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Happy Birthday to One of the Greatest Films of All-Time – Taxi Driver (1976) – Movie Review

Never does art cease amaze my tiny little brain with its elements of reality and fiction and abilities to facilitate positive reactions even after forty years of existing. Martin Scorsese is a Mt. Rushmore head of Hollywood directors in my book and for exceptional reason. His dark depiction of vigilante justice in the grimy streets of 70’s New York couldn’t have been painted better nor starred anyone other than Scorsese’s right hand man Robert DeNiro as the iconic Travis Bickle, a Vietnam war veteran who drives taxis at night to cope with his endless insomnia. In turn, Bickle slowly falls to the darkest depths of the world surrounding him while detaching himself from the recesses of his normality. It is one of the greatest characters put to film as well as being a true American classic in the world of cinema that everyone should get a chance to see.

Using New York not only as a backdrop, but as a character itself, Scorsese brings his iconic flair for anti-heroics and violence to the screen while also making one of his few film appearances as an angry passenger on DeNiro’s taxi cab. Taxi Driver is a film that brings the conflict of humanity to the forefront with a character that becomes engulfed by the horrors around him doing a Batman impression if Batman was Thomas Wayne not Bruce Wayne – google Thomas Wayne’s Batman and you’ll get it – only to fall to the darkness and hatred that surrounds him.

Asa writer and novice screenwriter, this was one of the first screenplays that made me realize writing films is one of the many things I hope to accomplish. Setting moods and tones like a great piano player with an orchestral backdrop, the movie’s grittiness feels frighteningly human to a point it makes you question your own moral standings. DeNiro has more than enough iconic performances from his award winning turns as Don Corleone in The Godfather Part II to his time in the ring in Raging Bull, but for me, this was the film that got me into the career of DeNiro. It sounds like high praise, but seeing his growth and methodical acting prowess makes it feel more like a documentary following the life and times of a cabbie rather than a fictionalized depiction of a symbolic character.

Fun fact: This is one of the first appearances of Jodie Foster in a film in her remarkable career.

DeNiro boasts a performance that sees him as saddened as much as he is intimidating. We wait for the eminent break down of his Travis Bickle character like you are walking through a minefield while already having shrapnel in your heart (Iron Man reference). It’s one of the best films in history because it holds up. Anything great is great because it transcends time and categories in which its peers would fall and it is just as topical in today’s world as it was forty years ago. Why? Because it wasn’t afraid to say and do what we as people likely are going through in our everyday lives. What is right and wrong? What would do if you had strong feelings playing through your body like heavy metal or church hymns? 

It’s a film that confirmed Scorsese is a master film maker and it will always prove to be a film that reminds film lovers why films are so incredible. The writing, the direction, the visuals, and the concepts are deep, crisp, and grimy yet refined with a hint of aggression thrown in for good measure. It’s a cocktail that will make you feel like you swallowed a dozen Long Island iced-teas during the run-time with but with a sobering outcome in the process. It hits you viciously but methodically and doesn’t allow you to stop watching, even for a moment. It’s a great film and is deserving of all the praise it gets without question and is officially staying in the hearts and heads of film fanatics like myself while becoming a stable in an era of film making that boasted more classics than any decade.

SCORE: A++

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1996): A NEAR FLAWLESS FILM -MOVIE REVIEW

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“Who is the monster and who is the man?” A question that looms in my psyche everyday. Our shallow existences are fed by the equally shallow desire of acceptance for things we may never truly be, but it’s when people around you can accept you for who you truly are that you will discover the answers to your own personal questions, no matter what your book cover may read. Seems awfully deep for a Disney animated film, but it’s the central theme for 1996’s underrated classic adapted from the Victor Hugo Gothic romance from 1831. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the first time I realized that it doesn’t matter what people look like and that it’s what’s in their hearts that we should measure a person.

Through the many historical genres of storytelling Disney has adapted, it was unusual to see such a dark time like Gothic era France to be a part of their future films. In reality, famine and violence and the usual human prejudices ran rampant and the stories that came out of that time period would not normally be considered for children’s consumption, but as Disney has always done, they brought that Fantasia magic into a film that grabs you with the ringing of bells and harmonies from Gregorian chants that’s suitable for kids, but truly for adults.

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The unconventional protagonist is a deformed young man shunned from the world he looks down upon. With a heart of gold and a desire to view the world from other than his Bell Tower like prison, Quasimodo sets on a dangerous adventure to see what is truly beyond his stonewalls only to discover that people can be vile and cruel. With the animation style still being hand-drawn like most classic Disney films, the settings are out this world beautiful and set a scale of what Paris truly would have been like. Colors stay as vibrant as the day the film released for audiences back in 96′ and still hold up today.

But how can you discuss a classic Disney film without discussing the bone chilling soundtrack? Alan Menken is the mastermind of some of your favorite animated films of the last two and a half decades, credits that include songs and scores from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and even Hercules. What people forget is his work on the sublime songs of Hunchback’s soundtrack which to this day are some of the most lung filling tunes brought to any musical film of the last three decades. Credit also goes to Stephen Schwartz for the the poignant lyrics that can have you relating to times of life you’d least expect. One of the most fun songs sounds like it could be straight from Broadway that later introduces one of the greatest female Disney characters in history, Esmeralda.

Going away from the whole damsel in distress bit from many classic fairy tales of sorts, Esmeralda is a strong and independent character you can get behind. She’s not only a beautifully conceived character, but also a character with a strong and emotionally captivating backstory with her being a discriminated against gypsy woman. Even so, she finds the inner beauty of our main character unlike those around him. There most vital encounter is also one of the saddest put to screen which, even to this day, makes me cringe is despair for the two of them. A film released so long ago can still hold relevancy to our current world and it’s astounding at how hard it will hit you. If you don’t know what I mean, check out “God Help the Outcasts” and listen with open ears.

Even the romance isn’t by the books. I won’t give anything away, but if you are aware of how the film turns out, you know the conventional clichés of the lead getting the girl isn’t what you get and it stays refreshing to this day. Though not what you’d expect from a standard Disney film of that era, this was never standard from the beginning. From the humor, the adult themes, and even the villain’s unnerving acts of abuse are something that will make you lean back in shock as an adult. Frolo alone is one of the most frightening pieces of this Gothic puzzle that brings shock and awe as one of the best villains of all time. From his songs to his actions (or lack thereof) he brings hatred to a character that is by fact a human and that scares us.

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What makes this film near perfect? It’s the lack of it’s standard story telling tropes that separate it from the pack. The twist on a love story that we would see coming in other films is not here. Our hero is not the prince charming of old, but a man who overcomes the harshest obstacles to discover what he means to the world and what the world means to him. It has arguably one of the top five Disney soundtracks to date as well as visually stunning animation and will be worth the watch for all ages. It deals with real life issues we all face but are too scared to admit and let’s people know that it doesn’t matter what you look like or your status, we are all people, and we have to take chances to discover our purpose in life, and what we will do with our gifts.

So… “Who is the monster and who is the man?”

SCORE: A+

‘THE IRON GIANT’ (1999): YOU ARE WHO YOU CHOOSE TO BE – VINTAGE MOVIE REVIEW

Animation is an incredibly tactical medium and genre for films that have always had the ability to hit audiences of all ages. It was when Brad Bird and Warner Brother Studios decided to bring to life a magical fairy tale of robot giants and the childlike wonders to a screen near you back in 1999. Today, we know Brad Bird as the director of what is still considered the best Mission Impossible film to date and has also given us one of the best Pixar films with the The Incredibles, but before his name rang in our ears, we were reminded that souls never die and we are who we choose to be…and we learned who Vin Diesel sort of was.

Throwing us into a Cold War era America rather than a war torn England like the original source material, we take in the hybrid animation style that boasts hand drawn characters and settings that later bring in some of the most visually striking dimension filled animation that still holds up today. As a mysterious metal monster falls from the sky into a small town in the state of Maine, we are brought to a young boy named Hogarth, whose lack of fear is substituted with imagination and adventure of a boy who sees things for what they truly are whether good or evil. It’s that temperament throughout the story that brings warmth to satire and satire to great narrative.

Over time, the best animated films have been the ones that are kid friendly, but never strictly for the kids. The jokes, the humor, the drama, and the points sprinkled through the film endure no matter what age you are and give new meanings to your own being as you and the film age on. Vin Diesel as the Giant is arguably his best role and that is not a joke. There is power in simplicity and a more emotional attachment to characters with less to say and that is what Vin Diesel brought to the Giant. Though he didn’t speak much, the Giant had all the lines we remember, and it goes back to subtly. Without spoiling the ending for the souls who haven’t seen this film, the Giant brings you life and takes it away like God himself. The emotional spectrum opens in a film like this because it flows organically and is thought out from beginning to end.

An overlooked detail to this film is it’s voice cast. We know Diesel is the Giant, but did you know Jennifer Aniston is Hogarth’s mom or that Harry Connick Jr. is the voice of Dean? Yeah, I know. These are the underrated voice performances of animated films in the last two decades and without them, the film loses “it”. Of course, when checking off boxes for this movie you are pretty much filled. From the crisp animation to the voice cast, there are also the key factors that make a great movie and that is clear direction as well as emotionally taxing conflict and villain of sorts, and you have to give credit to the script written by Tim McCanlies.

In the original fairy tale, the Giant eventually battles an alien, but instead, the alien is deleted and he goes up against one man’s stupidity and ignorance and one giant missile. It takes some serious confidence in your vision and story to have a robot not battle a giant alien and substitute it with something far more original. This becomes a film about a boy and his dog in a manner of speaking. The dog becomes a giant metal man and the boy stays the same. What happens in these sort of stories is what makes all great “a boy and his dog” style tales work: character growth and acceptance.

Guys, this is a film that should not only be atop your lists of best animated films, but one of the best films made in the last 25 years. We quote the film, we cry at the end, and we cherish it like Hogarth does the Giant, and that is never going to change. It’s a beautiful tale that will teach both kids and adults that taking a life is wrong, but it’s okay to die, and that you are who you choose to be and no predetermined destiny can take that from you.

SCORE: A+

‘CASINO ROYALE’ (2005): WHEN JAMES BOND BECAME 007 – VINTAGE MOVIE REVIEW

In honor of the fourth Daniel Craig James Bond film I’ve decided to write out a review for one of my favorite –not just Bond films– but favorite films I’ve ever seen. Casino Royale is the film that tells, more or less, the origin of 007 as he takes on one of the most intense poker games in film history in order to stop the funding of terrorism. This is considered to be the film that stayed closest to Ian Fleming’s original Bond book of the same name and with the direction of Martin Campbell. This was the film, for not just myself, that brought Bond into an era where we took him seriously for what his character truly is supposed to be. In the past, we were given the more womanizing, campy, corny action filled spy films with some exceptions thrown in there for good measure, but this, this was the Bond film for me.

Rather than taking the bait of following the standard James Bond formula, Campbell decided on a blonde haired, blue eyed Bond rather than the standard brown eyes/hair Bond we’ve been given in the past, but none of that matters as much as the nearly flawless storytelling and action we are treated to for this movie. Smooth and flavorful can be to describe the film itself or the drink that the iconic character partakes in and either way it’s a compliment. Shots composed of high octane stunt work and cleverly devised banter between supporting characters and Bond give this film it’s charm and bite like we’ve never seen for the titular spy.

Bond is not just a womanizer, he is a cold-blooded killer in a life that doesn’t allow the warmth of others to enter. Cold and calculated, with an itchy trigger finger, Bond is a man of few words rather than simply having sex with all women he sees without purpose. Casino Royale had the nads to flip the concepts and trademarks of Bond to better enhance the character’s flaws and strengths for a new generation with some homages sprinkled in for good measure. Including car flips, luxurious shots of paradise islands, and action sequences that could have been the final act of the film, Campbell has us enter a world where Bond is a card playing assassin going up against terrorist organizations like it was having afternoon tea.

One of the underrated actors we recognize by face, rather than name or talent, is Mads Mikkelsen. Mikkelson is a blood weeping terrorist with some bills to pay and it’s the calm fear he exudes and the terror of desperation that makes him one of Bond’s greatest villains. His character of Le Chiffre becomes the Joker to Bond’s Bruce Wayne without the purple suit and make up. Instead, he trades in scars on his mouth for one intimidating scar on his left eye, and a torture device that will make any man cringe. Because of these details, the film has a backbone, and a mystery that doesn’t finish until the final scene in the film. Once you think the film could be nearing an intense climax, the crescendos multiply with a new stunt or action scene.

The constantly impressive Eva Green is also a standout in the film as she becomes the “Bond girl” to challenge 007. She is sexy, but never slutty and is smart, but never annoying, she is in fact a capable female human being, and a remarkable character in film. Choosing to bring Bond into reality set the tone for many movies to later adopt the ideas of bringing iconic characters to a human level similar to what Nolan did with Batman. Eva Green as Vesper Lynd is a character you want to continue watching on screen. She and Bond alike set each other up for some of the best one liners in Bond history without them being laughable and corny, but instead, smooth and flavorful.

This and Skyfall took Bond to incredibly new heights while bringing Bond back to the roots that once were seeds of a man living a life similarly to what we’ve been given on, and my gosh, what a treat it’s been. Casino Royale is the perfect mixture of tradition, evolution, action, and storytelling that will hold up for decades to come. It is absolutely a standard in action films along with the spy genre and even romance films. This is the standard of Bond films from now on.

SCORE: A+

REVIEW REQUEST: ‘PAY IT FORWARD’ (2000) – VINTAGE REVIEW

This review was not like to happen without the humble request by one Samie G. and her support of the site. Shout out to Samie and this is for you!

Back in the days when Haley Joel Osment was still warming our hearts with his remarkable skill, even at the tender age of 11, we are treated with a film whose intentions are strong and ocassionally efficient. Also starring in the film is the great Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt as Osment’s social studies teacher and Hunt as his troubled, struggling mother. Osment’s teacher (Spacey) gives an assignment that requires the children to come up with an idea to change the world and with Trevor (Osment) deciding on a “pay it forward” plan.

Going through a chain of events that lead to another throughout the film you can see where the great ideas lie in the film and they tend to show themselves quite a bit, but not before the overly dramatic tendencies take the plot as it’s victim. If you want a film that mixes the classic 90’s romance films with some deep documentary style motives and a Shyamalan type ending that takes you by surprise, you will enjoy Pay It Forward. 

Knowing how warm hearted my friend is, I know where her love for this film comes from and it’s from a sincere and helpful place in her heart. The film will touch those with this kind of description more than a guy like me. Though I will admit it does have great arcs on the characters minus a few cliches relating to an abusive parent and some seriously tough monologues on the horrors of abusive and addiction, but it also displays great sincerity with the idea of passing on good deeds and good intentions and that is something I can always get by. Osment’s young Trevor does some pretty crazy things that aren’t really brushed by, but also so intriguing for his young character you are either pulled into his caring nature or you are deterred by the lack of believability.

Once again, you love the idea of the film with passing on good deeds, but it loses something when literally everything comes together once the final act hits the screen. Nonetheless, I was still enjoying myself as the film rolled on giving a Forest Gump like feel to it, only not as impactful as Gump (for me personally). It has some preachy moments for me and will likely feel the same for those who have less fluffy outlooks on life (no offense to the fluffy thinkers out there), but at least they can all say they are better people than me, which they wouldn’t because they’re nice people.

Overall, I can’t say this is my favorite film, but the performances are great and there is a nice cameo from Bon Jovi (as a character) that will make fans clamor, but it somewhat preachy for most people like myself and concludes in a “evening report” kind of way which many of you will likely not enjoy. The message is strong, but the way the film was adapted was weak.

SCORE: C-

LOOKING BACK ON ‘THE SIXTH SENSE’ (1999) – VINTAGE REVIEW

In honor of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, which apparently isn’t complete horse s***, I went back and re-watched the film that launched his career so high that the only place he could have gone was down, The Sixth Sense. Set in Philadelphia Pennsylvania (holla!) we meet a child psychologist played by Bruce Willis, a man that is the best at what he does which is help children. From a dangerous encounter with one of his former mentally troubled patients, Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Willis) takes on a new patient, an 8 year old Cole Sear played by Haley Joel Osment with a terrifying ability that tortures his every day existence.

Shyamalan’s well crafted story detailing the horrors of fear and death can still make your skin crawl with the tension filled scenes full of ghosts and gory imagery. Casting Haley Joel Osment in what might be one of the best child performances of all time, proved to pay off as he was the youngest actor to ever be nominated for an Academy Award, and it’s not only a great performance by a child actor, but by any actor in general . It was often mortifying to see what Osment’s character went through as such a tender aged character.

Considered more of a  supernatural thriller than a horror/thriller, it still brings the idea of ghosts and fear inducing situations to the big screen in an encompassing manner. One thing that stays in the back of your mind is the perfect usage of the color red in the film. Shot in nearly every scene, the color brings symbolism to what goes on around a specific sequence of events allowing a highlight to the issues the characters are facing. Though the film’s iconic line has since been spoiled and/or parodied by countless outlets, it’s knowing what the twist is or isn’t that can still make your skin crawl.

Shyamalan truly does use the most intellectually sound directing devices to hide all the bits and pieces that will eventually conclude the film in ways first time viewers were likely never aware of. A smoothly written script gives us glimpses of what these characters are going through allowing the film to drive home it’s hall of fame status as one of the most well crafted films of all time. Bruce Willis gives one of his most subdued roles in his career that is up there with one of his best. Avoiding any violent action scenes or even the use of a weapon, you can believe that Willis could have saved your child from a troubled past and future.

The plot of the film wraps up with a satisfying conclusion no matter how many viewings you’ve had of it. Everything ages like wine and becomes equally as fruitfully potent with age. It’s understandable why we like to criticize M. Night for his last four films or so and no one will argue that, but knowing what he did for cinema in 1999 and even with his films until The Village are nothing to gawk at. All this positive feedback to this film are why I have to give The Sixth Sense an A+. If you need a reaffirmation to if M. Night is a talented director just go back to this film and understand why we need to succeed in his next endeavors.

MY FAVORITE WILL SMITH MOVIE: ‘HITCH’ (2005) – VINTAGE REVIEW

I want to let you guys and gals in on a secret about me (Travis Gunn), I really enjoy romantic comedies and I’m not afraid to admit it. No matter how cheesy or how cliched some of them are, I tend to have the softest of spots for romance and humor fused as one. Maybe it is because of the semi-realistic vibes I tend to get from them or it’s the total opposite and the fantastical circumstances are what make you want to believe love truly exists. It’s that kind of cheesy, but honest mindset I have about one of my all-time favorite movies out there simply titled, Hitch (2005). 

As a New York matchmaker, Alex “Hitch” Hitchens (Will Smith) finds his living through assisting men who desire to find love. Through Hitch’s practice, he comes across the good men of New York whom desire genuine affections from the ladies they fantasize about and break their barriers through the help Hitch’s often quirky, but genuine methods. In this journey for clients of love is that of one Albert Brennaman played by Kevin James of King of Queens fame. Together, they set off on the wild ride towards discovering love that enlists the help of goofy dancing, slaps in the face, and deep conversation and I can’t get enough of it.

There is something about a film that you can just pop into the blu-ray and as soon as the music plays through the speakers you feel…good. That feeling of pure happiness and simple bliss that makes you sink comfortably in your seat, that’s this movie. It also will always resonate with me because it’s relatable and I don’t mean the awkward confrontations with women or even the exceptionally confident ability to speak to women, but the elements of assisting others to discover what you desire as a man and person. That’s one of those themes in the film I feel deeply as this movie rolls on and it will stay rolling until I am six feet under dirt.

Not only that, but it is a romantic comedy that isn’t so deeply rooted into the genre of rom-coms that it feels paper thin in plot or style. Sure, it has over the top antics and the emotions you view in the genre, but it’s not what has been done first or last, but who executes it in the most efficient and beneficial ways. I love this movie because it resonates nicely with you. It’s like hearing a song for the first time and enjoying the beat, but it will always stay with you because of the lyrics and great songs are like movies where you will remember it for both a beat and a lyric (usually).

The acting is surefire with the charm and wit and timing of all the characters and it takes you in because of how human they are shown to be. They are given chips in their armor which brings humorous and often intimate views of human nature when it comes to understanding and the understanding of love.

Did the film likely intend such a deep message? Probably not, but that’s what makes movies so special. The subjective experiences we all have when we are sitting down enjoying films. The memories, the emotions, the sheer entertainment of films that make you feel. Hitch for me is this and then some and comes as one of my favorite, if not my favorite, of Will Smith’s collection. Sometimes less can be more and the simple comedic-romances like this are what a person needs to enjoy themselves for two hours. It also doesn’t hurt that Eva Mendes is like viewing a Cuban deity and the movie is endless quotable.

It should be no surprise that I am giving one of my all-time films an A+. This movie, along with my mother’s upbringing, is why I try my best to respect and care for the women around me whether strangers or family. It brings up points that can be brought into our everyday lives that we tend to ignore, and after seeing this movie over 100 times (exaggerating a little), those lessons aren’t going anywhere.

If you haven’t seen this classic from Will Smith go out and Netflix this right away! And if you want more vintage reviews, let me know in the comments and follow me on the main page! And remember…

“Life is not about the amount of breaths you take, but the amount moments that take your breath away…”

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