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Martin Scorsese

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Title: The Age of Innocence
Author: Edith Wharton
Year: 1920

Even though it’s true that I haven’t published lots of reviews recently, it would be false to say that I’m not reading. However, most of the things I read are either course related or in Chinese, which means that I don’t think it’s interesting enough to write about twice. However, whenever I read novels in English, it feel that I want to review them here, so that’s what I’m going to do with Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.

In summary, the story of this book looks rather humdrum. It’s about a couple’s impending marriage and the upheaval that is wrought upon their relationship as a third player enters the scene, which is upper-class society in late nineteenth-century New York. The setting is important, because much of the drama and the interaction between characters are firmly anchored in that time, meaning that the book becomes a window through which the reader can perceive this age of innocence (the title is somewhat ironic, I should add). Wharton wrote the book well after that time had come to an end, but was herself raised in it, and it is very obvious she has first-hand insights into how life back then was.

I mostly like this book because of the carefully structured setting, the aptly portrayed characters and the connection between these parts. First and foremost, Wharton functions as a guide back to a time and a society which is long gone, and she does it in a way that makes sense, which is interesting most of the time and occasionally funny as well. Second, the characters themselves (the married engaged couple and the girls cousin) are all fairly complex and believable characters. Third, and perhaps most important, these characters are marvellously well connected to the story and the setting. They represent various aspects of society and they see in each others representatives of other aspects, sometimes wildly desirable ones, that make them come alive and fight for what the believe in. The social drama which follows never seizes to be interesting and entertaining.

However, there are some reasons that I would hesitate to recommend this book unconditionally. To start with, it takes some effort to immerse oneself in the setting of the book, which is sometimes depicted in fairly long passages with detailed descriptions of interior design, costume and food. These bits would be more interesting if I found the time period more attractive, but alas, I do not. However, spending the time and effort necessary to go a little bit deeper with this novel is rewarding and a something I would recommend. If you want the historical aspects of the story, I would suggest watching the film also titled The Age of Innocence by Martin Scorsese. It lacks the depth of the social drama, but it abundantly rich visually and works very well in combination with the novel. As a film adaptation, it’s eerily close to the original novel and made me like Scorsese even more than before.

So, by way of conclusion, I would like to say that Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence was a pleasant surprise. It was a bit heavy to read at times and with a little bit too much detail for a minimalist reader, but it was still rewarding in many ways. It’s perhaps not the kind of book you read in couple of hours just to relax, but if you’re serious about giving the book some time, I’m certain it will have something to give back.

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The Departed

Title: The Departed
Directed by:
Martin Scorsese
Written by:
William Monahan, Felix Chong, Alan Mak
Year: 2006

The Departed is an intriguing story about two undercover agents, one working for the Irish Mafia inside the Massachusetts State Police, the other working for the selfsame department, trying to infiltrate the Irish Mafia. Both sides soon find out that they have moles in their ranks and dispatches the two main characters to find out who it is (thus being each other’s target, even though that’s not obvious for them). This basic premise is good enough for a thrilling plot and Martin Scorsese makes tho most out of it.

I have more reasons to like this movie than the plot and good directing, though. One theme, personal identity, is present throughout the film, raising questions like: if you are a mole working for a brutal criminal, can you stay unaffected or do you become what you initially only pretended to be? Both undercover agents are not only affected by what they do, but also by how other people view and treat them. All this makes the film a lot more complex and interesting.

All told, though, The Departed is not a masterpiece. It lacks an element of surprise, an ingenious plot or something else that could lift it above the three and a half snails I have decided to give it. This film is good mostly because it’s a good idea carried out in an adequate manner. Everybody does what they are supposed to do, but in the competitive world of film, that’s not enough.

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Taxi Driver

Title: Taxi Driver
Directed by:
Martin Scorsese
Written by:
Paul Schrader
Year: 1976

Continuing my project to watch the top 100 films of IMDB’s top 250, I recently watched Taxi Driver. This 1976 film has several qualities, but when the credits show at the end, I am not satisfied, even though I feel it is difficult to explain why. The film has received high praise since its release and most people seem to agree that it is a very good film indeed.

The story revolves around Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), who introduces himself as an honourably discharged Vietnam veteran. Suffering from insomnia, he takes a nighttime job as a taxi driver, working long shifts and spending sleepless days watching pornographic films. He becomes interested in campaign worker Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), but being turned down after initial progress, he turns violent. Arming himself, he sets out to clear the city of the petty crime he has come to loath. This feeling of inadequacy comes mainly from his failure to act when child-prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) tried to escape her pimp by entering Travis’ car.

To begin with,Taxi Driver is very well made. Robert De Niro is excellent as Travis and most supporting roles are also well portrayed. This lends credibility to the film, which somehow feels important in this case. However, I am not quite sure about the story. Yes, it is well-written, but no, I do not think it is brilliant. It is adequate and I would like to say it works as intended, but that I just do not like it very much. It is a reasonable framework for the excellent acting and directing, but not more.

Conclusively, the acting and directing merits five snails, but I only give Taxi Driver four because of the weak story and the fact that the film does not bring me even to the outskirts of awesome land.

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Title: Goodfellas
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese
Year: 1990

I guess Goodfellas, together with The Godfather (as well as its sequel), proves that I do not like the crime genre, especially not the Mafia variety. It is not that I think the films themselves are that bad; in fact, I have difficulties putting my finger on any particular aspect I do not like. Instead, I seem to dislike the genre as a whole. I simply do not find these films interesting or entertaining.

Goodfellas focuses on drama, more particularly on the life of Henry Hill and his gradual integration with the Mafia. It is a story about a style of life, filled with violence, caprice and power. I think these themes are well portrayed in the film, so kudos to both the author and the director. However, I still do not think the content merits more than three snails. This film is competently made, but made for someone else than me.

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