2/07/2010

Two Scorsese movies I actually liked

1. Alice Doesn't Live Her Anymore (1974) managed to fly in the face of my auteur-with-a-misogynist-bent idea of Scorsese. Chronicling the life of Alice (Ellen Burstyn) after the death of her husband, we follow her and her son Tommy's (Alfred Lutter) move from New Mexico to Monterey, California, the palce where she was a singer in her youth. In Phoenix, they stop so Alice can earn money as a singer. She gets tangled up with an abusive married man (of course), so they move onto Tuscan where Alice gets work as a waitress. While Tuscan wasn't the end goal, Alice and Tommy find people and things to love there.

This sounds corny and cliche, but the film has a sense of menace that only Scorsese could bring to a woman-coming-into-her-own movie. The abusive relationship with the married man is scary, with the camera capturing long takes of him knocking around furniture and going after both Alice and his wife. Even scenes in the diner that might have been silly and fun in other movies, like diner revolting and throwing food at the one waitress left to serve everyone, are full of real violence. I'm still wondering if I was taking these scenes too sensitively, but I appreciate that he was taking these women's fears seriously enough to make these moments frightening.

Although there were some great light-hearted moments as well, like Tommy making friends with town hooligan Audrey (Jodie Foster) and learning to shoplift. In fact, most things out of Tommy's mouth are golden, capturing the 12-year-old's ability to both be legitimately funny and incredibly obnoxious in equal parts. This is just to say, Alfred Lutter gets Least Annoying Child Actor award for life, wherever he is now.

But the thing that won me over was the camera's focus on Alice. The beginning the film shows our girl Alice's actions with a quick (and usually annoyed) follow-up reaction from her husband, child, or girlfriend as if to indicate that Alice defines herself only by the way other people respond to her. As the movie progresses, I noticed less and less of this camera dwelling on others' reactions as Alice starts to come into her own and discover who she is without a husband, lover, or familiar friends.

Plus, a lot of the reactions were replaced by the rancher who takes interest in Alice. Kris Kristofferson gets to show off his patented Look of Love, especially in a sweet scene where he and Alice are relaxing in the kitchen, half-clothed talking about Alice's childhood and her old dreams. The way Kris (let's be honest, he was probably just playing himself) looks at Alice is full of such sincere interest and affection. It was a nice scene that spoke more of romance than most movies entire.

And while this film indulges a little too much in the histrionic, I found this the most interesting of Scorsese's films that use a meandering plot.

Huge tonal change.

2. Cape Fear (1991). This movie was perfect. You can have your Goodfellas, or Mean Streets, but neither of those two bring it like Cape Fear. First and foremost, the film had a focus: ex-con Max Cady (Robert De Niro) recently released from a 14-year prison sentence wants his lawyer, Sam (Nick Nolte), to suffer because Sam buried a document noting the woman Cady raped was promiscuous which may have lessened Cady's sentence. So with an actual plot, we watch as Cady goes after Sam's dog, his coworker Lori (who Sam spends a lot of time with, although it's not quite an affair), his daughter (Juliette Lewis), and finally his very life. The film gets more and more tense as the movie goes on.

Part of that has to do with giving Sam and family some scenes to show intrafamilial tension as well. Sam and his wife Leigh (Jessica Lange) have had marital problems in the past, so when coworker Lori becomes a victim, it causes the two to argue. So not only is there a psycho messing with them, they're not getting along. And then the daughter is in summer school after being busted from smoking pot, so she's not exactly on good terms with her parents either. But they don't seem to be absolutely shrill to one another either (one of the many reasons American Beauty makes me cringe). They've got some bonds that are keeping them together through this craziness.

I also enjoyed the cinematography in this film. The filmmakers seemed to be having fun as they have objects appear in the foreground of shots or have shot-reverse-shot conversations often defy the 180 degree rule, making everything seem just a little off. And a smattering of Dutch angles add to the disconcerting feel of the movie and also add a sense of old school style. There were also some fun allusions to Scorsese's own work (the opening shot of a shirtless De Niro is reminiscent to his role in Taxi Driver) and other classics (Gregory Peck shows up, and it's awesome).

But the best (er, creepiest) moments where the long scenes where Cady is messing with the family members. Most pronounced is Cady's interaction with Danielle, the 15-year-old daughter. After talking on the phone with her the night before by pretending to be her new drama teacher, Cady has Danielle meet him in the auditorium alone. He treats her like a grown-up and gets her to confess her unhappiness with her parents. He even gets her to confess her interest in sex, talking about literature with notorious sexual descriptions, and even further gets her to allow him to touch her. Juliette Lewis is so good here, being equal parts embarrassed, intrigued, and willing to be rebellious. She's not a completely stupid teenager, but she also craves to be treated like she's older. And Cady's gentle approach is so disturbing because the scene plays out so naturally. (At this point in the movie, I was curled up in a ball saying, "Ew, ew ,ew" over and over again.) De Niro's ability to harness a fine balance between charming and creepy is incredible.

What it comes down to is this: Cape Fear is a perfect thriller, giving enough character development to make the audience care, but also a chipper enough pace to keep the tension high. Recommend.

3 comments:

  1. I haven't. In fact, I'm probably going to watch 80s Scorsese next.

    ReplyDelete