Review Roundup: 3 Long Films That I Didn’t Enjoy Directed by Martin Scorsese

The title’s pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it?

Those films were:

  • Silence (2016)
  • Casino (1995)
  • New York, New York (1977)


    Silence
    (2016)

    2017 #141
    Martin Scorsese | 161 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA, Taiwan & Mexico / English, Japanese & Latin | 15 / R

    Silence

    A re-adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s novel (previously filmed in 1971), Silence is gorgeously produced but torturously dull Christian propaganda. The plot is about two priests travelling to anti-Christian Japan to find their mentor, who’s rumoured to have renounced the Church, but really it’s about faith and the testing of it.

    The foremost of the two priests is Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), the kind of Christian who lets others die for his faith even as he doubts it. Like many a preacher before him, Rodrigues’ sin is pride — too proud of his faith, his culture, his rightness, his superiority, to consider another point of view; to bend to help others. Conversely, his accusers and persecutors lack compassion or fairness, torturing and killing from exactly the same position as Rodrigues: that their beliefs are correct, all others be damned. Well, of such things are all religious wars made, I guess. At least the Horrible Japanese are better than the Christians’ own Inquisition was: if people renounce Christianity the Japanese sometimes set them free; the Inquisition just used it as another reason to murder them. God, religious people can be shits.

    There are no good people here. The Christians are colonialists with a monomaniacal belief in their own faith. The Japanese are so set against it that they’ll torture and murder their own people just to get back at the Christians. It’s a world full of hatred. So much for the love of God. All this intolerance is as pointless then as it ever was before or has been since. If we just let others go on how they want to go on — live and let live — then the world would be such a nicer place.

    Rodrigues in prison

    For all the violent torture depicted on screen, the hardest thing to take is the film’s slow, slow, slow pace. It does have some theological points to make, but they’re thin gruel for the time it takes to make them — or, rather, the time it wastes before it really starts to consider them. If the first hour was a lot shorter it would improve the whole film; indeed, it would’ve made me better disposed to the rest. It does improve, but by the time it improved I was already bored and annoyed with it. Its best qualities by far are visual: as well as stunning cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, the whole production is beautifully mounted — the locations, sets, costumes, make-up, and so on, are all very well realised.

    To say Silence was not a box office success is an understatement: off a budget of $46 million, it took just $23.7 million worldwide, and only $7.1 million of that in America. I think it must’ve been promoted badly — I’m sure it’d appeal to the Bible Belt crowds who flock to that niche Christian shit that’s always turning up nowadays. And if you’re in any doubt that it’s meant to be a pro-Christian film: the premiere was held at the Vatican and it was screened early for 400 priests.

    2 out of 5

    Casino
    (1995)

    2018 #19
    Martin Scorsese | 178 mins | download (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA & France / English | 18 / R

    Casino

    “A fictional story with fictional characters adapted from a true story,” as the film’s own credits describe it, Casino tells of the rise of Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (Robert De Niro, of course) in Mob-controlled Las Vegas, whose life is made awkward by his loose-cannon Mob-enforcer best friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci, of course) and his tumultuous marriage to hustler Ginger (Sharon Stone).

    “There’s no plot at all”, says Martin Scorsese in an interview included on Casino’s Blu-ray (per IMDb). “It’s three hours, no plot. […] There’s a lot of action, a lot of story, but no plot.” Well, er, he’s not wrong. Casino seems to skip around at random, devoid of a throughline to guide its narrative. It flies off on so many different tangents, it takes a while to get a handle on what it’s about — if it’s about anything. Or possibly it’s about too much. For example, there’s a lot of “how the casino business works” stuff early on, which is quite interesting in itself but only some of it has any relevance later on; and eventually the film gets sidetracked wholesale into De Niro and Stone’s marriage woes, which are at best a subplot earlier on. Whatever it was supposed to be, I was never hooked and never engaged.

    De Niro blows

    Part of this is the film’s storytelling style — I didn’t know Scorsese was in the business of making visuals to accompany audiobooks. Well, that’s what Casino felt like. Naturally there’s skill on display (they’re very, very good visuals to accompany an audiobook), but the voiceover-driven style really alienated me. It makes the characters feel at arm’s length: despite De Niro and Pesci constantly taking directly to us, I didn’t feel like I was getting to know or connect with them, I was just being told about them. The endless narration constantly skims through events too, making it feel like a summary rather than an actual story. You might think that would give it pace, but it does the opposite: the first hour drags and drags, and then drags some more, and eventually this three-hour film feels every minute of it.

    I read one review of Casino that concluded, “I don’t feel like watching it again, but it certainly made me want to watch Goodfellas again.” I know the feeling.

    3 out of 5

    Casino was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2018 project.

    New York, New York
    (1977)

    2018 #88
    Martin Scorsese | 156 mins | DVD | 16:9 | USA / English | PG / PG

    New York, New York

    Once again, this is a lengthy Martin Scorsese movie that seemed terribly unfocused for so long that it lost me ages before it found what it wanted to be about. (Well, it predates the other two, but whichever order you put them in it’s looking like a definite pattern.)

    Starting on VJ Day in New York, it stars Robert De Niro as a wannabe musician and Liza Minnelli as a wannabe singer who wind up in a romance and co-dependent career, until one outshines the other. De Niro is playing an angry young man who has talent but whose temperamental nature may well get in the way of success — yes, it’s Any Robert De Niro Movie. But, wow, his character is annoying, and I imagine his actions are only getting more distasteful with time — the way he badgers and cajoles Liza into going out with him (something she eventually agrees to) is the kind of behaviour that gets regularly criticised nowadays (rightly). Well, I don’t think he’s meant to be a nice guy — the film seems to be about their tempestuous relationship and how that helps and hinders their careers — but I wasn’t sure the film knew how unlikeable he was.

    I wasn’t sure the film knew much of anything, really. Apparently much of the dialogue was improvised, which in turn made it a nightmare to edit into a coherent narrative, which would explain the messiness — everything feels overlong, unfocused, and increasingly dull. Consequently there have been several cuts of the film, with this being the longest “director’s cut” released in 1981. It has some good bits, foremost being the extended Happy Endings musical interlude, which at one point was ditched to create one of the shorter versions. I like the idea of this film being less long, but don’t lose the only really good bit!

    So good they named it irrelevantly

    Just to wind me up further, the content has fundamentally nothing to do with the title. I mean, it begins in New York, and when the characters go on tour they’d like to get back there, and eventually they do and so some more of it’s set there, and occasionally they’re writing the titular song (which, I confess, I was unaware hailed from this film — I assumed the movie was named after the famous standard, not that it spawned it), and in the epilogue Liza performs said song (post-2016 observation: said epilogue is gosh-darn similar to La La Land’s!) Anyway, my point is: this film could’ve been set almost anywhere and not affected anything much, so why the title?

    2 out of 5

  • The Record-Breaking Monthly Update for April 2018

    While Infinity War sets about breaking box office records, I’m breaking some of my own…


    #58 Paddington 2 (2017)
    #59 The Director and the Jedi (2018)
    #60 The Hurricane Heist (2018)
    #61 The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)
    #62 Baywatch Extended Cut (2017)
    #63 Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
    #64 Knocked Up (2007)
    #65 Logan Lucky (2017)
    #66 American Psycho (2000)
    #67 Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
    #68 Shockproof (1949)
    #69 Das Boot: The Director’s Cut (1981/1997)
    #70 Geostorm 3D (2017)
    #71 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
    #72 The Karate Kid (2010)
    #73 Princess Mononoke (1997), aka Mononoke-hime
    #74 Witness (1985)
    #75 Muppets from Space (1999)
    #76 Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (1964), aka Zatôichi kesshô-tabi
    #77 When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
    #78 Identity (2003)
    #79 American Assassin (2017)
    #80 Call Me by Your Name (2017)
    #81 The Room (2003)
    #82 The Disaster Artist (2017)
    #83 Killing Gunther (2017)
    #84 The Snowman (2017)
    #85 The Death of Stalin (2017)
    #86 Yes Man (2008)
    #87 Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
    #88 New York, New York (1977)
    #89 Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle 3D (2017)
    #90 Wild Strawberries (1957), aka Smultronstället
    Logan Lucky

    Princess Mononoke

    The Room

    Avengers: Infinity War

    .


    • I watched 33 new films this month — more than one a day, on average (and that’s not counting my rewatches).
    • More importantly, that means it passes October 2015 as my Best. Month. Ever!
    • Obviously that means it affects a bunch of stats: it boosts the April average by more than two films, from 10.0 to 12.1; increases the rolling average of the last 12 months by over a film-and-a-half, from 15.2 to 16.8; and makes the 2018 average-to-date surge by three-and-a-half films, from 19 to 22.5. If I maintained that average all year, my final tally would be 270!
    • Building on a decent-to-strong first three months, #90 is also the furthest I’ve reached by the end of April (the previous best being #88 in 2016). I should definitely cross the #100 mark next month, therefore, likely on the earliest date I’ve ever reached it.
    • One record this month didn’t achieve: the earliest I’ve reached the three-quarters point. I watched #75 on April 16th this year, but in 2016 I was there on April 8th.
    • Over a third of this month’s viewing was films from 2017 — 12, to be precise. (Once upon a time, 12 total would’ve been a really good month.) And that’s even with going through a 13-film stretch in the middle where I only watched two films from the whole of the 2010s. It was a really big month, basically.
    • Downside to all this: I now have a backlog of 90 films waiting to be reviewed. Ninety! When I started that “coming soon” page it was because I’d reached the terribly high backlog of ten.
    • This month’s Blindspot film: the shortest film on this year’s lists, Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film: the longest film on this year’s lists, Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot: The Director’s Cut.



    The 35th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    Maybe I’m still a bit caught up in the hype, but I reckon the film I most enjoyed this month was Avengers: Infinity War. After reading glowing reviews before seeing it, I went in with tempered expectations — at this point I’ve seen plenty of Marvel movies that I felt had been overrated by early buzz, starting with the very first, Iron Man (I wrote about that in my review, even. I also said “what it most resembles is a great TV pilot” — oh, little did I know how relevant that view would become!) But Infinity War, while not perfect, did put a smile on my face.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    You may’ve noticed in the above list that I watched The Room this month, the cult favourite “worst movie of all time” that has been described as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”. But, as the fact it has a fanbase will attest, that film actually has considerable entertainment value, and so it didn’t even come close to making my five-strong shortlist for this Arbie. No, I’m going to give this (dis)honour to Geostorm, which is certainly trash but can’t even manage to be entertaining trash.

    Longest Slog of the Month
    The director’s cut of Das Boot may be three-and-a-half hours long and have bits I’d’ve cut back, but overall it’s a quality work. I wouldn’t say the same about New York, New York. It’s not often one cites a Martin Scorsese film as the worst of something, but, out of all 33 films I watched this month, perhaps the least enjoyable overall experience was slogging through those two-and-a-half-hours-plus-six-minutes-and-thirty-seconds-beyond-that. Sometimes watching on DVD has its advantages: without PAL speed-up it would’ve lasted another six-and-a-half minutes.

    Best Storm of the Month
    Storms were everywhere this month, be they of the world-threatening “geo” variety, or a hurricane so bad you could carry off a massive heist during it, or merely one that strands a bunch of strangers at a motel with a serial killer (in Identity). There may well have been some smaller ones I’ve forgotten, too. Anyway, for the sheer volume of wind and water being chucked around — and because it was the best part of the movie — this month’s best storm was definitely the one that enabled The Hurricane Heist.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    Sometimes reviews posted right near the end of the month don’t have the time to pick up much attention, even when they’re of new releases. Not so with this month’s victor, Avengers: Infinity War — in its first day it gained almost six times as many hits as the second-place post (The Hurricane Heist) had in three weeks. As of midnight on the 30th, it’s already my 8th most-read film review of all time.



    Another slightly lighter month means I’ve now slipped back to being merely on-target with my Rewatchathon. Still, that’s not really anything to complain about.

    #14 Shrek 2 (2004)
    #15 Mission: Impossible II (2000)
    #16 Liar Liar (1997)

    Despite my predictions last month, I didn’t rewatch any Marvel films before Infinity War in the end. I did get back on both my Shrek and Mission: Impossible rewatches, though. Indeed, my rewatch of Shrek is now complete, because the first two were the only ones I’d previously seen.

    M:i-2 was part of my 100 Favourites series the year before last, but I hadn’t actually watched it for a decade or more. Consequently, after this rewatch I spotted a couple of errors in my 100 Favourites post… which I’ve now fixed. Anyhow, I stand by my assertion that its qualities are undervalued — I wrote a bit about them on Letterboxd.


    Don’t call it a comeback — I’ve been here for years. I’m rocking my peers, puttin’ suckers in fear, makin’ the tears rain down like a monsoon. Listen to the bass go boom!

    Deadpool 2, ft. badblokebob the duck