Thursday, December 04, 2003

Another double header.

TAXI DRIVER

For years I've avoided this film for a number of reasons. The main reason is that I usually watch films right before I'm about to go to bed.
It's strange that I've held off this long because I love Scorsese. I've encountered a large number of Scorsese fans who hold Taxi Driver to be his best work. I think that Bringing Out The Dead was his best work. Although Kundun is an awesome film. Last Temptation is also an awesome film. So's Raging Bull. So's Goodfellas. Heck, so is every Scorsese film I've ever seen. The guy might be our best living establishment film director.
Taxi Driver is his first mental breakdown picture. He's very good at showing you what it's like to have a mental breakdown.
As a personal note, I'd also like to mention that this film reminds me of every taxi driver I've ever known.
It's De Niro's first film after Godfather II which, as I always like to point out, he was up against Lee Strasberg for the Oscar and won. Talk about winning "best actor." The brilliance of De Niro is his ability to do nothing. His reactions are slight. He just lets the story tell its self. He doesn't mug or jump around to show himself off (even when he's jumping around in this film.) Because of this and because of how he looks, there's this dam behind him that you know could break at any minute. At least early in his career. I don't know what's up with him now.
The thing about Taxi Driver is it says a lot of things and I found myself left to take from it what I decided to take from it. Scorsese didn't lay judgement. He just presented the information. I appreciate that as well. It's very polite of a storyteller to let you draw your own lessons from a story. What I got out of the film was that people that society call heroes doesn't presuppose benevolence. Also I learned that I never want to go to New York City. In short, I think this was another great Scorsese film to survive through the ages, but not his best ever. I don't think anyone should take that as an insult. What I'm really trying to say is that he's possibly the only director from his generation who continues to grow as an artist. That's pretty high praise.

SUBWAY

I like a film that you wouldn't know which section to file it under in a video store. Edward Scissorhands has that quality too. Subway isn't a comedy, but sure doesn't fit in drama either. So most video stores would most likely cheat at my little challenge and just put it under Foreign.
I was nervous at first because the credits told me it was directed by Luc Besson. You might remember him from The Fifth Element. I didn't like The Fifth Element, but that might be because I spent years having members of the idiot community come up to me and say, "Hey, Fifth Element!" I didn't know what the hell they were talking about. Then I saw the film and found that Gary Oldman's "super-futuristic haircut" was just an industrial stripe, like mine and about a thousand other industrial music enthusiasts. I also didn't like the acting, the overdirection, and the pace. It was like the movie thought I was stupid.
Then I saw the Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. It was a better cast. Milla Jovovich did a better job although you could tell that she was working oh so very hard to be a great actor. Then Dustin Hoffman came in at the end to save the movie. That was neat.
But all of these are Besson's modern shortcomings. In the eighties he seemed to have had a much better grip on his talent. Subway shows a lot of restraint when set next to his more recent contributions.
It all takes place in a Paris subway. Highlander is running from the police and hiding in the subway. He falls in love with the adorable French girl who he stole blackmailing papers from. He meets a subway band and a guy who rollerskates everywhere and a guy who sells flowers that you can't tell if he's supposed to be gay or just French. The bumbling subway detectives can't figure out where all of these theives are living in the subways.
And yet it's a pretty good film. Anyway, it isn't bad. It's fun to watch and all of what the previous paragraph tells you about the plot doesn't seem asinine when you're watching it. Part of the reason for that is that every actor developed a great character for this film. It would be a good example for acting students of character work. The conclusion I'm drawing from this is that Besson might want to find a better casting director or rehire the one he used in Subway for his future films.
I really wasn't sure if I liked it or not until the end. I won't give anything away, but even in the last moments, even in the final shot they play with it either being a comedy or a drama. I like it when they screw with an audience like that. I also like it when I see a film that shatters my preconceptions of a director. I'm always happy to be reminded that I don't know as much as I think I do.

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