Netflix review: Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976)

In 1981, John Hinckley, Junior, shot then United States President Ronald Reagan in an attempt to impress Jodie Foster. His stalkerish obsession with the actress began at the release of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), when she was still only just a child star.

The would-be assassin even sported Robert De Niro’s mohawk from the film.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Taxi Driver is available to stream on Netflix.

The neo-noir psychological thriller was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for De Niro, Best Supporting Actress for Foster, and Best Original Score for Bernard Herrmann.

It is based off the diaries of Arthur Bremer, who shot presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972.

Travis Bickle (De Niro) is an insomniac Vietnam War veteran living in New York who works as an overnight cabbie.

He becomes infatuated with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a campaign volunteer for Senator Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris), and befriends Iris “Easy” Steensma (Foster), a twelve-year-old runaway prostitute whom he fixates upon saving from herself.

As the city falls apart around him, Travis’s mind descends into madness right along with it, until he resorts to violence in his desperation to connect with the women in his life.

The filmmaker cinematically externalizes Travis’s broken psyche via the setting, thanks in no small part to Herrmann’s atmospheric composition.

Herrmann, whose most iconic work is featured in Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), also scored Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) as well as Hitchcock’s own Vertigo (1958), both of which are in competition for greatest film ever made.

The songsmith died in his sleep Christmas Eve 1975, after going home from finalizing Taxi Driver.

But a cinematic character study such as this is a marriage between the musical in addition to the dramatic arts, and De Niro proves to be a bedfellow worthy of Herrmann, and, for that matter, Scorsese.

If an actor is only as good as their director, then Scorsese and De Niro’s partnership is a match made in Heaven.

Scorsese’s rapport with editor Thelma Schoonmaker speaks to his understanding of film as a collaborative medium, and his Cape Fear (1991) is his most cathartic concert with De Niro, capturing him at the capstone of his Method acting.

Travis Bickle festers at the more sympathetic end of the spectrum, a product of his ultraviolent environment.

As for Foster, even at Iris’s age, she could be counted upon to hold her own against De Niro. She is all at once childishly innocent and aged beyond her years, something for Travis to live for but also something for him to kill for.

She is the foil reflecting back at us our (anti)hero’s journey from ticking time bomb to celebrated media vigilante, and it would be rhapsodic, if not for its real-world consequences (for which Foster is not to blame).

Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) is the last New Hollywood masterpiece, and this critic writes this knowing Taxi Driver came out the same year, because it is not Scorsese’s masterwork (that honor belongs to GoodFellas (1990)).

The auteur almost quit filmmaking over the Reagan shooting. While Hinckley probably would have turned to terrorism anyway with or without Taxi Driver, his fetishization of Foster and his plan to get her to notice him were both informed by the movie, leading one to wonder…

…Does Travis get what he deserves from Scorsese?

Again, this is an artistic judgment of the director, not a legal one; no artist is anything other than human, and at least he doesn’t take the power of his craft lightly.

Fascist propagandists employed motion pictures to Nazify Germany, and, though militant antisemitism existed before cinema, Doctor Joseph Goebbels still articulated this far-right ideology for Adolf Hitler and his followers.

It’s his reverence for the art form where Scorsese’s genius comes to life, and a movie that can change the course of history itself is an essential study for any cinephile.

Warner Bros. signs deal with AI startup to predict film success

Film company Warner Bros. has signed a deal with Los Angeles startup Cinelytic, which utilizes machine learning to predict film success at the greenlight stage, but the artificial intelligence will assist the studio’s marketing as well as distribution decisions, according to The Verge. The software’s fantasy football algorithm allows customers to pitch a genre, budget, actors, and so forth, tweaking individual elements to see how they affect the hypothetical movie’s performance in different demographics and markets. Scientific studies, however, show that AI only regurgitates self-evident findings (such as “Scarlett Johansson is a bankable star”) which can be discovered without AI.

“Forbes” recommends five films all entrepreneurs should watch

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Forbes contributor Kelly Richmond Pope teaches research fraud and forensic accounting. (Image Courtesy: Forbes).

Since Forbes contributor Kelly Richmond Pope says she uses film to teach accounting to her students because, she writes, “numbers tell the best stories,” she has come to discover while composing this year’s syllabus that film could also teach entrepreneurs about fraud schemes. Companies lose five percent of their annual revenues to payroll fraud, cash theft, as well as expense fraud, and entrepreneurs are especially vulnerable because so little of their time or resources are invested in internal controls. The five films Pope recommends for entrepreneurs are: Steve James’s Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2016); Netflix’s Ozark (2017-); Pope’s own All the Queen’s Horses (2017); Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption (1994); and AMC’s Breaking Bad (2008-2013).

The advent of “extreme film criticism”

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Review aggregate sites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic have also degraded long-form analysis. (Image Courtesy: The Los Angeles Review of Books).

With the rise of home video, film criticism (as per the French New Wave filmmakers behind the Parisian Cahiers du cinema in the 1950s) democratized, and to compete against the amateurs, professionals resort to “extreme film criticism,” according to the Los Angeles Review of Books. When AMC theaters screened all twelve Marvel movies leading up to the release of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War (2018) that April, IndieWire reviewer David Ehrlich as well as The New York Times critic John Bailey subjected themselves to the thirty-one-hour marathon. Even this practice harkens back to François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Éric Rohmer, who would spend entire days at the Cinémathèque Française bingeing the American masterpieces over and over again.

Awkwafina makes history at Golden Globe Awards

Sunday night, Awkwafina became the first Asian American actress to win a Golden Globe in the Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy category, for her tragicomic role in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell (2019), according to Deadline. Wang’s semiautobiographical film is about a Chinese American woman returning to China to say goodbye to her terminally ill grandmother; Awkwafina thanked Zhao Shuzhen, her onscreen grandmother, as well as the real-life grandmother who raised her, during her acceptance speech. Backstage, Awkwafina said of the history-making win, “I actually heard that fact and it was pretty mind-blowing. It feels incredible… but you want there to be more. I hope this is only the beginning.”

Prince William narrates sixty-second mental health film for millions of soccer fans

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Prince William says British people, men especially, stigmatize mental illness; according to Public Health England, there are more than fifteen million soccer fans in the United Kingdom, sixty-nine percent of whom are men. (Image Courtesy: CNN).

Prince William is the narrator for a one-minute film, Take a Minute – starring many soccer stars – from Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters, the English Football Association (of which he is president), as well as Heads Together’s Heads Up campaign, according to CNN. Kickoff times for all thirty-two fixtures of the third round of the English FA Cup will be delayed by sixty seconds Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, so the mental illness public service announcement can be shown at stadiums in front of millions of fans. William and his brother, Prince Harry, have advocated for a number of mental health causes since the traumatic death of their mother, Princess Diana, in 1997.

New leadership announcements from MGM

MGM Motion Picture Group president Jonathan Glickman is stepping down to be a producer for the studio after chairman and CEO Gary Barber was fired in 2018, according to Deadline. Meanwhile, former New Line-DreamWorks-Sony executive as well as Fifty Shades of Grey producer Michael De Luca will become chairman of the MGM Film Group as late as March, making him the equivalent to MGM Worldwide Television Group chairman Mark Burnett. De Luca previously declined the opportunity to run Paramount for Jim Gianopulos, and Glickman has been working with MGM since 2011, outlasting both Barber and Roger Birnbaum from Spyglass Entertainment, who arrived with him.