In Retrospect – The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988)

The life of Christ has never been more passionately – or controversially – depicted on screen than in Martin Scorsese’s long-held labour of love.

One of Scorsese's most underseen and undervalued works, The Last Temptation Of Christ demands to be seen

One of Scorsese’s most underseen and undervalued works, The Last Temptation Of Christ demands to be seen

The crippling weight of guilt and the quest for redemption imprint themselves on many of Scorsese’s leading men; an acknowledged product of a devout Catholic upbringing that lapsed into the shadows as his love of cinema burned brighter.

Scorsese’s complex relationship with religion (he seriously considered taking the cloth to become a priest for a time) manifests itself in this deeply personal and spiritual adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, whose doubting and fearful protagonist is the embodiment of the characters who have stumbled uncertainly through much of the director’s work.

Jesus (Willem Dafoe) goes into the desert in The Last Temptation Of Christ

Jesus (Willem Dafoe) goes into the desert in The Last Temptation Of Christ

On its release, The Last Temptation Of Christ was met with fire and brimstone in certain sections of the Christian faith and media, most notably by one extremist group who set fire to the Saint Michel theatre in Paris for showing the film, injuring more than a dozen people in the process.

Whether any of these people took the time to watch the film before passing judgement is hard to say (it is a long movie to be fair), but it’s perhaps not hard to see why some took so vehemently against it considering the subject matter.

should their views be based on heresay or downright ignorance

No doubt realising its potentially combustible nature, the film opens with a statement making clear that, rather than being drawn from the Gospels it is, like Kazantzakis’s book, a work divorced from the events depicted in the Bible; a parallel universe where the life of Christ follows a similar path before embarking on a final act that is entirely its own.

Judas (Harvey Keitel) and the disciples follow Jesus in The Last Temptation Of Christ

Judas (Harvey Keitel) and the disciples follow Jesus in The Last Temptation Of Christ

That final act is the eponymous last temptation when Jesus (Willem Dafoe) has a near-death vision of stepping down from the cross with the help of a figure claiming to be a guardian angel and leading the life of a normal man. Happiness (including consummating his relationship with Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey)) comes with a price, however, and it takes his most trusted follower Judas (Harvey Keitel, Brooklyn accent intact) to make him realise just what it is he has done.

Portrayals of Jesus almost overwhelmingly veer towards solemnity and reverence, which makes this depiction of Christ so fascinating. In the hands of Dafoe, this messiah is plagued with self-loathing, fear and doubt; a figure aware of his relationship with God but deeply unsure of whether he is up to the task or, indeed, what that task actually is.

Jesus (Willem Dafoe) faces his last temptation in The Last Temptation Of Christ

Jesus (Willem Dafoe) faces his last temptation in The Last Temptation Of Christ

A pointed image at the start of the film comes as Jesus builds a cross for someone’s crucifixion and stretches his arms out across the wooden block to ensure it is fit for purpose. We discover, shockingly, that he is a Roman collaborator whose confederacy is looked upon with disgust by the turbulent Judas.

He confesses to Judas at one point that he is “a liar, a hypocrite, I’m afraid of everything, I don’t ever tell the truth; I don’t have the courage” before adding that “I want to rebel against God but I’m afraid. You want to know who my God is? Fear”.

As others are drawn to his inherent divinity, Jesus starts to believe in his calling, but that underlying doubt remains, not least when he performs the miracle of resurrecting Lazarus from the dead only to be struck by an inner apprehension that registers on Dafoe’s expressive face.

The late David Bowie plays Pilate opposite Willem Dafoe's Jesus in The Last Temptation Of Christ

The late David Bowie plays Pilate opposite Willem Dafoe’s Jesus in The Last Temptation Of Christ

Scorsese’s camera is more restrained than usual, although some of Marty’s trademark visual flourishes are here, including zooms and the familiar gliding of the camera from a one-shot to a two-shot.

The rushed production schedule (a necessity due to the limited budget) actually works to the film’s advantage, with certain scenes having a rough and ready feel that suits both the landscape and the narrative; particularly the hippyish gathering that takes place around John the Baptist (Andre Gregory) which brings to mind chaotic images of Woodstock.

An elderly Jesus (Willem Dafoe) realises all is not as it appears to be in The Last Temptation Of Christ

An elderly Jesus (Willem Dafoe) realises all is not as it appears to be in The Last Temptation Of Christ

Alongside these moments, the film also takes the time to theologise about man’s place in this world and the nature of God. Jesus and John find themselves at loggerheads over whether the Almighty wishes his followers to be Old or New Testament, while a back and forth between a newly arrested Jesus and a blasé Pontius Pilate (David Bowie) doesn’t end well.

One of Scorsese’s most underseen and undervalued works, The Last Temptation Of Christ demands to be seen and remains an important chapter in the book of cinema’s treatment of religion.

Decades Blogathon – Casino (1995)

Decades Blogathon Banner


As hard as it may be to believe we are entering the home stretch of the Decades Blogathon, hosted by myself and the indubitable Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the fifth year of the decade. Tom and I are running different entries each day; and this one comes from Fernando at Committed To Celluloid. Fernando’s site is one of my favourites out there in the blogosphere, so do yourself a favour and take a visit!

Casino Poster

It seems so strange that Casino came out only 20 years ago. Martin Scorsese’s 1995 offering seems much older, and yes, I mean it as a compliment.

Arguably one of ole Marty’s best (or my favorite, anyway), Casino, not just because it’s set in that era, truly feels, looks and carries itself like a film of the seventies.


Riveting, stylish and peppered with bursts of extreme violence – something of a trademark for the director – I have an inkling Goodfellas’ better not-quite-a-sequel wouldn’t feel like the awkward stranger in the decade of timeless classics like Dog Day Afternoon, Chinatown and The Godfather Parts I and II.

High praise? It may be, but it’s not every day that a talky three-hour movie where not a lot goes on happens to breeze by and be totally absorbing, much less upon a second viewing.

The jazzy soundtrack is one tiny, yet pivotal part in the film’s success, which can mainly be attributed to two things: the superb script by Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, filled with vibrant dialogue and just the right amount of humour, and the presence of Joe Pesci in a meaty role that called for the Oscar-winner’s brilliant performance.


Pesci’s Nicky throws around f-bombs like nobody’s business (for a while, the film held the record for most uses of the curse, with 435, or 2.4 times per minute on average) and is, at the same time, Casino’s main source of comic relief and its most frightening character. Who knew tiny could be so intimidating?

Despite being overshadowed by Pesci’s flashier performance, Robert De Niro (of course) and Sharon Stone are solid, and they look great in their lavish costumes too. Stone, in particular, looks breathtakingly beautiful during the first hour of the film, before her Ginger loses herself to drugs and booze. Sharon is a sparkly vision in her first scene, which is also Scorsese’s favorite.


Sitting comfortably at #140 in the IMDb Top 250 (at the time of this review), Casino may not be as loved as other Scorsese gems, but it’s a fantastic film that demonstrates why Marty is one of the best directors still in the business.


Blogathon Relay: The 10 Most Influential Directors Of All Time

The 10 Most Influential Directors Of All Time

One of the more pleasant surprises I’ve had recently was to have received the baton from the lovely Ruth at FlixChatter for the 10 Most Influential Directors of All Time Blogathon relay.

The Blogathon was the brainchild of John at Hichcock’s World. It’s a brilliant idea and John sums it up nicely: “I have compiled a list of 10 directors I consider to be extremely influential. I will name another blogger to take over. That blogger, in their own article, will go through my list and choose one they feel doesn’t belong, make a case for why that director doesn’t fit, and then bring out a replacement. After making a case for why that director is a better choice, they will pass the baton onto another blogger. That third blogger will repeat the process before choosing another one to take over, and so on.”

The baton has so far been passed to the following:

Girl Meets Cinema
And So It Begins…
Dell On Movies
Two Dollar Cinema
A Fistful Of Films
The Cinematic Spectacle
FlixChatter (Thanks for the banner logo Ruth!)

The original list had plenty of incredible directors on it, but as the baton has been handed down the list has become pretty damned impressive:

The 10 Most Influential Directors Of All Time

Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, Georges Méliès, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, Ingmar Bergman and Stanley Kubrick

Ruth’s addition to the list was Billy Wilder and her justification was thus: “I’ve recently seen one of Wilder’s best, The Apartment, and I could see why his films are so beloved. He imbued such wit in his films, a dose of cynical humor. He also has a way with actors, having directed no less than 14 actors to Oscar-nominated performances. He’s also a versatile writer/director, as he excelled in numerous genres: drama, noir, comedy as well as war films. He’s one of those directors whose work I still need to see more of, but even from the few that I’ve seen, it’s easy to see how Mr Wilder belongs in this list.”

So, Who’s Out?

Jean Luc Goddard

Jean-Luc Godard

Man, this was an almost impossible decision. Godard’s still making movies aged 83 and there’s no denying the influence of his work. Breathless remains a defining work of the French New Wave and his 1964 film Bande à part was stolen by Tarantino for the name of his production company. The more I think about it, the less I’m sure, but compared to the others on this list I feel Godard’s influence has slipped and, as such, he doesn’t quite make it. Sorry Jean-Luc, but I suspect you’d feel that lists like this are way too bourgeois anyway.

Now, Who’s In?

John Ford

John Ford

Reflecting on his masterpiece Citizen Kane, Orson Welles was asked who influenced what is still regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. Welles’ reply was simple: “The old masters, by which I mean John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.” He had reputedly watched Ford’s 1939 classic Stagecoach more than 40 times in preparation for his debut feature and he wasn’t the only one to have been drawn to the work of one of the most influential directors of all time.

An encounter with Ford proved to have a massive impact on a 15-year-old Steven Spielberg, who subsequently said of the great man: “Ford’s in my mind when I make a lot of my pictures.” Watch Saving Private Ryan‘s devastating D-Day landings sequence and War Horse and you’ll see Ford’s stamp front and centre.

Likewise, Martin Scorsese has cited The Searchers as one of his favourite films. Speaking about the film in the Hollywood Reporter, Scorsese said: “In truly great films – the ones that people need to make, the ones that start speaking through them, the ones that keep moving into territory that is more and more unfathomable and uncomfortable – nothing’s ever simple or neatly resolved. You’re left with a mystery. In this case, the mystery of a man who spends 10 years of his life searching for someone, realises his goal, brings her back and then walks away. Only an artist as great as John Ford would dare to end a film on such a note.”

The list goes on. Ingmar Bergman cited Ford as “the best director in the world”, while Alfred Hitchcock declared that a “John Ford film was a visual gratification”.

From the earliest days of film, through to the invention of sound and the introduction of colour, Ford remained a cinematic pioneer. Although best regarded for his westerns, he also made another masterpiece that defined a nation – The Grapes Of Wrath; while his incredible World War Two documentaries The Battle Of Midway and December 7th remain quintessential examples of the craft. For all this alone, John Ford should be regarded as The Great American Director.


Well, that’s me done, so now the torch passes to… Fernando at Committed to Celluloid. Good luck Fernando; you’re gonna need it!

Review – The Wolf Of Wall Street

The ugly reality of what constitutes the modern day American Dream is writ large over Martin Scorsese’s outrageous and intelligent trawl through the moral sewer of a world fuelled by power, prostitutes and pesos.

Far from slowing down in his autumn years, Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street finds the director back at his very best.

Far from slowing down in his autumn years, Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street finds the director back at his very best.

The Wolf Of Wall Street begins with an advert for Jordan Belfort’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) church of capitalism, Stratton Oakmont, espousing the firm’s “stability” and “integrity”, before cutting to its “trained professionals” betting huge sums of money on a dwarf throwing contest.

It’s none-too-subtle – like much of the film – but this observation of the unbridled hypocrisy and moral vacuum at the black heart of Belfort and his army of disciples runs through the core of Scorsese’s exhilarating and exhausting 22nd feature.

Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) gets taken under the wing of sulphurous boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) gets taken under the wing of sulphurous boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

Scorsese revisits the dwarf tossing scene later in the film when Belfort, his best friend and Vice President Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), and a couple of other senior traders discuss how best to exploit the dwarf and agree not to “consider him a human”. It’s a cleverly symbolic moment – we are the ‘little people’ being taken advantage of by these monsters for financial gain and their own amusement.

These guys know they’re crooks but are having too much fun in their grotesque bubble to care. When a potential client remarks over the phone that Belfort seems like “a pretty sincere guy”, his team collapse into howls of laughter; while Belfort literally and figuratively ‘closes the deal’ by simulating having sex as he makes the sale.

Naomi (Margot Robbie), Jordan's trophy wife in The Wolf Of Wall Street

Naomi (Margot Robbie), Jordan’s trophy wife in The Wolf Of Wall Street

Told through Belfort’s unreliable eyes, we follow him from his wet-behind-the-ears early days through to his rebirth following the Wall Street crash of 1987 to become a wildly successful stockbroker making money hand over fist by selling worthless stocks to unwitting schumcks who have bought into the get rich quick mantra peddled to them by the ‘free’ market.

Belfort’s success leads to the creation of Stratton Oakmont, a boiler room where illegal activity and corruption go hand in hand with opprobrious excess and decadence on a scale that would make Caligula blush.

The best of times... stockbroker-turned-rock star Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

The best of times… stockbroker-turned-rock star Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

It’s easy to get blindsided by the film’s numerous scenes of drug taking, orgiastic partying and general debauchery, but those who claim the director gives Belfort a pass are completely missing the point of The Wolf Of Wall Street. It is politicians, the legal system and society in general who let – and continue to let – snake oil salesmen like Belfort off the hook by allowing ourselves to be seduced by empty promises of riches beyond the dreams of avarice.

A key scene takes place towards the start of the film involving Matthew McConaughey’s obscenely immoral broker Mark Hanna taking a young Belfort out to lunch to explain to him – and us  – that the name of the game is to “move the money from your client’s pocket into your pocket” and to “keep the clients on the ferris wheel and keep the park open 24/7/365”.

The worst of times... the wheels start coming off for Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and partner-in-crime Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

The worst of times… the wheels start coming off for Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and partner-in-crime Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

As appalling as Hanna’s pep talk is, we laugh in spite of ourselves, thanks in no small part to McConaughey’s inspired cameo. A similar reaction is had throughout what is at times a laugh-out-loud comedy. Belfort lives and breathes the words Hanna has taught him, which makes for numerous scenes of ridiculous comedy, most notably when he’s almost paralysed by an particularly strong batch of Quaaludes.

Based on Belfort’s book of the same name, the film follows in the ‘visual novel’ footsteps of Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino by relying heavily on narration to tell the tale. Just as Ray Liotta’s delivery sucked us in to a tale of New York gangsters, so too does DiCaprio, who builds an irresistible rapport with the audience through a mix of buddy-buddy repartee and matter-of-fact exposition.

FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) investigates Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

FBI Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) investigates Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Wolf Of Wall Street

It’s an electric performance from DiCaprio, arguably the highlight of his career and certainly his best under Scorsese’s mentorship. The over-the-top banter with his besotted staff and explosive physicality may be what grabs the headlines, but his more nuanced work, particularly opposite trophy wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) and FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) are what sets the performance apart. DiCaprio is lent excellent support from all quarters, especially Robbie and a never-better Hill.

As you’d expect from a Scorsese picture, the needle-drop soundtrack is a music lover’s delight (although Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter is notable by its absence), while Terrence Winter’s volcanic script justifies the film’s three-hour running time.

Far from slowing down in his autumn years, Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street finds the director back at his very best.

Sound And Vision – The Best Uses Of Songs In Movies

Since its birth more than a century ago, cinema has used music to heighten and manipulate our emotions.

Before the invention of sound, everything from a simple piano to a full-blown orchestra was employed by silent movies to make us smile, tug the heartstrings or set the pulse racing.

This kinship between sound and vision has continued to this day and, when done right, can leave a lasting impression and elevate a film in the eyes and ears of the viewer.

The thought struck me again during a recent viewing of Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, specifically the scene in which Greta Gerwig’s titular protagonist dances giddily through the streets of New York as David Bowie’s Modern Love plays over the soundtrack. It’s a joyful confluence of moving picture and an 80’s classic that, more than anything else in the film, has stayed with me.

There are far too many memorable examples of movie scenes that remain stuck in my head because of the way the director has used a song to enhance the action on screen. Here are just a handful of my picks – as ever I’d love to know:

What are your favourite movie scenes set to a great song?

Goodfellas (1990)
Layla (Piano Exit) by Derek And The Dominos

Martin Scorsese has long been a master of the soundtrack, none more so than in his 1990 masterpiece Goodfellas. The film is chock full of classic music overlayed over striking visuals; however, the scene that always sticks in my mind is when dead bodies start showing up across the city, be they in a car, a refuse truck or the back of a meat lorry. Regarded as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most definitive love songs, Scorsese’s inspired use of Derek And The Dominos’ Layla (Piano Exit) instead gives the scene an elegiac tone as we know this marks the beginning of the end for wiseguys Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci).

Easy Rider (1969)
Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf

And low, the New Hollywood was born. Although released a year earlier, Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild will forever be joined at the hip with Easy Rider, such is the impact the film had. It’s impossible to think of another song that could be used in its place as Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s drug-smuggling bikers take to the road to get to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Just as Fonda’s decision to dispose of his watch marked a turning point in cinema, that iconic opening drum beat and insanely catchy guitar riff was the perfect soundtrack.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Stuck In The Middle With You by Stealers Wheel

Another director synonymous for using the ‘needle drop’ is Quentin Tarantino; so much so in fact that for his debut feature Reservoir Dogs, the fictional K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies is as integral a character in the film as Mr White et al. Call it unfortunate timing for poor old Officer Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz), but when Stealers Wheel’s appropriately titled Stuck In The Middle With You takes to the airwaves, it provides the psychopathic Mr Blonde (Michael Madsen) with the musical spur he needs to perform some unwanted ear surgery. There are numerous other great songs used to superb effect by Tarantino throughout his career, but this remains the most potent example.

Boogie Nights (1997)
Jessie’s Girl by Rick Springfield

Once the porn star’s porn star, Dirk Diggler’s (Mark Wahlberg) desperate collapse into drug addiction reaches its sad nadir in this mesmerising scene, one of the finest of Paul Thomas Anderson’s astonishing career. Dirk, Reed Rothchild (John C Reilly) and their pal Todd’s (Thomas Jane) misguided attempt to sell drug dealer Rahad Jackson (Alfred Molina) baking soda instead of cocaine predictably goes awry. As Jackson dances to Rick Springfield’s uplifting Jessie’s Girl, the folly of their plan gradually dawns on an increasingly jittery Dirk and the unbearable tension builds with every firecracker dropped by Jackson’s mute friend. Anyone who says Wahlberg can’t act just needs to watch how he gets lost in the song before strung-out paranoia and self-loathing seeps into his eyes – it’s a masterclass in subtle character shifts. Molina, meanwhile, is spot-on as always with a genuinely unnerving performance as the loathsome dealer.

Trainspotting (1996)
Born Slippy.NUX by Underworld

Danny Boyle is among a rare breed of directors who understand how and where to use dance music in their films without it sounding naff. He had demonstrated his keen understanding of the form by inventively switching between slow motion and speeded up footage to the penetrating sound of Leftfield’s title track in his debut film Shallow Grave. In his adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s cult novel, Boyle laid a little-known b-side by the then equally little-known Underworld over the film’s closing scene. Played quietly in the background at first, the tune slowly builds to a pulse-quickening crescendo as Ewan McGregor’s Renton steals off with his friends’ loot and vows to choose life over heroin.

The Big Lebowski (1998)
Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition

It’s easy to forget just how integral music is to the Coens’ oeuvre. From O Brother, Where Art Thou? to their latest Inside Llewyn Davis, their use of music is as carefully thought out as their storyboarded visuals. Arguably their most memorable needle-drop scene is the surreal ‘Gutterballs’ dream sequence from The Big Lebowski. Set to the psychedelic Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In), a wide-eyed Dude’s (Jeff Bridges) love of bowling is indulged as he rents a pair of shoes from Saddam Hussein, teaches Julianne Moore’s Nordic-clad Maude Lebowski how to bowl and then becomes the ball as he ‘rolls’ through the spread legs of dancing girls in swimsuits. The Dude does, indeed, abide.