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Bob Dylan peaked, in my opinion, during that strange time in the mid-1970s when he hit the road with a traveling circus of his music/poetry friends, covered his face with white makeup and delivered some of the rawest, most-straightforward rocking performances of his career. Thankfully, that’s the focus of Rolling Thunder Revue on Netflix.

Martin Scorsese, for the second time, has made a documentary focusing on the musical icon, combining archive concert footage with interviews (most notably a new chat with Dylan himself) to tell the story of the most-interesting tour of the man’s career. Dylan had just finished touring stadiums with The Band, and wanted to play more-intimate venues. So he did, and he brought the likes of Joni Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg and Joan Baez along with him.

The concert footage shows Dylan focused, driving and sometimes very funny as he delivers new music along with his already-classic songbook. New songs like “Isis” and “Hurricane” destroy alongside transformed versions of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” While watching these concert moments, it becomes immediately clear that anybody who was present for the shows was witnessing vital music history.

The interviews flesh out the “story” in what amounts to another triumph for Scorsese, who has given himself a nice side gig doing rock documentaries.

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Bullets whiz, whistle and rip with a darkly comic ferocity in Free Fire, the latest from super-talented English director Ben Wheatley.

Wheatley has quietly been establishing himself as a solid indie director of action and horror, with obscure gems like Sightseers, High-Rise and A Field in England, along with one of the better installments in the horror anthology The ABCs of Death. With Free Fire, Wheatley gets to employ his action-directing prowess—while showing he can handle sharp dialogue and great acting.

He’s working with his biggest cast yet, which includes an Oscar winner in Brie Larson, as well as Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy and Sharlto Copley. The film is co-produced by Martin Scorsese; the setup sounds like the sort of movie he should be making.

That setup: Two groups come together in a deserted Boston warehouse sometime in 1978. Things go awry, and the whole movie becomes one elongated shootout in which everybody is taking bullets; the losers will easily outnumber the winners.

The movie is a blast, thanks in large part to Wheatley’s staging of the event, and the actors (especially Hammer) taking it to great heights. There’s some mystery involved in the payoff, but it’s secondary to the action, which is appropriately disorienting at times. I couldn’t always tell who was shooting whom, but this works for the movie.

Throw in an extremely well-placed John Denver song, and you have what amounts to a solid, eccentric step in the evolution of Wheatley—a white-hot director who is just getting started.

Free Fire is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 and (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342); and the Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-836-1940).

Published in Reviews

Martin Scorsese’s Silence, aka How to Torture a Jesuit Priest Until He Says “Ah, Screw It!” and Looks for Another Gig, is the auteur’s most inconsistent offering since his misguided and sloppy Casino.

It’s clear that Scorsese poured his heart into this passion project, which makes it even more disappointing that it doesn’t live up to his usual standards. The movie is far too long (2 hours and 41 minutes!), and repetitive and boring to the point where it becomes laughable rather than having the desired effect of moving the viewer. Based on the Shusaku Endo book, Silence is a project Scorsese has been trying to mount since the ’80s—and it winds up being nothing but a waste of a great director’s time.

Two Jesuit priests, Rodrigues and Garrpe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), head to Japan in search of their mentor priest, Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Ferreira went missing during a mission years ago, and is rumored to have gone into hiding as a civilian with a wife. The whole setup feels a bit like Apocalypse Now, minus the excitement, capable storytelling and Fat Brando.

After the two priests split up, the film basically becomes a series of scenes in which Rodrigues witnesses Japanese Christians being tortured by samurais trying to cleanse the country of Christianity. He watches men and women getting drowned, hung upside down, beheaded, etc. To Scorsese’s credit, the violence, while horrifying, is never gratuitous.

Garfield’s character is essentially a Christ figure reminiscent of Willem DaFoe in The Last Temptation of Christ. He’s being followed around by what amounts to the film’s Judas, a guide named Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka). Kichijiro screws Rodrigues over repeatedly, constantly asking for confession, and even getting paid in silver at one point. His actions almost feel like a running gag.

The film does get better in its final act, when Rodrigues finally crosses paths with Ferreira. Neeson is so good that you’ll wish he had shown up a little sooner. As for Garfield, for every scene where he’s powerful, there are others where he’s overwrought and feels slightly miscast. Driver is excellent; the film might’ve benefited from him and Garfield switching roles.

The movie does feature some typically great Scorsese flourishes. A scene in which three men are tied to crosses in the ocean, continuously being pummeled by waves, is an absolute marvel. Rodrigues’ interrogation at the hands of an evil feudal Samurai governor (a creepy Issey Ogata) is mesmerizing. Had Scorsese and longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker taken a pair of scissors to the film and made it no longer than two hours, it might’ve done the movie a big favor. (I will sit through a five-hour movie if it is well done. This isn’t.) The sound and camerawork, as with all Scorsese films, are exemplary.

Coupled with Steven Spielberg’s The BFG, Silence represents the second movie that was technically released in 2016 by one of my very favorite directors to disappoint. It’s just another reason to hate 2016.

I didn’t like Silence, but I feel like I should have and could have; there were a lot of things in the movie I did enjoy. Scorsese just needed to rein himself in on this one.

Silence is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

This was my pick for the best picture of 2013, and Leonardo DiCaprio should’ve won an Oscar for playing likable scumbag Jordan Belfort. In fact, DiCaprio should have at least three Oscars on his mantle by now, but, alas, he has none.

Martin Scorsese’s latest explodes like a mortar full of deranged bliss. DiCaprio plays slimeball stockbroker and convicted felon Belfort, a real-life jackass who made millions selling penny stocks at a Long Island, N.Y., brokerage.

The movie, based on Belfort’s own autobiography, takes people doing bad, bad things to such an extreme level that the film doesn’t just stand as one of the best of 2013; it’s one of the best and most deranged comedies ever.

As Ray Liotta did in Goodfellas, DiCaprio talks to the camera on occasion, often during highly elaborate tracking shots that have become a Scorsese mainstay. It’s in these moments, and during Belfort’s drug fueled “Rouse the Troops” fire-breathing speeches, where DiCaprio does his most exhilarating acting to date.

Jonah Hill, in an Oscar-nominated role, knocks it out of the park as Belfort’s partner in crime. When the two ingest an abundance of Quaaludes, the sequence that follows stands as one of the best Scorsese has ever put to film. That’s saying a lot.

The best film of 2013 scored no Oscars, but it did net DiCaprio a Golden Globe for Best Performance in a Comedy. Yeah, the Golden Globes are totally strange when it comes to how they categorize things.

Special Features: The only supplement is a weak behind-the-scenes featurette. No Scorsese commentary. No deleted scenes. Boo!

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is an explosive film—like a mortar full of deranged bliss.

Leonardo DiCaprio, in 2013’s best performance, plays slimeball stockbroker and convicted felon Jordan Belfort, a real-life scumbag who made millions selling penny stocks at a Long Island, New York, brokerage. The movie, based on Belfort’s autobiography, takes people doing bad, bad things to an unparalleled extreme.

The film begins with a rosy-cheeked Belfort starting work at a big Manhattan brokerage firm, where a brash, cocaine-addicted broker (played by Matthew McConaughey, capping off an incredible year) is his mentor. Belfort is ready to take the world by storm in the late ’80s, but 1987’s Black Monday strikes, destroying his new employer and putting him out of work.

He winds up in a Long Island boiler room schilling penny stocks for 50 percent commission. No problem: The boy can sell, and people are writing checks.

Belfort, with the assistance of new friend Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill, bedazzled with impossibly white caps on his teeth), opens a shiny new brokerage that has a first-class appearance—even though he’s still just slinging penny stocks. This time, he’s slinging them at people with big money, under the guise that the stocks are going to explode into major-market players. They probably won’t—but rich people like and trust Belfort, so they throw money at him.

Where there’s money, there are decadent shenanigans—and this is where Scorsese takes the movie to crazed extremes. Midget-tossing, hookers, half-naked marching bands and goldfish-eating are the orders of the day—with all of these activities enhanced by massive drug and alcohol consumption.

As Ray Liotta did in Goodfellas, DiCaprio talks to the camera on occasion, often during highly elaborate tracking shots (which have become a Scorsese mainstay). It’s in these moments, and during Belfort’s drug-fueled speeches to his crew, when DiCaprio does his most-exhilarating acting to date. He is a formidable competitor for a Best Actor Oscar. He’s certainly my pick.

It’s not just DiCaprio’s verbal pyrotechnics that amaze; in this film, he proves he’s a physical actor with phenomenal talent. In a scene in which Belfort and Azoff consume 15-year-old Quaaludes with a delayed trigger, DiCaprio rivals the likes of Steve Martin and Charlie Chaplin in his physical comedy. What he does with a Ferrari door and his leg must be seen to be believed. I couldn’t believe it was DiCaprio, and figured they must have put his face on a stunt man’s body via CGI. Nope, it’s him.

Hill continues to prove that he has good dramatic chops, and Kyle Chandler provides the films moral core (if it actually has one) as an FBI agent looking to take Belfort down. Margot Robbie is especially impressive as Belfort’s alternately commanding and befuddled wife.

Does The Wolf of Wall Street lack emotional warmth? Yes—and that’s precisely the point of this movie. Scorsese and DiCaprio are showing us the travesties of an emotionally void, tragically selfish group of people living life through a chemically enhanced haze. These people are terrible—comically terrible—and Scorsese holds nothing back in portraying them as such.

The Wolf of Wall Street shows Scorsese is in no way ready to slow down just yet. It’s not only good … it’s Goodfellas good.

The Wolf of Wall Street is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

This week on the Independent comics page, Jen Sorenson checks in with some big babies; Roland and Cid interview Martin Scorsese regarding the IRS; The City celebrates the beginning of summer; and Red Meat blends up a particularly disgusting smoothie.

Published in Comics

Marlon Brando took home the first of his two Oscars for playing washed-up palooka and longshoreman Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, his third pairing with director Elia Kazan after A Streetcar Named Desire and Viva Zapata!

Funny eye makeup aside, it’s easy to see why Brando got the Oscar (which was also somewhat of a consolation prize after getting nominated but not winning for Streetcar and Zapata!). He’s brilliant here, making Terry a highly sympathetic character, even if Malloy does lure fellow employees to their deaths on occasion.

The “Coulda been a contender!” speech will always be a classic, perhaps the most-iconic moment of Brando’s career. Karl Malden is dynamite as a priest who will punch you in the face if you mess with him, and Eva Marie Saint is terrific in her debut big-screen role.

The film was based on real-life situations involving extortion on New York’s waterfront, but is also seen as Kazan’s condemnation of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible and an atonement of sorts for Kazan’s participation in the McCarthy witch hunts. (I learned this reading the trivia notes on the Internet Movie Database.)

While the movie is most notable for the Brando and Malden performances, let us not forget the contributions of Lee J. Cobb as a fierce union leader and Rod Steiger as Terry’s brother.

The new Criterion Collection transfer is breathtakingly good.

Special Features: The disc is loaded. The two-disc set includes the film presented in three different aspect ratios. There’s a documentary with Martin Scorsese discussing the film, and that’s priceless. There’s another newly produced documentary featuring film scholar interviews, interviews with Kazan and Saint, and even an interview with the actor who played Brando’s young buddy in the film. You also get a commentary, a large collectors’ booklet and more. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing