“Cop Land” – 1997. Dir. James Mangold

With Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Robert DeNiro, Robert Patrick, Annabella Sciorra, Noah Emmerich, Frank Vincent, Arthur J. Nascarella, Peter Berg, Cathy Moriarty, Michael Rapaport, Edie Falco with John Spencer and Ray Liotta

“Don’t shut me out Ray! You found us a sweet little town. You got us the low interest, and I’m grateful. But don’t forget who it was that you came to two years ago to cover your ass!” – Figgs (Ray Liotta)

The film “Cop Land” has a simple template – it’s a town of Garrison, New Jersey that is forty minutes from New York City – where all the towns’ folk work as police officers. The patriarch of the town, Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel) is the supreme power that rules the town. The small town has its own “law” and it’s enforced by native Freddy Heflin (an overweight and bloated Sylvester Stallone) who is a bumbling and slightly dim witted law man whose dream was to be one of New York’s finest. Sheriff Heflin has limited control, and the only power he has is the power Ray Donlan lets him have.

Inside of the town is Ray’s right hand man Jack Rucker (Robert Patrick) who is a man that has a primal urge of violence and destruction who goes head on with Ray’s old partner Gary Figgis (Ray Liotta who puts on a clinic). This is an extremely close nit and private community where everyone’s doors are unlocked and no one lives in fear, the only semi outcast is Figgs who now has a drug problem.

After an incident with Ray’s nephew Murray “Super Boy” Babich (Michael Rapaport) where Murray shot and killed two black teenagers while driving drunk and suspecting the two black men were pointing a gun at him, Ray and Leo Crasky (John Spencer) and some other “higher ups” of the community decide it best to fake Murray jumping off the George Washington Bridge in hopes it would prevent any unwanted investigation to their town of Garrison, New Jersey.

An old academy classmate of Ray’s Moe Tildon (Robert DeNiro) now works for internal affairs, and knows that Ray is dirty, knows that he’s been doing favors for the mob and in turn the mob banks offered low interest rates on home loans to the fleet of officers that could all buy homes outside of the violence and mayhem of New York.

I have seen “Cop Land” over twenty times in my life, and when I watch the film I see two things – I see a modern day western that follows the path of “High Noon” where a Sheriff takes his town back from corruption. Then I look closer and I see a film that brings morals and values into a heated debate. I ask myself while watching this film, if Ray Donlan is as bad as we’re supposed to think he is. Sure he may have done some bad things – we see him do some bad things – but everything he does isn’t for his own personal gain, it’s to protect this “utopian” community where police don’t have to live in fear.

They see so many horrors and unthinkable things as police officers in New York City – that when they come home to Garrison, they don’t have to worry about them, they don’t have to worry about locking their doors or sleeping with a gun under their pillows. They know that once they cross the bridge and enter their town that they are safe from the outside world. What these men have done is cut a couple of corners, do a couple of favors for bad people to insure the protection of their families.

We know from the start that Ray, Jack and Figgs aren’t the cleanest of cops, but by getting their hands dirty, they were able to protect fellow cops. And being put in the same situation, I feel that I would do the same. I mean, how far would you go to protect and provide for your friends and their families?

James Mangold (“Walk the Line”, “Girl Interrupted” and “3:10 to Yuma”) masterfully writes and directs a film that is a masterpiece. The dialogue is rich and filled with excellent exchanges between characters. It is a remarkable screenplay, and it’s that screenplay that allowed Mangold to direct his first film, and to get the attention of Stallone, DeNiro, Keitel and Liotta – who all worked for the SAG minimum salary to insure that the film would get made and not go over budget.

Aside from the star power of the top billed actors, Mangold fills the film with remarkable character actors to help support a great foundation that the screenplay and star power started to build. John Spencer who plays a character that almost seems like the one person that Ray reports too, and Robert Patrick is magnificent as Ray’s right hand man who in a split second would jump in front of a bullet for Ray. Arthur J. Nascarella was originally a technical advisor for the film since he was an NYPD officer for twenty years, but Mangold then wrote a part for him as one of Ray’s men.

The four leads give impeccable performances. Stallone gives the performance of his career, he touches upon emotions and traits that his characters aren’t usually identified with. He struggles with loneliness and apathy – and Stallone shows an awesome amount of range. I’m still bitter about him not getting a nomination. Stallone took this role so seriously he stopped working out, and gained sixty pounds of fat, which brought so much authenticity to Freddy that when I see Stallone in the film, I don’t see Rambo or Rocky – I see dim witted Freddy.

Harvey Keitel and Robert DeNiro are such seasoned actors that it’s easy for them to take roles that they can just walk through (DeNiro has been doing that since “Jackie Brown”). It’s wonderful to see them onscreen again, playing bitter rivals who hate the other one so much it makes the audience uncomfortable watching them on screen together. I mean, this is the first time the two have been on screen together since “Taxi Driver” – it’s been long overdue!

Now if I had to say that one actor steals the show, it would have to be Ray Liotta. Liotta plays his much typecast “man on the edge”, but in this film that is exactly what his character is. Liotta makes decisions in the film that leave him with much guilt. Liotta plays a modern day ronin – a samurai that has no guidance from a master and has now lost his way.

The finale of the film is as epic as epic gets with an old fashion showdown between the Sheriff and Ray and his men. It’s a showdown that has the good old shoot out finale that my friend Kevin over at The Pork Chop Express stated in his “Dark Blue” review that every cop film needs. I can abide by that.

Earlier in the review I stated that this film is a masterpiece. I do feel that the film is a masterpiece; while watching this film, there isn’t one thing that I have a hang up with, nor is there anything that makes the film not feel authentic. This film fires on all its cylinders throughout and doesn’t have any lulls or a snag from DeNiro’s opening narration to his closing narration.

While the moral conflicts the characters have in the film may not be the main focus of the average viewer watching the film; it does for me. By no means is this a landmark film or bring into light taboo subjects – but what it offers is an excellent acting ensemble, a finely tuned script, and remarkable storytelling by James Mangold.

Rating: 10/10


“Machete” – 2010. Dir. Robert Rodriguez and Evan Maniquis

With Danny Trejo, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Lindsey Lohan, Cheech Marin, Tom Salvi, Shea Whigham; Introducing Don Johnson with Jeff Fahey and Robert De Niro

“This cucaracha has got AK-47s and he’s laying waste to everything that gets in his fucking path!” – Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro)

“Machete” kicks fucking ass. For those of you who live under a rock, a few years ago Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino made a double feature film called “Grindhouse” (which was a throwback to 70’s B films) where each filmmaker made a film, and there were “fake” trailers that were before each film; and this is where “Machete” was born. It was a kick ass, pulpy, grindhouse style trailer were an angry Mexican (Danny Trejo) kicks ass.

Rodriguez announced he was going to make it a feature, and no one heard much about it until it’s cast was released. This film has one of the greatest most fucked up ensemble casts I have ever seen: Danny Trejo as Machete, Steven Seagal as a Mexican (yes, he’s Mexican in it) drug kingpin Torrez, Michelle Rodriguez as the leader of the “network”, Jessica Alba who works for immigration, Lindsey Lohan as a caricature of herself, Cheech Marin as Machete’s priest brother, Don Johnson as the head minute man killing illegal’s, Jeff Fahey as the man who hires and then double-crosses Machete and Robert De Niro as the Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck wet dream Senator McLaughlin.

This movie is absurd and it’s a lot of fun. This film is so over-the-top dealing with not only a throwback exploitation film, but with the issue of illegal immigration. This film just shows the actual absurdity of the actual issue of illegal immigration and how it is so blown out of proportion.

There are so many things about this film that I noticed and that I loved. I loved that Steven Seagal not only played a bad guy for the first time in his career, but he was supposed to be a Mexican who fought with some sort of ninja sword. What makes it funnier is the fact that Seagal is wearing the baggiest cloths ever. You’re not fooling anyone; but I admire your attitude. Alright, before I get into how awesome Seagal is and the rest of the cast lets dive into the storyline of “Machete”.

Danny Trejo is a federal agent in the Mexican government and he’s going to find a girl that is going to testify against drug kingpin Torrez (I still can’t get over Seagal playing a Mexican). He drives to this compound, kills a bunch of guys and while he stumbles across this naked girl who he’s trying to save, she stabs him with his own machete and in walks Seagal who is frustrated with Machete not taking his bribes, so he pulls out Machete’s wife, cuts her head off and tells him he killed his daughter. He stabs and cuts Machete and leaves him for dead.

Flash forward three years.

Machete is in Texas working as a day laborer. He gets picked up by Booth (Jeff Fahey) a mysterious business man who offers Machete $100,000 to assassinate the tea partying State Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro with an awesomely amazing campy accent). Machete who is being watched by Jessica Alba who works for the US Immigration forms a truce with both Alba and Michelle Rodriguez who plays She, the woman who runs the underground network of shuttling Mexicans from Mexico and tries to set them up with jobs in America.

Don Johnson plays Von, who is a “good ole boy” who drives around in a Hummer and kills illegal’s crossing the border. He’s secretly backing De Niro’s campaign that’s built on illegal immigrants and how they are all “terrorists”. I love how Robert Rodriguez rubs our nose in it, and we have no choice but to love it. If you get offended by De Niro’s character – you obviously just don’t get it.

Michelle Rodriguez is fucking sexy. (J)Wow(w). She seriously has got to be one of the most attractive women I have ever seen on screen. I mean, that eye patch she dons at the end of the film made me get a husky chubb. I think I’m in love with her. Peace out George Michael!

Lindsey Lohan plays the daughter of Jeff Fahey in the film, and she’s so great in it because she plays a fucked up party girl who has her own pornographic internet website. How awesome is it that she essentially is making fun of herself. I’ve got to give her credit. What I found really funny was when it came to her “sex scene” with her mother in the film and Danny Trejo – it was a body double portraying Lohan. I thought that was funny.

Don Johnson’s in this? And shares screen time with De Niro? How great is that?! Don Johnson had pretty much fallen off the face of the planet since “Miami Vice” and “Nash Bridges” but he’s back in action as the cliché ridden vigilante who’s great granddaddy died at the Alamo. Watching the opening credits was fun, because when they got to Johnson it freeze framed a picture of him and the texted appeared: Introducing Don Johnson. That is classic!

Steven Seagal gets second billing in the film! He spends most of his screen time talking via webcam. Come on! That’s pretty funny! Seagal is so good/bad in this film it makes me really, really miss him as an actor. It’s good to see him in theaters again, I mean – it’s only been eight years.

Jessica Alba is an awful actress. She’s lucky that her character is supposed to be played by an awful actress because her character is so awful.

Robert De Niro is a baller (I have to stop saying that word) for playing this role. I can’t help but think that since De Niro is such a gigantic liberal he must have had a blast playing this character. I don’t think a lot of people picked up on this, but I love how De Niro’s accent drops in certain scenes of the film. This is one of De Niro’s best performances in YEARS. He’s so over-the-top and so fucking campy he’s nothing less than HYSTERICAL!

Jeff Fahey has drifted around a lot as an actor, and I’ve always liked him since “Silverado”. When I saw him in “Planet Terror” I was jacked, and now that he is in “Machete” I’m even happier because he’s just so damn good in the film.

Danny Trejo is awesome as Danny Trejo in this. He finally got a vehicle where he’s the lead actor and it’s great. He doesn’t only kick ass, but he hooks up with Lohan and her mom, Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba – fuck yeah Trejo!

My only complaint about the film is that its run time is slightly long. This film would have been perfect if it would have had a runtime of about 80 – 90 minutes. Some of the scenes aren’t needed at all (I guess you can argue that about most of the movie) and it just gets to the point where you want the film to get wrapped up.

The film also pokes fun at text messaging. Look, texting is pretty lame and for as much as we bitch about texting, we still do it. Kind of like facebook.

This film is everything that it should have been, trashy and violent with nudity and corny dialogue. It works very well, and Robert Rodriguez has shown his knack and talent in this genre that he’s excelled at. His El Mariachi trilogy, “From Dusk Till Dawn”, and “Sin City” are the bedrocks of how he has taken pulp material and sub-genres and made a career out of it (and not to mention his talent for directing family movies).

I am enjoying this Grindhouse theme that has been bubbling up. I enjoy “Planet Terror” a whole hell of a lot, and I enjoy the first half of “Death Proof”. I really, really, really, really love Larry Bishop’s biker flick “Hell Ride” – I think that is the best “grindhouse” film to date. “Machete” will not disappoint but it will offend (Lindsey Lohan running around with a magnum in a nun outfit)…

And just wait until De Niro dresses up like a Mexican. It’s AWEsome. What’s even greater about De Niro in the film are campaign commercials that pop up periodically throughout. Those political ads are laugh out loud funny. This is De Niro’s best performance since “Jackie Brown”.

I was also hoping for cameos by characters that are staples in Rodriguez/Tarantino universe like El Mariachi, Earl McGraw, Elrey or Dr. Block – but I think it’s safe to say that Machete exists on his own terms. This film is everything “The Expendables” wanted to be. The movie is just plain fun.

You know that Rodriguez is going to make two more “Machete” films right? And what’s most impressive about the film is the fact that Danny Trejo is 66 years old. WOW.

Rating: 9/10

The King of Comedy – 1982. Dir Martin Scorsese

Click here to see the rest of the selected films!

“Is Mr. Langford expecting you?” – Langford’s Secretary

“Yes, I don’t think he is.” – Rupert Pupkin

Meet Rupert Pupkin – whose name is often mispronounced and misspelled.  He’s an insecure, timid and dissolutional young man whose dream is to perform a guest spot on “The Jerry Langford Show”.  His psychopathic friend Masha is deeply obsessed with Jerry and after numerous failed attempts of Rupert going to Jerry’s office for a meeting – the two devise a plan to kidnap Jerry.

“The King of Comedy” remains to be the greatest Scorsese film that no one has seen.  It showcases Robert DeNiro’s finest performance as Rupert, a wickedly hilarious psychotic performance of a lifetime by Sandra Bernhard as Masha and a steady cool and calm of normality that’s brought to the film by Jerry Lewis as Jerry Langford – a Johnny Carson esq late night host.

This film has a nice polish on it, it looks and feels light and breezy but under the façade this is a deeply dark and sinister film.  Rupert is so utterly delirious that his basement room is his Mother’s house is a mock studio with cardboard cutouts of celebrities where he performs in front of an invisible audience every night.  The film is incredibly funny – yet you find yourself wanting to look away at how terribly humiliating situations in the film become.

After failing to meet with Jerry at his office, Rupert invites a woman who was in love with in high school, and is now a local bartender, to join him for a weekend at Jerry’s home.  Rupert arrives at Jerry’s home and forces his way past the butler and maid.  He then begins to walk around Jerry’s house telling this woman all about Jerry’s achievements and his life – speaking as if he’s known Jerry for an eternity.  Once Jerry arrives home, he demands Rupert leave, he threatens Rupert with the police and begins shouting at him.  This is one of many, many situations in the film that is so painfully humiliating to watch we find ourselves wanting to turn away – but we can’t.  We are so mesmerized by the film.

This is film is the essence of black comedy, planting the seeds for future films.  Will Farrell’s character in “Wedding Crashers” – the grown man living in his off screen mother’s basement who is constantly yelling at her.  “The King of Comedy” started that all.

Rating: 10/10

“Wag the Dog” – 1997. Dir. Barry Levinson.

With Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Anne Heche, Denis Leary, William H. Macy, Craig T. Nelson with Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson.

“You want me to produce your war?”

  • Stanely Motss (Dustin Hoffman)

This is a film directed by Barry Levinson, written by David Mamet, produced by Robert DeNiro and original music by Mark Knopfler – and oh yeah, look at the cast. This is a politically satirical film that almost seems a foreshadowing to Bill Clinton’s sex scandal.

The President of the United States is accused of sexual misconduct by a teenage girl upon a tour of the oval office and a private meeting with the President. It is eleven days until his re-election and he’s drastically up in the polls, but when the story breaks that he had “inappropriate” relations with a teenage girl, his political future is finished.

So what happens? Conrad Breen (Robert DeNiro) who is a master of political spin employees a Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Hoffman) to produce a war between Albania and the United States to divert the media away from the sex scandal and to bring American attention to this fictitious war.

Hoffman then rallies all of his friends together to create the biggest production in the history of America. Denis Leary portrays the fast talking Fad King who is an expert of product placement and gimics, Willie Nelson is Johnny Dean an alcoholic and incoherent song writer who writes the theme song for the Albanian war, along with a song about the war’s hero, entitled “That Old Shoe”. Woody Harrelson plays the ex-con serviceman, Willaim Schumman, who they parade around as the hero of the Albanian war (until he gets killed while trying to rape a gas station owner’s daughter).

This film is incredibly funny and smart, perhaps even too smart for laymen of politics. The reason I’m so intrigued and taken by the film is that politics is one of my absolute biggest hobbies. The entire script is so airtight; it’s a wonderful display of showmanship of all parties. It’s wonderful to see DeNiro parade around, taking command of the situations that arise, often quoting politicians and many other historical figures.

The film begins to take a more and more dramatic turn when Hoffman begins to elude that he’s going to have a wonderful story to tell, about how he produced this war, how he doesn’t want an Ambassadorship, he just did it for the credit. DeNiro will frequently tell Hoffman that he can never tell anyone about this, that his lips need to remain sealed – and of course Hoffman always says he’s joking – or is he?

The films is packed full with amazing talent, amazing actors who have very small parts: William H. Macy plays a CIA agent who detains DeNiro and Heche because the CIA knows the war is bullshit, and are going to oust them. DeNiro makes a deal with them, but later that day the Senator challenging the sitting president (played by Craig T. Nelson) goes on TV and says the war has come to an end. Apparently Craig T. Nelson made a better deal with Macy!

DeNiro is excellent, proving that he still is a great actor, but this film really belongs to Dustin Hoffman as the egotistical producer who is based on Robert Evans. Hoffman is nothing more than a tour-de-force and steals every scene he’s in. This is Hoffman’s last great performance as well as Levinson’s last great film. This film would have been a lot better without Anne Heche – who is and always has been pretty lame. Maybe try dating another lesbian for publicity?

Review: 8.5/10

Top Ten (currently working) Actors

Thanks to Heather over at Movie Mobsters has devised a list of who she thinks are the top ten currently working actors. After a day of debate on her blog, I thought I’d create my ultimate list so I could have controversy over on my blog. Enjoy dear readers.

10. Willem Dafoe

Career Highlights: The Last Temptation of Christ, Shadow of a Vampire, Platoon, Born of the 4th of July, Spider-Man, eXistenZ, Affliction, Auto-Focus, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, The Clearing, The English Patient, Clear and Present Danger, Wild at Heart, Daybreakers, American Psycho, Antichrist, Off Limits, Mississippi Burning, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Finding Nemo

Willem Dafoe is a champion of his craft. He’s never been afraid to take on challenging roles that other actors wouldn’t dare to touch. Dafoe has made a career of showing his in-depth range and sheer talent as a performer. He’s remarkable in almost everything he’s shown us. I will see anything that has Willem Dafoe in it.

9. George Clooney

Career Highlights: “ER”, Burn After Reading, Up in the Air, Good Night Good Luck, Solaris, Syriana, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Fail Safe, The Thin Red Line, Out of Sight, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, From Dusk Till Dawn

George Clooney has completely transformed himself from a TV actor, to a superstar heartthrob to a Warren Beatty-esq Hollywood tycoon. His performances have become deep and extremely complex and he is the embodiment of a silver screen icon much like Rock Hudson, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper. His charisma and sex appeal often has me questioning my sexuality. George Clooney is a fucking man.

8. Harvey Keitel

Career Highlights: Bad Lieutenant, Mean Streets, Dangerous Game, Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Fingers, Bugsy, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Piano, Smoke, Clockers, From Dusk Till Dawn, Cop Land, Shadrach, Taking Sides, Fail Safe

To me, Keitel is the cinematic basass that is reminiscent of Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum and William Holden. He takes roles that no other actor would ever, ever, ever think of taking (aside from maybe Dafoe and Cage). He’s an absolute dynamo when it comes to his performances in Bad Lieutenant, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and Dangerous Game. I would not want to fuck with Harvey Keitel.

7. Robert DeNiro

Career Highlights: Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Casino, Cape Fear, Jackie Brown, Once Upon a Time in America, Wag the Dog, The Good Shepherd, Heat, The Godfather Part II, A Bronx Tale, Midnight Run, The Mission, Ronin, This Boy’s Life, Frankenstein, Backdraft, Guilt By Suspicion, Awakenings, Jacknife, The King of Comedy, True Confessions, Falling in Love, The Untouchables, The Deer Hunter

We all know that Robert DeNiro is an amazing actor. His range as an actor is magnificent. He would have made it a lot higher on my list if he hadn’t been working for paychecks the past fifteen years. Yikes…

6. Christian Bale

Career Highlights: American Psycho, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Public Enemies, The Machinist, I’m Not There, The New World, Rescue Dawn

Christian Bale is the best young method actor out there. He invests himself so deeply into his roles it reminds me of Daniel Day-Lewis. Most people will often think of Batman when they think of Bale – I on the other hand will always think of Patrick Bateman.

5. Al Pacino

Career Highlights: The Godfather, The Godfather Pt II, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Scarface, Insomnia, Any Given Sunday, Heat, The Insider, Looking for Richard, Glengarry Glen Ross, Dick Tracy, Carlito’s Way, …And Justice for All, Scarecrow, Panic in Needle Park, “Angels in America”, “You Don’t Know Jack”

To me Pacino almost, just almost falls under the DeNiro category since he has pretty much worked for a paycheck the past decade and a half but what saves him is Insomnia and his amazing performance in the Barry Levinson directed HBO film “You Don’t Know Jack”. Pacino is a lion of cinema and remains to be one of the greatest actors in cinema history. The incredible range he shows as Michael in Godfather and then the Michael in Godfather Part II is just incredible.

4. William Hurt

Career Highlights: Body Heat, Gorky Park, Altered States, The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist, Into the Wild, The Good Shepherd, Syriana, The Village, Rare Birds, Master Spy, Smoke, Dark City, One True Thing, Children of a Lesser God, A History of Violence, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Broadcast News, The Incredible Hulk, “Damages”, “Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King – segment Battleground”

William Hurt is a pompous actor. He thinks he’s awesome, and well, he is. He remains to be one of my favorite actors, and the roles he’s selected have always touched me. His characters have pulled on my heart strings and have brought deep emotions out of me. I love William Hurt.

3. Jeff Bridges

Career Highlights: The Big Lebowski, Crazy Heart, The Contender, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, The Last Picture Show, The Fisher King, The Mirror Has Two Faces, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Jagged Edge, Iron Man, Starman, Fearless, The Muse, The Door in the Floor, TRON, Heaven’s Gate, Seabiscuit, Masked and Anonymous

Jeff Bridges remains to be the biggest influence of my life – even more so than Roger Waters (which I NEVER thought I’d say). His philosophies and his art have really transformed me into someone new. I used to be somebody/Now I am somebody else. With his performances he brings emotions out of me that I never knew I had.

Thank you Mr. Bridges.

2. Peter O’Toole

Career Highlights: Lawrence of Arabia, The Ruling Class, Venus, Bright Young Things, My Favorite Year, The Last Emperor, The Stunt Man, Caligula, Man of La Mancha, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Lion in Winter, The Night of the Generals, Lord Jim, Becket

How the fuck Peter O’Toole never won an Oscar is far beyond me. This man is an icon and a master at his craft. Sure he’s made bucket loads of shit – but he was fucking Lawrence of Arabia! He was King Henry II! He was Don Quixote! This man is a legend – better yet – a world treasure.

On asked why he didn’t win an Oscar for Lawrence of Arabia: “Because somebody else did.”

1. Daniel Day-Lewis

Career Highlights: Gangs of New York, My Left Foot, The Boxer, In the Name of the Father, Nine, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, The Last of the Mohicans, The Crucible, There Will Be Blood, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, A Room with a View, The Age of Innocence, My Beautiful Laundrette

I have never seen in my life a performer whose total work is so amazing. Whenever I see him in a film, I don’t see Daniel Day-Lewis, I see his character. I’ve seen actors do that before, but not with ever single role they play. Greatest actor ever. Hands down.

Honorable Mentions: Michael Caine, Tom Cruise, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Jack Nicholson, Christopher Plummer, Robert Downey, Jr., Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Sean Penn

Note – I know I’m going to catch shit from all of you, but I don’t think Russell Crowe is that great of an actor. He plays the same character with the exception of The Insider which I think is a remarkable performance.

“Taxi Driver” – 1976. Dir. Martin Scorsese

With Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, Cybil Shepherd, Albert Brooks, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle with Marin Scorsese and Harvey Keitel

“I think someone should just take this city and just… just flush it down the fuckin’ toilet.”

-Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro)

It took me a long time to really be able to get a handle on “Taxi Driver”. I saw it when I was a teenager and I felt that I didn’t really understand the movie. It wasn’t until my early twenties when I really discovered the beauty and perfection that the film holds.

I can only watch this film every so often – about twice a year. The film is haunting and affects me deeply. It engages in psychological warfare with me and it’s hard to shake the film when I see it. We just get thrown into this world of filth and disgust and we are to fend for ourselves. And who is our hero? Travis Bickle. It’s difficult to watch because we can identify with Bickle, we can understand him and we can almost trust him.

The opening of the film is fucking magnificent. The protruding score by Bernard Herman beats in our eardrums and soaks into the marrow of our bones then a quick cut to DeNiro’s eyes with a red gel over the light. He’s looking around, he’s almost frightened at what he’s seeing, quick cut back to the smog in the streets and the beating of drums to a taxi cab emerging from the smog.

There have been many scenes that have stuck with me over time, many scenes that can creep up on me when I’m not expecting them. The character of Betsy, the self righteous snooty bitch who is Bickle’s love interest in the movie has always stuck with me. She’s very contrived and knows how to play the game.

After Bickle’s botched date with Betsy where he takes her to a porn theater and she abruptly gets up and leaves almost makes me feel bad for Bickle. But you have to ask yourself, is Bickle really that naïve? Doesn’t he know what he’s doing? Is it just a game to Bickle too?

Scorsese’s camera work in the film is what makes this film so great. The way Scorsese slides the camera with his perfect tracking shots allow us to almost escape from certain situations. The scene that always has stuck with me is the long shot when Travis calls Betsy from a payphone. He’s in a back room that has a long hallway from the entrance of the building. This is one of Travis’ many attempts to try and contact Betsy after the porn theater disaster.

Travis finally gets a hold of her and asks her about the flowers he sent her. He asks her out for coffee and she tells Travis she’s sick. Travis just won’t let go, he continually tries to court her. It’s extremely embarrassing to watch. It almost makes you want to look away because it’s just too hard to watch, the way Travis fidgets as he talks to Betsy about how she probably has a 24 hour virus. In the midst of Travis’ pandering, the camera slowly rolls away from Travis and we are now looking down the long hallway to the entrance of the building. Travis conversation continues for a short while after this, but at least we don’t have to watch it anymore.

That’s how you direct a fucking movie.

The way the film glides and flows are perfect. The voiceover narration that DeNiro deliverers is so Shakespearian in the way he has this constantly running inner monologue with himself that we have the rare opportunity to hear. The man’s demons are taking control of him, they are running over his mind, body and soul – he can’t be saved. He knows he can’t be saved. Bickle must become a martyr; plain and simple.

The scenes next scene that I am in love with is Scorsese’s cameo as Travis’ passenger. I wrote about it yesterday in my Art of the Crossover: Directors in front of the Camera post. What is so vital to the film is that Scorsese’s role is the only person, only thing that frightens Travis throughout the entire film. He’s the only person that has Travis on the edge of his seat, carefully watching him, carefully observing him.

What is so great about the scene is that it’s so very brief, we don’t know if the man goes in and kills his wife and her black boyfriend. We don’t know if Bickle reports it to the police (probably not). It’s a wonderful and marvelous scene that just adds to the sheer emotional power the film holds over us.

The one character that is a moral compass in the film is that of Wizard (brilliantly played by Peter Boyle). He’s the one person who Travis looks up too; he’s the veteran that all the cabbies come to for advice and for guidance. His character is very interesting, he is much like Travis, but he is able to control himself, control his demons.

For me, Harvey Keitel as Sport displays the sheer power that he holds as an actor. The character was transformed by Keitel (Sport was black and only had three lines of dialogue in the script) and he added his own brand, his own label to the character. Keitel is a true maverick when it comes to film, he doesn’t often appear in too many big budget Hollywood films – he’s found his calling in small independent films where he can shine.

Jodie Foster is tough as nails and shows from such a young age the capability of being a mature and powerful actress. She holds her own against both DeNiro and Keitel – not an easy feat for anyone let alone a twelve year old. That is nothing less than raw talent.

The films epic climax is always sighted and over romanticized by film school douche bags (yes – I went to film school). The climactic bloody ending isn’t what the film is supposed to be memorable for, it’s supposed to show us what happens when a man is alone, and can’t take it anymore. It’s not supposed to show DeNiro as a hero – he’s not. He’s filth just like the rest of the film; yet we can identify with him, we can relate with him. It’s pretty scary stuff.

What makes the ending so powerful is the last scene. What I don’t think many people really realize is when Travis is driving away from Betsy and Bernard Herman’s magnificent score starts to play and we’re watching DeNiro’s eyes scan the streets once again, looking for his next move. He sees something in the rearview mirror! He quickly brings his right hand up to adjust the mirror and he sees something and stares at it with his cold gaze.

The biggest rumor to emerge from the Berlin Film Festival was that Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese and Lars von Trier were set to do a remake of “Taxi Driver”. I’m not a fan of remakes, but I will stand in line all day to see that.

Review 10/10