Martin Scorsese still likes to fuck.
A friend of mine recently posited that the hallmark of compelling filmmaking is a director who wants to get laid. That you can scan the filmographies of directors who have at least at one time been considered to be great, and you can see where in their lives they lost interest in all the tail they were going to get as a result of their labors. George Lucas. Steven Spielberg. James Cameron. Quentin Tarantino. Oliver Stone. Some of them apparently have lost interest in sex altogether. Some have gone through apparent periods of quiet reflection and keeping their junk in tight little rubber underpants. Some have come back from celibacy like warriors. Some have tried to leave celibacy but found themselves instead in the persistent embrace of no-self-respecting-woman-would-ever-let-you-even-touch-her-boob-through-clothing-after-that-heap-of-shit-that-you-just-made. You can also see how long after a film comes out a director can milk the end credits for hanky panky in some cases. Darren Aronofsky. Richard Kelly. This may even explain why Kelly released his second version of Donnie Darko.
Anyway, I had this in mind when I went to watch The Departed yesterday. Does Martin Scorsese still care about banging? My short answer, which will come as no surprise to you if you read the title of this post, is, "Yes." But in the spirit of something that pretends more earnestly to be an actual review, I have these additional things to say, too.
Firstly, it really seems that Leonardo di Caprio is chasing Oscar. Not that he shouldn't. But it seems like the last few films he has chosen are really intended to be excursions for him. Before the film, I saw the trailer for Blood Diamond, and I heard Leo wielding a passable Afrikaans accent. And in The Departed, he's from Southy. Although, I don't think the Boston accents in this film are always so worthy of applause. Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon have obviously got it nailed, but some of the other headliners -- while delivering truly fine performances -- couldn't seem to to keep their vowel decoder card straight. But that's neither here nor there. I think Leonardo di Caprio is really good. Not just in this. In general. I really think he is. I think it's a shame that even when he slathers on a convincing new dialect, it's hard to hear anyone but Jack Dawson, but that's just because all women remember the first fictional man they fell in love with who died handcuffed to the North Atlantic. It's a fact of life. That being said, it seems that he really wants an Oscar, and I'm not going to say he shouldn't get one. But I'm not someone who gets a say in it anyway.
It's not a cawmedy.
So my first big problem with this movie was not with the movie. It was with the audience, who laughed entirely too much for my liking. And there were at least two fellows sitting near me who seemed to think they were watching a Farrelly Brothers film. This one dude in particular. He laughed at every single line Jack Nicholson spoke. And, while I will admit there is a lot of snappy dialogue in this film and that it is in some cases funny enough to merit a laugh, there is also a tone that is being set by the dialogue that has nothing to do with its being funny or not. But no one who saw the movie with me seemed to get that. Nor did they worry that they were missing the point of what was being said. They were all too busy experiencing the orgasmic release of being able to laugh at racist and homophobic one-liners in a public place without fear of being hit in the teeth with a gun butt for it. I guess there's something comforting for white people about hearing the word "nigger" in a movie made by an Academy Award-nominated (and famously not yet Academy Award-winning) director and being allowed to find it amusing.
Mark Wahlberg's character's first scene reminds me of Hank Azaria's character in Quiz Show. That is not a qualitative assessment. It just does. Also, the back of his hair looked ridiculous. His stylist should buy him a truffle farm (as a means of making restitution, in case that didn't come across).
Both Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen are enjoyable to watch. But neither of them can consistently do that Boston "o." It's not a cawmedy. But it is a cawp movie. And in one sentence Martin Sheen has to say "cawp" three or four times, and only one or two of them is not pronounced "cop." I forgive them that. Jack Nicholson didn't even try.
I would say that my overall takeaway was positive. I cared about the characters. I saw the careful juxtaposition of the good guy living the bad guy life and the bad guy living the good guy life. I was intrigued by all the subterfuge and trying to figure out who could be trusted. I was invested in it, and I think it was very articulately accomplished. Cinematically, it felt very Scorsese. The violence was vivid but not especially gratuitous. I enjoyed it. And I was not angry at my friends who have raved or begrudging of the critics who have thumbs-upped. In my book, that's a victory.
I do have to say that I almost categorically hated the music choices. The soundtrack was just jarring and ill-chosen. And that seems like such a small mistake to make. I wish they had opted to make a good soundtrack, but then I once really liked the soundtrack to St Elmo's Fire. True, it is a very Scorsese-sounding soundtrack, with a moody original score by Howard Shore and a bunch of rock and roll songs. And I know a lot of people might disagree with me about this, but I really think the music blurts out in weird places at unusual volumes and doesn't necessarily support the action on screen, and that's the stuff that Scorsese is usually lauded for. There is a version of Comfortably Numb that I hated, and that is a song that I love. There is a lot of the Stones' Gimme Shelter, which just feels like every other urban drug culture movie ever made. And there is a lot of the Dropkick Murphys' I'm Shipping Up to Boston, which was fine, if a bit on the nose. It's not the worst soundtrack ever made. But it kept jumping out at me, and I actually think that a good soundtrack has to be unobtrusive enough to make whatever point it needs to make without making you suddenly go, "Wait. What was that song. I'll try to remember to look it up when the credits roll." Or, worse, "Ow. That was so loud. I can't concentrate on the dialogue because my ear is sore." I hated it. In short.
Oh, and my one really big eye-rolling groaner moment was at the very end of the film. There is a bit of symbolism that is really just such overkill. I was very sorry that I saw it and wished instead that I had been sneezing.
Lastly, I couldn't help but think about the film's Hong Kong progenitor while I was watching, and maybe that made me go more easily on the movie as a whole than my friend Kevin did. For some reason, foreign films get away with a certain amount of whimsy that I don't always allow in American films. Maybe it's just that I don't know the streets of Hong Kong as well as I know the streets of America, so I'm less likely to know when something that would never happen happens. Or maybe it's that foreign films sometimes incorporate cartoonish elements into otherwise straight-laced storytelling and it feels courageous and clever rather than contrived and forced. The best example I can think of is the way I felt about Face/Off. If that movie had starred Jet Li and Chow Yun-Fat and had been made in Chinese, I'll bet I would have thought it was awesome. But because it was Nicolas Cage and John Travolta, it seemed so dumb, so implausible. So unintentionally campy. I guess campy is not so bad. And I guess I dislike Nicolas Cage and John Travolta so much that I wouldn't have really liked them in a movie unless they died in it. For real. And with a huge gay scandal surrounding their deaths.
In summation, I liked The Departed. And Martin Scorsese apparently still likes to bone. And if you want to know which trailers I saw and what I thought of them, you're in luck. As long as you do not go blind before reaching the next line.
So I mentioned Blood Diamond. I didn't form any distinct impressions. Just that Leonardo di Caprio is campaigning for his statuette by way of the Meryl Streep school.
The trailer for The Queen looked interesting enough. Although the main thing I noted was that it was obviously VERY important to cast actors who looked a great deal like their real-life counterparts. Because James Cromwell looks a good bit like Prince Philip, but I'm not entirely convinced he can sound like him. However Helen Mirren is wonderful. And I am one of those Americans who is too uninformed about British government to resent the Royals. I still have a bunch of Diana clippings in a cabinet. Clippings. I'm embarrassed that I have clippings of anyone. And, not that you care, but the trailer music was from the Restoration soundtrack.
Stranger than Fiction looks funny. It also looks like a Charlie Kaufman movie, but it isn't.
300 looks like Frank Miller, and it is. I don't know if Frank Miller's graphic novel was based on the 1962 Italian film The 300 Spartans -- although they are both certainly based on the actual story of Spartan King Leonidas and his army of 300 men at the Battle of Thermopylae -- but in doing my research, I read this detail about the 1962 film on IMDb.com: "When the Immortals attack, the javelins thrown by the Greeks have no points. Many of the Immortals can be seen dropping their weapons to grab the javelins and hold them under their arms or to their chests. A javelin with a blunt end can also be plainly seen hitting one of the extras in the mouth." I kind of want to see that instead.