Archive for Robert de Niro

ANGEL HEART, Alan Parker (1987)

Posted in Film Noir, Horror, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2012 by Toi Brownstone

It’s been too long since my last update. What can I say? I’ve been watching movies all the time but wasn’t too inspired, perhaps because my behavior is usually more erratic in Summer. We’ll see what happens this new season.

Few days ago I saw a couple of amazing tattoos related to Alan Parker’s film Angel Heart, and immediately I felt the urge to watch it again, as it had been years since the last viewing.

Memories came to mind. On one hand Robert De Niro and his terrible nails, peeling and eating a poach egg, that sight used to make me feel really uneasy. On the other hand all the scandal related to Lisa Bonet, who used to play the role of Denise Huxtable, one of the daughters of Bill Cosby, in his show. Due to a couple of very intense scenes, to label them in some way, the powerful and and fatherly man, threw stones against her, because she didn’t fit in the projection of the good side of black people he aimed to spread through his series. She wasn’t the good daughter anymore, she was hot, sexy, and played with black magic. Definitely she was the black sheep escaped from the cattle and on the road to sin.

Alan Parker, the English director, had been able to deliver a controversial film such as Midnight Express, and then work on music oriented stories such as Fame or a project of the classic Pink Floyd’s The Wall. His versatility pushed him to adapt the novel Falling Angel, by William Hjortsberg, writing and directing what was to become this mixture of a detective film-noir with a touch of horror: Angel Heart.

The cast of characters was impressive: Robert De Niro, Charlotte Rampling, Lisa Bonet and Mickey Rourke at the peak of his career, as Harry Angel.

The starting point is New York City in the mid 1950’s. Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is one of these not so lucky private detectives, who usually receive non relevant assignments related to infidelity in marriages, insurance cheats and so on. His presence is requested by a new client, in a church in Harlem. Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro),  is an elegant and proud gentleman, yet mysterious, who asks him to find Johnny Favorite, a famous crooner who vanished after being wounded in WWII, suffering brain damage which drifted away from his contractual  obligations with the gentleman, who thinks he’s still in debt and wants to sort this unfinished business with him. First step is to visit the mental hospital where Favorite, or better said Johnny Liebling, was checked-in for a while. While having a look at the records, he notices that the date of transferring appearing was manipulated later, and goes straight to the doctor who handled the case, named Fowler, a current morphine addict. Right after the man confesses he got paid by a wealthy man to alter he records, he shoots himself, putting  Angel at risk of being charged of murder. Scared, the detective tries to quit but Mr. Cyphre offers him a large sum of money to go on with the case, and Angel, a poor rat seduced by the  offer accepts. It is his lover, an attractive journalist who’d provide information about Favorite’s background, highlighting the name of a black woman he used to be in love with, Evangeline Proudfoot, and a fortune teller who used to live in Coney Island, named Madame Zora (Charlotte Rampling). These two women will make him drive to New Orleans searching for the singer, but the truth waiting for him, will be too hard and overwhelming.

I remember long time ago someone asked in a forum about films closely related to cities. You know, Taxi Driver would be Manhattan, 28 Days Later an apocalyptical London, and Bullit would mean Frisco. I’ve never been to New Orleans, but always have related Angel Heart to Nola. It’s been always said that city is bewitched, due to the tradition of voodoo and black magic rituals which took place during the times of slavery. This Creole city, hosting a multilingual and cross-cultural mixture, has always kept a magical mysterious halo around, allowing uncommon debauchery and frivolity.

In the film, New Orleans atmosphere is suffocating, heat followed by torrential rain, thus the unstable weather condition enhances this feeling of tension and uneasiness. Its role reminds me of Apocalypse Now. The more Angel digs into the mystery finding all the clues which will eventually lead him to the truth, the more unbearable the atmospheric conditions are, and the harder is to distinguish what is hallucination from reality.

Symbolism is the key of the story. To start with, think of the name of Louis Cyphre, mispronounced by Angel all the time, and you’ll get a clue. It’s totally ironic.

Chickens’ presence is constant and reminded all the time, and the detective suffers from an unexplainable phobia, justified when you discover what’s going on. Chicken legs, voodoo rituals conducted by Epiphany Proudfoot (Lisa Bonet), covering herself in chicken blood after cutting one’s neck, the poached eggs I was telling you about Cyphre peels and eats…

There are visual elements which make you wonder what happens: the slow  screeching fans, Angel in an elevator going downwards, the black faceless nun, the marine kissing the nurse in Time Square on New Year’s Eve, the red room with a fan and the agonizing screams of a man… and the piano sounds whenever someone is about to die. I particularly love that moment Angel gets into Madame Krusemark’s wealthy house and finds her dead, and there’s this kind on the street dancing claque very intensely, till the detective discovers all the horrible mess, and the sequence ends when the kid stops making noise. Brilliant!

The treatment of blood is worth mentioning. In general terms, thefilm is quite dark and contrast of colours quite poor and neuter, however, when there are scenes involving blood, this balance is saturated and red color is extremely intense. Not only that, but the blood is widely splattered, and it’s thick and heavy. There’s a moment when Angel stands with the razor, after fighting with the local musician Toots Sweet, covered in lots of blood. He’s just been cut in the hand, when defending himself, however he’s soaked in blood, super exaggerated.

I had never paid the attention deserved to Rourke’s interpretative style till yesterday, and I must admit I was surprised in a very positive way. He has to play a detective who is a complete loser, but has to look tough, like in film noir main titles. He’s far away from master Bogey, who represented the iconic detective, tough, elegant, attractive, and silent type. Angel is a loser, messy and dirty, he sweats and probably smells, and he’s injured, punched, bitten, and he’s afraid. The deeper he’s into the mud of the case, the darker he becomes. His desperation in the last scenes is unforgettable, the way he cries and yells, how he looks at his own reflection trying to put himself together and failing, he’s awesome.

Of course DeNiro is something different, all the details about him, the nails resembling claws, the stick, the way he eats, his hairdo, the majestic way of sitting on a chair and Cyphre positioned at some kind of raised dais at an upper level than Angel as to show some kind of superiority, everything is there to fit a purpose.

Angel Heart is definitely a film which is perfect to review from time to time, because it’s so full of subtle references and details created to add meaning to the story, with every viewing you discover something new.

Harry Angel was doomed to a spiral of murder and insanity for succumbing to the temptation of money. Greed is one of the most profitable sins in terms of film stories. When the main character accepts a deal or a sum of money, is also opening the doors to the Devil, and even though Catholic religion has been always trying to convince us that the goodness and faith defeated the evil, the presence of the devil is always around, threatening, and waiting for the right moment to recover its power regardless, thus in case of business, the evil powers always take what is of their own, with interests.

TAXI DRIVER, Martin Scorsese (1976)

Posted in Directors, Drama with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Whenever you refer to Taxi Driver, immediately everybody remembers the famous quote “Are you talkin’ to me?” and Bickle’s mohawk. Just for this reason, many people find this film overrated. Personally I think they’re wrong, with all due respect, Taxi Driver goes beyond that.

Scorsese depicts a decadent and hypocrite society, streets full of scum, drugs and prostitution, through the eyes of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), an ex-Marine with issues.

Tough times for New York City, affected by alarming levels of criminality, violence, drugs and prostitution.

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a Vietnam veteran with personal  issues and insomnia disorder, applies for a job  as a cab driver on night shifts.  He has no life at all and no attachments, the only two constant activities on a regular basis are writing a diary, in which he expresses his discontent about human mankind and the dirty society he has to coexist with, and watching porn movies at dirty cinemas. Bickle is a loner, and the only contact with reality is what he sees while driving the cab: all kind of customers, and postcards from the city.

All of a sudden his eyes find Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a beautiful young woman actively working for the politician Palantine’s campaign for presidency. To Bickle she is a symbol of a new hope, pure and beautiful, which can save America… and him. Thus, in order to get acquainted with her, he decides to volunteer and collaborate for the success of the politician.

On the other hand, while working, he’s got a strange encounter with a teenage prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster), and her pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel).

Things with Betsy don’t work fine for Travis, and her rejection will awake his sense of justice, feeling encouraged to straight things his own unorthodox way.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this movie, the truth is that I always discover something new, or better said, something previously unnoticed catches my attention. I really love when this happens.

There are several features, camera and techniques aside, which, in my opinion, contribute Taxi Driver to be a masterpiece: Travis Bickle, the characters and what each symbolizes, narration and dialogues, and the city itself.

Let’s get started.

Bickle’s past life is unknown. Only few details for the record are mentioned when applying for the job at the company, he used to be a former Marine and served in Nam, hadn’t received much education, and apparently he’s no relatives or close people.

He’s a real Steppenwolf, the only contact with reality is through the taxi, and considering he works night shifts in trouble hoods, what he sees is basically crap: prostitutes, pimps, junkies…

Well, up to this point Travis might seem just another freak but, he’s right in many things he writes on his diary, and we all reckon is normal to wish a better environment and atmosphere.

Betsy is his opportunity to fit in a society he finds helpless. Her beauty is taken for innocence and purity at Travis’ eyes, and she means hope. She’s a spark in the middle of mud, and Travis has such a crush on her, he manages to defy his inner demons in order to approach her.

Let me tell you, the moment Travis introduces himself to her, the way he talks, the strength his words transmit , and the guts he shows describing her life and affirming that she’s not happy, is one of my favorite scenes in the film. We can just guess what the girl might think, but we’re never sure, the fact is that she accepts his invitation. When Travis is with Betsy, he seems sure of himself, charming, everything he says makes sense but…at some point, his sick side has to appear, and he fucks it up when taking her to a porn cinema on their first serious date. What can you expect? Travis’ detachment from society prevents him from knowing what a woman should be given at that time.

Her immediate rejection means hope is gone, she’s like anyone else, therefore the world is doomed to fail unless he does something actively. And of course, Palantine’s statements mean nothing now.

Thus, Bickle enters into a downward spiral, his obsession for cleaning the streets becomes his main target, and staying focused on his purpose, he starts training, buys arms, invents devices for improving results, and thinks of himself as in an undercover agent on a mission. He’s not fantasizing anymore, this time is for real, and he’s determined to do something.

“Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the

scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up. Here is.”

 And not only that, he also wants to take Iris back to her family, so she can live a normal life, something he’s not even doing. It’s very contradictory, he’s not in touch with his parents, and has not a proper life, but Iris MUST have this chance, and get back to the right track. He’d sacrifice for her happiness, and will become his savior, and for that, he will have to defeat Sport, the pimp, the incarnation of the evil and the corrupted human being.

Thus, once all this said, who we have here? Travis is a vigilante, insane enough as to pull the trigger. Most of people have the very same ideas, especially when surrounded by a suffocating and unbearable society all you can see is wrong. Sometimes you think, yeah, I’d take a gun and retire so many assholes in this world…well similar kind of talk. I’m not saying this is the right solution, I do not consider myself an avenging nor violent person at all. But in Taxi Driver we are standing in front of an insane and filthy NYC, American society was deeply wounded because of many mistakes and tragedies, you name it, the dark shadow of Vietnam was present for too long, many issues difficult to take care of and overcome. You see that everyday and you get sick of it.

Taxi Driver is just a statement of discontent, a portrait of the decay and decadence of America, and the willing to put an end to that, taking a mentally disordered guy, probably a psychopath, as the narrator of such situation, playing with duality, in the sense that, you can agree on what he does, despite his way, and at the same time you can justify his actions by admitting he was insane.

Taking a look at the script, an experience I fully recommend, and of course, focusing on narration and dialogues, you realize this film is one of this kind. Continuing on my affirmation of this film being a statement and a critic against the current social situation in that time, this film has a sentence-to-be-framed (and quoted) every 30 seconds. So meaningful, and so real, I discovered myself shocked. Those off-voice scenes with the car moving though streets and junctions those jazzy tunes are so evoking…

I’m currently living downtown in Barcelona. It’s weird so filthy this city is. Right behind emblematic places you find the worst of the city, just as in Taxi Driver, pimps, whores, junkies, people dealing, tons of thieves and a sense of danger mostly noticeable at nights. Somehow I understand Travis’ need everything should be clean and although I find this city very attractive, I’m realizing is turning into something I don’t really like. How can this be stopped and redirected to normal? This is the government and local authorities responsibility, but at the end of the day you conclude nothing is being done. Frustration is the feeling.

With Taxi Driver, Scorsese concludes his portrait of his beloved New York, turned into a nest of crap, delivering an icon, Travis Bickle, a dangerous nutter who is wisest than many, and who is aware and affected by the way everything is tending to become. It’s up to you to think whether he’s a hero, or just a psycho, what it’s true is that he will never let you indifferent.

It’s been 35 years since Taxi Driver shocked the world, and still its message is valid.

NOVECENTO, Bernardo Bertolucci 1976

Posted in Drama, Epic with tags , , , , , on November 15, 2008 by Toi Brownstone

novecento

 

It took me almost half a year to have courage enough to see this movie, for timing extends up to 5 hours approximately. I’m used to Scorsese extended movies but this was too much, fortunately Novecento is divided into two acts so I watched it in two days.

 

Bernardo Bertolucci’s magna opera deals with all the political and social changes happened in Italy during the first half of the 20th century reflected into the life of two men, Alfredo and Olmo, born the same day but in different class situation: The first one, was born the landlord’s male grandchild with all his future solved and all commodities at hand, and Olmo Dalcó was a bastard peasant whose family was working for the Berlinghieri’s. Thus, the two sides of the coin are shown constantly: richness versus poverty, freedom and slavery, fascism against socialism and the introduction of modern techniques which made farmers less necessary and landlords richer…

 

Alfredo and Olmo, friends and enemies

Alfredo and Olmo, friends and enemies

 

 

There’s no doubt to cover such period of time the epic style used is perfect, however in my opinion there are lots of contents not necessary to recreate those situations: too much singing, very extended scenes, and lots of issues that don’t contribute to anything but to cause the rhythm of the movie to be excessive slow. I had to drink several coffees to keep awake however it’s true all the first part is slower and more boring than the second. Much timing could had been deleted without affecting the story, in my opinion.

 

Although there’s a high political content in Novecento, it’s interesting the way the main trends are depicted and even ridiculed, there are more visual symbols than proper explanations, probably because in the countryside people weren’t very much enlightened no mattered their social condition. Probably if I had seen the story 30 years ago I’d taken message more seriously, specially after 40 years of dictatorship, but nowadays it seems too much idealist and wrong.

 

Bertolucci counts with very established actors nowadays such as Robert de Niro as Alfredo Berlinghieri, Donald Sutherland and Gerard Depardieu and with the legend Burt Lancaster, however, probably because this is an Italian movie and together with dialogues and some characters’ extravagant conducts I find their performances quite forced and overacted.

 

Still, I must reckon Novecento is a good movie even though many important aspects  are quite outdated, specially those related to politics and freedom.