The only thing I arguably don’t like in “Goodfellas” is the end-scene in the court room, where Henry Hill jumps off the stand and looks directly into the camera’s eye, explaining in a regretful sort of way his resignation from the mob. It’s like an anti-nicotine commercial, an ‘unpaid’ advocate against smoking, and I just feel it sheds away the cinematic confine of the entire film, and of film in general. But despite this minor thing, “Goodfellas” is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, gangster films of all time.

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver is a quintessential Scorsese-picture, favorably compared to the debut films like Boxcar Bertha. The film jump-starts the 70 and 80s Scorsese-masterpiece drive, a force of inertial filmmaking creativity.

The film explores the sticky mind and mannerisms of Vietnam veteran Travis Brickle, who has taken up occupation as a taxi-driver because of his pestilent insomnia. The screenwriter, Paul Schrader, says that he composed the screenplay in mind of Dostoevsky’s existential book, ‘Notes from the Underground’ which shapes rightly to the heavy-theme of society isolation. Taxi Driver introduces and provokes the now oft-used satirical theme of the pick-and-choose nature of law enforcement and punishment (Pop-culture know-it all’s may think this idea familiar from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, where the Joker tells Harvey Dent about how society works according to ‘plan’). The expected is of far more ease than the unexpected, as any anxious person can attest to.

Nearing the third act, Travis decides as clear as a meth-head to kill the governor-elect, but after a shady getaway on his first attempt, he quickly crosses over to his preferred righteous-path, killing a handful of pimps in hope of brightening the life of a young prostitute they vendor. The girl’s name is Iris, and at only fourteen years, you can imagine her iris-flower growing amongst the dirt and muck that Travis so willingly describes for us. But how much, we think, will this help? Or will Iris end up needing to turn towards more severe acts for money as consequence? Rest assured Travis receives a letter from her parents, thanking him for helping return her to them; whether the aftermath is a dream or real-time recuperation, Scorsese does not, and refuses to tell.

Taxi Driver is a benchmark in character study. If these studies are done well, the looking glass should be uniform and unmoving from the character, not flopping once or twice to another character’s perspective for easy dramatic irony.  This perspective dials our heads into conforming to the ticks and habits of the narrator we so intimately let ourselves into. Travis, I think, although disastrous and a reflection of real and dangerous people, romanticizes the involuntary hate for culture-hounds and rules. He pouts blasphemy throughout of and against the junk around him, yet goes to the same movies they do, an undividable paradigm of enjoyment or understanding.
There are many clever film-devices Scorsese uses to tell the narrative, like the use of the Taxi’s front-window and street-smog to resemble Travis’ clouded view of the city. They are understood because and only because of the tone and theme that matches them; the soundtrack, the attitude, etc. That’s Scorsese. Later in the filmography, the great duo of Schrader and Scorsese present themselves triumphantly again in the first year of the 80s with ‘Raging Bull’.