Irish immigrants fight to carve out a piece of 1860's New York City.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Cameron Diaz
Review by Jon Kissel
Gangs of New York is the union of one of the greatest working directors (Martin Scorsese), one of the greatest writers (Kenneth Lonergan), possibly the greatest actor of the last thirty years (Daniel Day-Lewis), and his potential successor (Leonardo DiCaprio). A pedigree like that demands a scope and a scale with no less a goal than explaining America in 167 minutes. A college-aged me, snowed by the grandeur and the ambition, elevated Gangs of New York amongst Scorsese’s very best, but all this time later, it falls into the second or third tier. Scorsese’s trademarks become more intrusive, and his casting is either off or before its time. Such a serious assemblage of talent and vision could never be judged as anything less than compelling, but college-aged me was a sucker for a well-spoken threat at a rapid cadence and middle-aged me just isn’t as moved.
If anyone’s been reading my reviews over the seven+ years I’ve been writing them, they might know that I’m an atheist and a materialist who sees no reason to buy into non-corporeal entities like souls. Consciousness is a side effect of brain chemistry, alterable by the addition of chemicals or physical injury, and death is a light switch that returns a human, or any organism, to the same state of unbeing that preceded their lives. With all that said, a film that’s about afterlife and ensoulment is going to have to work hard to overcome my latent skepticism and get me to the buy-in stage. Pixar’s latest film, Soul, is in-house director Pete Docter’s third, after Up and Inside Out, two top-tier entries into the film-as-tear-producing-machines genre that Pixar specializes in. Inside Out also had problems of visualizing personality development and memory, a process that Docter is obviously interested in, but the best parts of that film overpower any knowledge of neurology and get to some level of emotional truth. Soul is even more arbitrary with its developmental allegories, but it has a lot on its mind beyond the Pixar clichés of hidden worlds and communities beneath the surface. My consciousness might exist solely in the folds of my brain, but it does get charmed and moved when Soul is at its best.
Judd Apatow’s been at the center of two-plus decades of comedic filmmaking, shining his light on generations of actors and making them into household names. The Office probably doesn’t get a second season without his work with Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and that’s apparently the greatest show ever made based on how pervasive it is in the culture. Apatow’s latest team-up is with Pete Davidson, a comedian I was unfamiliar with outside of osmotically soaking up his antics without ever looking into them myself. After seeing him strut his heavily-tatted stuff in The King of Staten Island, I can see the gangly charm that makes Davidson fit in so well with the likes of Jason Segal and Amy Schumer. Davidson has a bittersweet affect befitting his life story and it makes him unique, in contrast to Apatow who’s repeating himself in an overlong and over-improvised film. Comedies are in something of a rut, and while Apatow revived them once already in the 2000’s, he likely won’t be their reinvigorater in the 2020’s.
Big-budget moviemaking currently runs on superhero movies and the biggest of this disastrous cinematic year’s meager bunch had its debut on HBO Max, the recently announced vessel of movie theaters’ continued demise. If that preceding sentence sounds gloomy, it’s because I’m finding it increasingly difficult to be optimistic about the future of film. Call it age or plentiful distractions, but a shrinking attention span has made it more and more difficult to appreciate an at-home movie. I need the enforced focus of theaters to commune with my favorite medium. It’s no surprise that my favorite film of 2020 was one of the few I actually saw in theaters. What won’t be anywhere near my top ten or twenty is Wonder Woman 1984, a mess of oversimplified, ill-considered, sentimental, overlong pop drivel that doesn’t live up to its predecessor. I remember sitting in theaters during Ant Man and the Wasp, and again during Shazam, wondering what I was doing watching a genre that I increasingly felt aged out of. The cynical place I find myself in coupled with the overall quality of this film seals that feeling.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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