Tag Archives: martin scorsese

The Oscar goes to…Oh Yeah, That Guy Again

 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

 

Last month’s 85th annual Academy Awards really have me thinking. First, I’ve been thinking about all of the hilarious reaction to Seth Macfarlane being Seth Macfarlane, and doing a song about actresses going topless in various films. Come on folks, Macfarlane does gross out, irreverent humor in various media for millions of dollars. His work is now so prevalent and commonplace that he lacks the ability to surprise us by offending our delicate sensibilities. The hat is old, and I think we should move on.

While I enjoyed Macfarlane, the second thing the Oscars brought to mind was the current group of directors in Hollywood. I know that for years we have all griped about the hashing and rehashing of the same tired plots starring the same actors. We complain of over grown budgets and undergrown stories. When the best director award passed over Steven Spielberg in favor of Ang Lee much in the same fashion as it did in 2006, I could not help but wonder “are there only 6 directors in Hollywood?”

What seems more likely is of the highest profile directors there are only 6 types:

Disclaimer  The people on this list would probably fall into many of the other categories, and I am certain I skipped a great many in each group. If I snubbed your favorite, I apologize.

The Old Guard:

Once upon a time, each of these now-famous film makers were outsiders; now each is a  tried and true trophy winner. Directors who can take any chunk of coal and produce a diamond simply by attaching their weighty name. Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola etc.  These are the guys on the wishlist of every writer, and many actors. It seems that every year one of the numerous people on this list are either nominated for best director or receiving some type of lifetime achievement award.

I was an okay actor, but am a much better director:Ron Howard

Meathead, Laverne, and Opie are among the greatest directors of a generation. Ron Howard is probably the most successful of this group, and his position is aided by the fact that he was a child actor who worked very little as an adult. Rob Reiner, Penny Marshal, and recent addition Ben Affleck are great examples of people who did less than meaningful work as actors but have turned in stellar work from behind the camera.

Freaks and Geeks:

Movie and comic book geeks seem to make the best directors to head up recent film adaptations of some of our beloved childhood properties. Because of their special connection to the material and their dedication to making movies they as fans would want to see these directors deliver time and again to some of the most difficult fan bases: Sam Raimi,  Brian Singer, Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams. Just hearing their names attached to a project can bring a sigh of relief to most hardcore  fans.

The Epics:

Sometimes these are at odds with the group immediately above. Directors in this group sometimes forgo the subtleties and nuances of  the source material to produce a script with a, how should I put this? A bit more BOOOOOOOM: Joel Schumacher, the man who almost killed Batman; Ridley Scott, whose work runs the gamut between indecipherable and gut checking action; and James Cameron. They are the successors to famous Hollywood archetypes like Cecil B. Demille. The king of them all is Michael Bay, who has managed on more than one occasion to combine his love of  ‘splosions and his dedication to making a film fans can enjoy.

The Writer Directors:

Quentin Tarantino, M. Night Shyamalan, Steven Soderbergh, Ang Lee, Woody Allen. Most directors have tried their hand at writing, and a lot of writers would rather direct their own work. While many of those listed above and many others that fit this category have directed works written by others, the majority of their success comes from directing their own scripts. Much like singer-songwriters, this is often the perfect marriage of concept and director.

The Trilogy Makers:

Peter Jackson, Christopher Nolan, George Lucas. Ever try to tell a story? Ever have to stop one-third of the way through due to time constraints, then pick it back up later? This is how I imagine the mind of the Trilogy Makers. Whenever a story is too big to tell in one film these are the guys to call. Often it means slow playing the first film, overdoing the action in the second, and cramming a resolution into the third.

 

Sure, some of these directors fall into more than one category, but the point is pretty solid. Hollywood is in desperate need of new blood. Not just for directors, but in many other aspects of the group mosaic that is a well-made film. The only answer is to stop going to see tired plots and worn out concepts from the  same directors and actors. Right? I mean if we do not respect the position we hold as consumers how can we expect the film makers to do so?  And furthermore… Sorry, I lost track of time…I will finish this later. I am catching a matinee of the new Die Hard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Under the Boardwalk

image property of HBO

image property of HBO

As far back as I can remember, I have been enamored with racketeers. My love affair with gangsters began when I read Mario Puzo’s definitive work on the subject, The Godfather, when I was about 13 years old. Since that time I’ve read numerous biographies of real life gangsters (The 3 piece suit kind, not the baggy-pants-shouting-over-slow-techno kind)and just about every work of fiction on the subject. I have whiled away many hours absorbing feature films and documentaries on the lives and actions of syndicate men–both real and imagined.

Though I really enjoyed HBO’s The Sopranos, I felt that it became forced toward the end of its six-season run. My dwindling interest in this sort of pay cable stretch-play storytelling was the main reason I have only recently begun watching HBO’s Prohibition-era gangster story Boardwalk Empire. In many ways, the Atlantic City based show feels like Sopranos: Episode 1, but it  achieves so much more.

Boardwalk Empire weaves its fictional characters into a boozy tapestry with real historical figures and events. It utilizes everything from women’s suffrage and the election of President Warren Harding to the striking by underpaid black workers in the “Plantation by the Sea affair” as backdrops for the rampant political corruption with which the program is concerned. The show is produced and sometimes directed by Martin Scorsese, the architect of the modern gangster picture. Scorsese’s attention to detail has created a mobster series that feels more like The Great Gatsby than The Godfather.Gangster Summit image property of HBO

The main character is Atlantic County Treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson. Nucky is based on a real Atlantic County politician who ran the crime syndicate on the boardwalk in the 20s and 30s.  He manages to keep his hands clean while receiving a cut of every dollar made in his city; he does so by installing those loyal to him in positions of power. His election fixing and gerrymandering are called into question–as is his lavish lifestyle on a country treasurer’s salary.

Thompson moves in circles with people you may have heard of. He has dealings with John Torrio, the up-and-coming Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky.

Steve Buscemi brilliantly plays Nucky Thompson. Does anyone remember when Buscemi was a comedic actor showing up in all those Adam Sandler pictures? Why is it that all I can think of when I see him is Mr. Pink? Remember the wood chipper in Fargo?

This role does little to rectify that image. He’s clad in the best suits, riding in his  chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce, and drinking in his fiefdom. He also portrays Nucky as quiet, brooding and troubled when he’s behind closed doors. His odd personal life, and his detachment, make Nucky someone you want to succeed.

Through the thick tobacco smoke and the sound of clinking glasses filled with illegal hooch, Boardwalk Empire shines. It is a flawed period piece that does the history justice, while taking artistic license with some of the plots. The show is a delightful ride in a Model A Ford–a boozy, bloody, violent and engrossing ride.

 

 

 

 

 

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