TAXI DRIVER. (1976) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

TAXI DRIVER. (1976) DIRECTED BY MARTIN SCORSESE. SCREENPLAY WRITTEN BY PAUL SCHRADER. MUSIC BY BERNARD HERRMANN.
STARRING ROBERT DE NIRO, JODIE FOSTER, CYBILL SHEPHERD, LEONARD HARRIS, PETER BOYLE AND HARVEY KEITEL.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

So much has been written and said about TAXI DRIVER, one of Martin Scorsese’s best and most memorable movies. It’s too violent. It’s a vigilante film, but one in which the vigilante is experiencing a severe existential crisis. Travis Bickle is an anti-hero-slash-murderous thug. Jodie Foster as Iris was too young to be witnessing such violence as takes place in the climactic shoot-out. The film’s too dark/too bleak/too grim. It has no redeeming features. Well, these things might be true or they might not be true, but one thing is for sure. TAXI DRIVER is an unforgettable slice of cinema pie.

Robert De Niro is superb as lead character, Travis Bickle, an ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran who’s trying to find his way back to the world after the horrors of war. Even if we didn’t know he was a Vietnam veteran, we’d still know he was someone who’d been away somewhere for a while- prison, maybe, or a mental asylum- and who was having trouble adapting or acclimatising back to real life. He looks at the world and its occupants like he’s seeing them for the first time and doesn’t quite know what to make of it all.

He lives in one room, a room which he doesn’t know how to make comfortable for himself or how to make it feel like a real home, which surely he must have had once. Travis Bickle suckling on mother’s milk? Hey, everyone, even a half-baked vigilante assassin-type, had a mother once…

He works nights as a taxi driver because his nights are miserable, too long and fraught with insomnia and over-thinking. He occasionally mixes with the other cabbies, who’ve all been in the cabby-ing game for a long time now. He even confides in the much older, worldy-wise driver Wizard, but Wizard hasn’t got the answer to Travis’s problems.

After messing up his fledgling relationship with posh girl Betsy (a gorgeous Cybill Shepherd), who’s working on the political campaign to elect Senator Charles Palantine as President, Travis’s existential crisis comes on him like a cloak of fog on a country road at night. What the hell is the point of living, anyway? What’s it all about?

Travis stocks up on guns and teaches himself to shoot in order to fill the emptiness inside him that started long before Bitchy Betsy left him outside the porno theatre where he’d taken her for an ill-judged night out.

God Almighty, Travis man! You don’t take your classy Uptown Girl to a seedy porno cinema where the only other customers are sleazy old men with their hands inside the raincoats they wear to cover their shame! That’s Dating 101, that is. It’d be like taking the fucking Queen to see Roy Chubby Brown in fucking concert, that would.

Anyway. Alone Again, naturally. Travis spends hours alone in his untidy, uncomfortable bedroom, which resembles at this stage a sort of overnight army camping spot, practising his moves with his guns in the mirror and perfecting his by now iconic speech:

“You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin’ to? You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?”

He’s the only one here. How very true that is. Travis is desperately lonely, unsure of his purpose in life. He sees the people all around him interacting effortlessly with each other, and wonders in the back of his mind why he can’t manage to do the same himself. Is it the post-Vietnam PTSD that’s responsible? Or maybe Travis is autistic and doesn’t know it. It would explain his difficulties talking to people, his lack of social skills.

Travis then attempts to save twelve-year-old prostitute Iris, played by an already competent and professional Jodie Foster, from herself, her grim situation and her manipulative pimp Matthew (Harvey Keitel, but he’s not running around in the nip in this one, that’s THE PIANO you’re thinking of!), nicknamed Sport. She hasn’t asked to be saved, by the way.

It’s Travis’s way of going some good in the world, of making his mark, whether little Iris wants to be returned to her parents or not. After all, didja see ‘em in the newspaper? They’re no spring chickens, I’ll say that for them…!

Travis may even be feeling that he won’t come out of the showdown alive. He could be contemplating suicide-by-cop, or suicide by lowlife, drug-dealing pimping scumbags. He might equally be thinking of taking his own life.

Either way, Travis Bickle will meet his destiny in the scruffy, ill-lit landings of the shabby brothel where Iris works. He acts like a man on a mission that must be kept secret at all costs, a man preparing for a war that only he knows about. God help us all.

What kind of guys do you think carry out school or mosque shootings? Guys like Travis, maybe, who think that society has abandoned them and nobody cares about them? If only we could look into everyone’s bedrooms and see which people are standing in front of their mirrors trying on guns for size and practising the speech they’ll make if they ever get the audience they crave. But of course privacy laws wouldn’t allow it. We will have to figure out some other way to identify these ‘involuntary celibates,’ as they’re becoming known, before they commit their ill-judged crimes.

What do you think of the very last scene, anyway? I prefer to pretend it doesn’t even exist, lol. TAXI DRIVER ends when Travis Bickle puts his fingers, gun-shaped, to his own head, and don’t you be telling me any different. Are you talkin’ to me, or what…?

I adore the musical score, composed by Bernard Herrmann, who also did the iconic theme tunes to Alfred Hitchcock movies, PSYCHO, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and NORTH BY NORTHWEST. He also did the music for the stone-cold classic film, CITIZEN KANE. What fabulous stuff to have on your CV. There’s one guy I’d like to play Celebrity Dinner Party with.

This is one of my personal favourites of Martin Scorsese’s films. I love GOODFELLAS too, of course, and CAPE FEAR, CASINO, MEAN STREETS and RAGING BULL. Robert De Niro’s association with the director has done him no harm at all, and vice versa. Travis Bickle is a guy we can alternately pity, admire, identify with and be repulsed by. He’s a complicated mix of good and bad, scared and fearless, repugnant and loveable. Love him or hate him, you won’t forget him.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://amzn.to/3ulKWkv
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://www.amazon.com/Thirteen-Stops-Sandra-Harris-ebook/dp/B089DJMH64
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thirteen-Stops-Later-Book-ebook/dp/B091J75WNB/
 
 

GOODFELLAS and CASINO: A DOUBLE BILL OF MOB MOVIE REVIEWS BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

goodfellas2

GOODFELLAS (1990) and CASINO (1995): A DOUBLE BILL OF MOB MOVIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I’ve been watching mob movies all Christmas. It might seem like a funny time of year to be watching movies about gangsters and the Mafia, but when else during the year would you have the time to relax and enjoy such long and intense works of cinematic art while scoffing mince pies and the yummy contents of entire selection boxes? Yet again, we have enough mince pies left over from Crimbo to set up a small confectionery shop. Why do I never learn from the mistakes of previous years?

Anyway, so far this Yuletide season, I’ve watched the GODFATHER trilogy in its lengthy entirety and chased it down with SCARFACE, GOODFELLAS and CASINO, the latter two of which we’ll be looking at today. GOODFELLAS and CASINO were both directed by Martin Scorsese and the screenplays were written by Nicolas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese jointly.

GOODFELLAS, based on a true story (and on the non-fiction book WISEGUY by Nicholas Pileggi), looks at the life and career of real-life mobster Henry Hill, brilliantly played by the handsome Ray Liotta.

Encompassing three decades of life in the Mafia, we see Henry rise through the ranks of his local mob- so local they were handily encamped across the street from his childhood home!- to go from humble messenger boy in the ‘Fifties and Swinging ‘Sixties to one of his crew’s biggest earners in the ‘Seventies and ‘Eighties.

His mob boss is the enigmatic man-of-few-words Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) and his two closest chums in his crew are Jimmy ‘The Gent’ Conway and Tommy DeVito. Jimmy is played by Robert De Niro. He’s a criminal mastermind for whom robbing is a joy and a pleasure and a way of life, not just a chore. He and Henry pull off many successful heists together.

Tommy DeVito (a magnificent Joe Pesci) is a headcase, a nut-job, a psychopath. He’s such a loose cannon that I would have considered him a liability myself, but in the Mafia that’s probably a flippin’ badge of honour, lol.

He shoots his gun off with as much regularity as his big fat mouth, as Spider the barman (Michael Imperioli from THE SOPRANOS) and Billy ‘Go get your fuckin’ shine-box!’ Batts, played by Frank Vincent (Phil Leotardo from THE SOPRANOS), each find out to their cost.

Remember the scene where Henry, Jimmy and Tommy stop off at Tommy’s sweet old Mom’s house in the middle of the night to borrow a shovel to bury Billy Batts? She makes them a full ‘Mob Mom’ dinner and berates Tommy for not having found a suitable girl to settle down with yet and, the whole time she’s talking, a severely battered Billy Batts is outside in the trunk of their car, banging away with his feet trying desperately to attract someone’s attention.

Billy Batts is a ‘made man,’ however, a fully paid-up Mafia guy who’s supposed to be untouchable except by Mafia family heads who have to ‘sit down’ properly and give official permission for anyone to ‘whack’ him or otherwise bump him off. This act of brutal violence by Tommy will cost Tommy dearly, if he but knew it, the cocky little fuck, lol.

Henry marries Karen (Lorraine Bracco from- you guessed it- THE SOPRANOS; she plays Tony’s shrink, Dr. Jennifer Melfi), a previously well-behaved Jewish girl who loves the Mafia lifestyle as much as Henry loves it himself.

The clothes, the furs, the jewels, the ready cash, the drugs, the guns, the star treatment everywhere they go, the ‘respect,’ which really means fear, with which everyone treats them, she digs it all. As Henry himself says: ‘For us to live any other way was nuts.’

Of course, she has a lot of shit to put up as well, as a Mafia wife. Henry’s out most nights with his mob friends, drinking and gambling or pulling off heists. When he’s not with his mates, he’s sleeping over with his ‘goomar’ or girlfriend Janice Rossi at the nifty little apartment he’s bought her. All Mob guys have a goomar as well as a wife. It’s just the way it is.

Mob guys also tend to go to jail for years at a time and, while it might be comfortable enough inside for them, with their vintage wine and lobsters packed in ice and their gourmet meals every night, the wives are the ones who are stuck at home, minding the kids and waiting for their criminal hubbies to come out. But this is the life they chose, remember?

A fantastic soundtrack from the times that were in it and electrifying performances from the leads make this one of the best Mob movies ever made. Samuel L. Jackson is in it briefly as an underling who screws up the one job he’s given to do and Tony Sirico, who plays Paulie Walnuts in THE SOPRANOS, has a small role as a mobster who hangs around Tuddy Cicero’s restaurant near the start of the film.

You can imagine therefore that, when THE SOPRANOS was being made, a whole load of the cast would have been able to say, aw, d’you remember all the fun we had when we were making GOODFELLAS…?

And all the cast members who weren’t in GOODFELLAS were probably all like, fucking hell, not GOODFELLAS again, do they ever stop going on about that fucking movie? Huh, just because they were in it and we weren’t, they think they’re so great…!

CASINO is based on the non-fiction book CASINO: LOVE AND HONOUR IN LAS VEGAS by Nicholas Pileggi. It sees Robert De Niro portraying Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, a Jewish professional gambler who knows everything there is to know about gambling and handicaps and related stuff.

He’s the head of the Tangiers Casino empire in Las Vegas because he’s such an expert on gambling and there’s a load of really in-depth stuff about gambling in the movie which I’m gonna gloss over because I know nothing about gambling. I bought a LOTTO ticket for New Year’s Eve but that’s strictly as far as I go.

Sam’s life is greatly complicated by two people. One of these is his beautiful wife Ginger, played to perfection by Sharon Stone, an actress for whom I don’t normally care much but she’s brilliant in this.

Sam marries her even though he knows she’s a casino hustler and good-time girl who’s been in love with her old pimp Lester (James Woods) since Lester ‘discovered’ her at age fourteen. I think we can all work out what that would have involved.

I love looking at all of Ginger’s fabulous outfits, jewellery and ever-changing hairstyles. (Long and blonde, good; short ginger mullet, bad!) She’s a mess, though, and clearly not suited to matrimony and motherhood.

She continues seeing Lester, drinking too much and taking drugs while she’s married to Sam, much to Sam’s disappointment because he really does seem to care about her, unlike some gangster husbands.

The worst thing she does, apart from running off with her’s and Sam’s daughter to be with Lester the Loser, is tying their frightened child to the bed before sneaking off by herself to be with Lester. Sam loves Ginger to bits, though, which is why he keeps taking her back after she screws up.

The other person complicating Sam’s life is his boyhood friend, dangerous Mobster (is there any other kind?) Nicky Santoro. Nicky, played by Joe Pesci, is pretty much the exact same character as Pesci’s Tommy in GOODFELLAS, a loose cannon and trigger-happy hothead who has the bad taste to sleep with Ginger behind Sam’s back. (Incidentally, Nicky’s sidekick in this film is Frank Vincent, Billy Batts from GOODFELLAS.)

Ginger refers to Nicky as her ‘new sponsor.’ Somehow I don’t think she’s talking about her new AA sponsor, whom she can call if she’s ever tempted to drink booze. Ginger is the kind of woman who’ll always need a man to bankroll her (and Lester’s) bad habits.

She and Lester come as a package, see? He’s had her all to himself and has conditioned her to believe his bull-crap since the age of fourteen. That’s a very hard habit to break.

The extreme violence in this film is bone-chilling. The scene in the cornfield always upsets me, it’s so vicious. And the guy who gets his head put in a vice which, if squeezed enough, will pop out his eyeball, that’s a heavy scene too.

The thought of all those holes in the desert where so many ‘secrets’ lie buried is a grim one. I learned a few things about burying my enemies from this film, though. Always have your hole pre-dug.

Don’t be bringing a corpse out into the desert and have to start to digging your hole there and then. That’s a good forty-five minutes of your time during which any Tom, Dick or Harry can drive by and say, whatcha digging a hole for? Pre-dug, people, pre-dug. That’s the secret to a good burying. Use it wisely.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

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sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

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