Goodfella: Martin Scorsese in Dublin




Martin Scorsese was recently awarded a gold medal by the University Philosophical Society of Trinity College. Michael Lee shines a light.

On the evening of Friday the 24th of February, acclaimed cinematic auteur Martin Scorsese (74) was to be awarded the Gold Honorary Patronage medal by the Trinity College Philosophical society. With some scant research I’d found out, Trinity College Philosophical society was founded in 1683, and is the oldest debating society in the world, and has housed debates from some of the most esteemed and radical intellects over the centuries. Notable members of the society include Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and Samuel Beckett. Scorsese had recently been in London where he gave a powerhouse speech to the British Film Institute, and rounding out his trip this side of the Atlantic, Scorsese dropped into Ireland. It was the first time the director had been in Dublin since 1998, when he gave a directing workshop in UCD, before leaving to chair Cannes film festival.


With what little sleep I’ve had, I awake with a blast of optimism and wipe the sleep from my eyes. Today’s the day I’m going to meet Scorsese. I can feel it in my bones; I’m going to see a walking talking idol in the flesh, and try to hustle an interview. I stuff my creased edition of the Goodfellas screenplay in my back pocket, grab a biro and race out the front door.


I arrive at Trinity a little after 4, which makes me over an hour early for the main event. It’s probably going to be a long haul, but who knows what’s going to happen, or when or where Mr. Scorsese’s going to come from. I’ve heard spontaneity is key, hence my premature arrival. Scorsese had been rumored to take a photo in front of the iconic Campanile bell tower beforehand. But as I walk into the front square he’s nowhere in sight. I wait for a few minutes but decide to take my chances inside the venue first and see if I can catch him hanging around afterward.


To my right, there’s a noisy queue of around 200 students queuing up outside the stately looking exam hall. There’s a wild mixture of faces, with everything from gaping grins, to looks of sheer terror, and even boredom. The prospect of having to wait in line filled me with that kind of nervous dread distinctive to queuing for a big event.  What if I don’t get in? How will I write an article? I approach the head of the queue and am speedily directed to the press area. I climb a winding wooden stairs up to an empty balcony and take my pick of the few chairs there.


The Trinity exam hall is an austere surrounding, and it’s filled with a sea of function seating. At the end of the hall on what’s like a slightly raised stage or proscenium, there are two large antique chairs set facing the crowd, one slightly more throne like than the other. Decadent renaissance style oil paintings of regal looking intellects hang high on the walls. As they stare out through the canvas with their pompous looking haircuts and curly mustaches, it’s easy to imagine that they are probably former deans or patrons of the college. There’s a freshness to the hall without it being exactly cold. Down below volunteers direct the remaining students and guests to their seats. The crowd anxiously awaits Mr. Scorsese. A biting tension isin the air, an electricity. And every time so much as a footstep or a muffled voice is heard coming in the door, a rapt silence sweeps across the hall and necks creak around at awkward 90-degree angles; only to be brutally disappointed by the sight of college personal. Of course, the collective whispering resumes immediately, charged with a building expectation; until the next footstep, and all sound momentarily stops again.



At 5:45, Scorsese makes his way up the centre aisle, accompanied by an enthusiastic applause. When the clapping finally comes to a close, Scorsese is presented with his honorary medal and he sits down with little fuss, his small figure enshrined by the decorative wooden backing of the throne.


The Gold Honorary medal is given to people who have made a profound contribution in their field of expertise. And Scorsese no doubt fits the bill for sure. He’s a multiple Bafta winner, check. Oscar winner, check. Golden Globe winner, check. DGA Lifetime Achievement Award winner, check. And now, Gold Honorary Patronage medal awardee, and soon to be recipient of the John Ford award, check. But it goes further than mere accolades; Scorsese has made some of the greatest American films of the last 50 years; from the biting realism and violence of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas to The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street and most recently Silence. Taxi Driver might have changed my life. I might have been 15 when I first saw it and was just torn apart by the angst and frustration of the Travis Bickle experience. There was a real humanity there, and it struck a nerve. I mean Travis is so lost and confused; you just want to reach out to tap him on the shoulder and tell him, but somehow you never can. And all this is topped off by Bernard Herrmann’s spellbinding score.


Scorsese is poised comfortably in the throne; it’s safe to assume that it’s his chair. He’s a man seasoned to public life and clearly knows how to handle it. He looks out at the audience with ferocious enthusiasm. From the balcony, he’s basically a white dot donning thick glasses and a dark suit, but it’s easy to imagine his friendly old face creased with lines of wisdom. And somewhere between the endless clicks of cameras, and spontaneous coughs, I realise he’s already started speaking. But the exam hall’s basically an undesignated echo chamber; so his iconic New York accent literally ricochets off the walls. I try to focus solely in on the sounds of Scorsese’s words, and zone out the excess sounds, which proves kind of tricky so it takes a couple of seconds for me to latch on.

Legendary film director Martin Scorsese pictured being presented with a gold medal by Trinity College's Philosophical Society this afternoon. Martin Scorsese pictured with his daughter Francesca, wife Helen Schermerhorn Morris. The Oscar winner and man behind such classics as Taxi Driver and Goodfellas will then give a speech and take part in a Q&A session.Scorsese's movies have been nominated for a total of 80 Oscars. After being passed over for the Best Director Oscar several times, he finally won in 2007 for The Departed. PIC PAUL SHARP/SHARPPIX Pictured with Trinity Provost Patrick Prendergast and President of Philosophical Society, Mathew Nudding.

The young interviewer, Matthew Nuding, who’s also the President of the Philosophical Society, is seated in the other chair to the left; he addresses Scorsese with a brisk confidence. Nuding notes that while Scorsese always seems to have been drawn by character, he famously stated that The Departed was the first time that he felt he did a movie with a plot. Nuding is keen for the Hollywood legend to elaborate. But when Scorsese talks about it, he emphasises his fascination with the scripts ending. He says he had just come off of two big spectacle pictures in a row, Gangs of New York and The Aviator, and he explains his initial impulse coming out of that kind of experience was to do the opposite. So basically he wanted to try and make something on a simpler production scale, and which was also a chance to experiment with plot.  There’s a traditional type of Hollywood movie that uses plot, and Scorsese felt that he’d never really approached story that way; he’d always worked through the characters. Scorsese expresses his endearing affection for some of these movies, and mentions his lifelong fascination with Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It was with The Departed that he was presented with opportunity to explore this territory.  But Scorsese’s approach to plot in the film isn’t how he normally works as a mode of direction, and this proved challenging in the making of the film. Eventually, he just decided to follow the characters’ perspectives. And his decision worked perfectly, finally bagging him the coveted Oscars for Best picture and Best director. I think the point Scorsese’s trying to illuminate here, is that contrary to how he may have been interpreted before regarding plot; for him plot essentially has to come out of character, and not vice versa, and that in truth they’re inseparable. Of course by now, I really regret not having a Dictaphone or a sound recorder in my arsenal, as every word coming out of Scorsese’s mouth seems to be pure cinephile gold. So I’m winging it and saving as many quotes as I can possibly fit in my trusty old Nokia.


Given the current political climate it’s not surprising that Scorsese is asked to address the place of his films in this modern climate. The interviewer ask’s Scorsese point blank how his 70’s films relate to the current political climate “It’s a scary time,” Scorsese openly declares. This is coming from a guy who’s lived through the political nightmares of the Cold War, McCarthyism, Vietnam and Watergate. In reference to the first Gulf War and 9/11  Scorsese says, “I knew it would be a never-ending situation,” which seems to suggest everything from Iraq to the current Middle Eastern crises. He doesn’t skirt around the issue, he answers it honestly and without any sense of fear or negativity. But he courts the issue delicately, as if he doesn’t want to be sucked into the all-consuming political rabbit hole, and it’s hard not to admire him for this. He elaborates a little further stating that, “I like to read a lot of history” and regarding the current climate, “it reminds me a lot of the 20’s and the 30’s”. And for anyone who’s dusted off their old history books, it’s hard to deny a similarity in the global shift towards aggressive right wing politics. Scorsese never states directly whether he’s talking about America alone, or the larger world, logically it’s probably safe to assume both.


Scorsese goes on to relate the current mentality to that of Travis Bickle, the tragic antihero of his 1976 classic Taxi Driver. It’s easy to see why; Bickle is the classic outcast figure, a disillusioned Vietnam veteran, who’s completely alone in New York and trying to find meaning. Bickle tries first in the usual ways, through the job and through the girl, Betsy. But when these traditional avenues fail him Bickle wields his anger towards the society that he believes let him down, and sets out to “clean up the filth” through aggressive force. According to Scorsese, “There’s thousands of Travis Bickles” in the world right now. These are, to paraphrase Travis, “God’s lonely men”, the outcasts, the misfits, the angry white men. It’s a testament to the supreme craft of Taxi Driver, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, that it’s somehow, perhaps more pertinent than ever in 2017.


On Taxi Driver, Scorsese clarifies that he really got to develop his working relationship with Robert DeNiro, and admits he established a much greater trust with the actor on that collaboration than he did on Mean Streets. Scorsese explains the benefits of this improvement, while recounting how, during the shooting, DeNiro would approach him with new ideas on set before takes, and, after a few times, Scorsese turned to DeNiro and said, “Don’t tell me, show me.” This is emblematic of Scorsese’s sense of collective creativity and his appreciation for film as a team sport. He makes it clear that he wants to be surprised by actors, because those little surprises, the things he doesn’t always think of, or expect, are according to Scorsese, what bring it to life and keep it engaging. Scorsese’s work makes a convincing case for how inclusion of those kinds of actors in the creative process, is extremely beneficial.  He briefly cites Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Departed, and how Leonardo di Caprio opened a car door with his leg in The Wolf of Wall Street before the conversation swiftly moves on.


Speaking in relation to what draws him to a script, Scorsese says with an illuminating simplicity, “It has to sound right.” Scorsese highlights that he’s limited by his own personal experience, which he states is local to the North East Coast. “That ear really only goes as far as the north east.” This isn’t exactly a fact that he conceals, repeatedly in interviews he has drawn attention to how his childhood experience in New York shaped him as a filmmaker and is a constant source of inspiration for his films, Mean Streets being a prime example of this.


Scorsese candidly admits looking up to cinematic new-wave icons Fellini and Godard and of having aspired to some level of that fame. But he makes it clear there’s a trade-off, a compromise, and that comes at a personal cost. There’s a humbleness to his tone, that seems by means of osmosis to let you know he was talking from personal experience. “Celebrity culture is in a way a serious illness,” and he explains that celebrity poisons people; it eats them up and spits them out, luring them away from meaningful ambitions. In the long run, Scorsese contests, “It’s the work that matters,” and it’s important to aspire to making something meaningful. “It has to come from here”, the man places his hand over his heart.


The pressures that arise from the studio and from the concept of celebrity are obstacles created by the Hollywood machine, which Scorsese suggests can compromise your vision, he advises “To not let the machine dissuade you” and emphasises “you just have to keep punching away.” Scorsese’s artistic instincts seem to be aligned with an uncompromising sense of honesty. “Comic book stuff, it’s not for me.” He jokes that they, ‘they’ as in the studio, should keep making movies like The Revenant. His example of The Revenant seems apt, as it’s a big budget studio movie that readily exemplifies how it’s possible to make a commercial film and also maintain a certain sense of integrity with regard to the artistic vision. He briefly alludes to the future of cinema and the complexities of telling stories through Virtual Reality. Scorsese smiles brightly and jokingly muses that, he doesn’t have to worry about it anymore because, “I’m on the way out”. And with that, it’s over and Scorsese’s hurriedly escorted out a back door.


Seconds before the crowd begins to disperse, I push by, and race outside. But there’s no sight of Scorsese. I walk around the back of the hall. Security patrol the back, so any chance of meeting the man seem slim to none.  A few seconds later a Mercedes minivan with tinted windows shuttles past. Scorsese no doubt inside. Any chance of an interview now safely up in smoke. I’m hit with a momentary sense of depression before thinking back to his comment on celebrity culture, and briefly consider that this might apply to me, but not exactly sure how,  I decide instead to call it a night.


On the 25th of February Martin Scorsese was also awarded, the John Ford Award, by IFTA and John Ford Ireland. The award was presented by president of Ireland and champion of the arts Michael D. Higgins.


Polish Film Festival at Light House Cinema


A Polish Film Festival, curated by director Martin Scorsese, will take place at the Light House Cinema, Dublin from March 30th to April 5th, as part of Polska Eire 2015.

The festival features a series of restored classic Polish films. Describing the choice of films, Martin Scorsese explains: “There are many revelations in the ‘Masterpieces of Polish Cinema’ series and whether you’re familiar with some of these films or not, it’s an incredible opportunity to discover for yourself the great power of Polish cinema on the big screen in brilliantly restored digital masters”


The Festival includes:



6.30pm, Monday 30 March 2015 (1987)

A confrontational study of the protracted process of ending someone’s life, whether through casual murder or meticulously calibrated execution.


6.30pm, Tuesday 31 March 2015 (1961)

A stark psychological drama about demonic possession in a convent, based on the same historical events that inspired Ken Russell’s The Devils.


6.30pm, Wednesday 1 April 2015 (1957)

Andrej Munk’s brilliantly incisive WWII black comedy that offers a decidedly subversive take on the traditional image of Polish heroism.


6.30pm, Thursday 2 April 2015 (1976)

A linguistics competition at a university’s summer camp is the backdrop for a wittily satirical drama about the elusiveness of language.


6.30pm, Friday 3 April 2015 (1960)

After three successive films about Polish history, Wajda turned his attention to the present with this affectionate but caustic look at early Sixties Polish youth culture.





4pm, Saturday 4 April 2015 (1981)

As the Solidarity protests swelled in 1980, Wajda filmed this Palme d’Or winner of government-backed espionage against the real backdrop of world-changing events.


4pm, Sunday 5 April 2015 (1958)

A masterpiece of Polish cinema that vividly captures the turbulence and confusion following WWII, as a former resistance hero turns anti-Communist assassin.


The Polska Eire festival is supported by Dublin City Council and other local authorities, along with many Polish organisations and cultural, community and sporting groups across the country.


To book tickets for the Polish Film Festival at the Light House Cinema go to or phone the Box Office at (01) 8728006.










Cinema Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Leonardo Dicaprio in The Wolf Of Wall Street

Dir: Martin Scorsese • Wri: Terence Winter • Pro: Riza Aziz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland, Martin Scorsese, Emma Tillinger Koskoff • DOP: Rodrigo Prieto • ED: Thelma Schoonmaker • DES: Bob Shaw • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey

Having not too long ago celebrated his 71st birthday, it is obvious to any observer that Martin Scorsese’s love affair with cinema is still as all consuming as ever. His last film Hugo was an extravagant tribute to cinema itself: a compelling ode to the creatives, aesthetics and imagination of early cinema. Meanwhile, his continued patronage of projects like the World Cinema Foundation – dedicated to restoring and preserving films from countries without the resources or culture to do so themselves – further indicate his amour du cinéma. We the viewer luckily reap some of the benefits of this: Masters of Cinema and Criterion have started releasing gorgeous Blu-Ray boxsets of the Foundation’s preservation projects, Scorsese himself appearing on camera to introduce each of the films.


The Wolf of Wall Street is not as ‘literally’ the work of a cinephile as Hugo or the WCF, but it is unmistakably the product of a veteran director still madly, deeply infatuated with cinematic form. It radiates energy and enthusiasm, and is as lively and committed as anything he’s ever made over a nearly half-century long career. It is a welcome revisit to many of the stylistic and storytelling techniques that have defined many of his most beloved works, but also a fresh and ambitious project that differs significantly from the films we writers are obliged to compare it to (Casino and Goodfellas, if you’re wondering). It’s also incredibly funny.


The film is “based on a true story”, specifically that of Jordan Belfort – once dubbed the eponymous Wolf in a Forbes profile. As you can tell by the strategically placed quotation marks, the ‘truth’ is merely a launching point, but more on that shortly. First, the basics.


Belfort (Leonardo di Caprio) is a young, enthusiastic stockbroker, who unluckily earns his full broker’s license right around the time of the 1987 economic meltdown. After a brief period of unemployment, he winds up in a rundown brokers’ office offloading junk stocks to people barely able to afford their bills in the first place. He proves to have a knack for the work, and soon opens up a new firm exclusively trading in these rubbish but extremely profitable ‘penny stocks’. The work isn’t necessarily regulated or even legal in the traditional sense, but soon Belfort has started his own firm and trained a ragtag group to sell these rubbish shares over the phone. Soon, the company – named Stratton Oakmont – has exploded in size and popularity, moving to swank new high-rise offices and employing dozens of staff, with more begging to be hired. Belfort and his inner circle, meanwhile, are earning almost a million dollars a week, and spending much of it on mountains of quaaludes, prostitutes, private helicopters, alcohol, marching bands and hired dwarves (who they use as human darts). Naturally, this high life starts to take something of a toll on Belfort, all while FBI agent Denham (Kyle Chandler) starts investigating the company’s unusual practices.


The basics and even most of the specifics of The Wolf of Wall Street conform with Belfort’s own recollections, published in his memoirs of the same name. Scorsese, though, has opted to bring the situations and characters to life in a wild, cartoonish manner. Take it as a serious deconstruction of financial corruption and you’re in for a fall. The greed, the arrogance, the rudeness, and the reckless abandon of the Stratton Oakmont crew are merrily overblown, the film achieving a thoroughly entertaining hybrid of fact and comic exaggeration – well, I hope it’s exaggerated anyway, as you can never quite tell with those reckless financiers. The film manages to be a lightly damning critique of economic and social corruption (timely, considering recent financial shenanigans) but first and foremost it’s a madcap black comedy.


A wonderful comedy it is too, likely to offer the game audience member plenty of belly laughs. One late film setpiece plays out something like Buster Keaton meets Hunter S. Thompson: an inspired and very un-PC sequence of drug-addled slapstick. Scorsese, it goes without saying, directs this with the fervour of a true auteur – perhaps not the most distinctive film he’s made stylistically speaking, but still propelled by inspired musical choices, bold voiceover work, kinetic camera movements and a general structural playfulness (such as the fake television ads planted throughout the film). Thelma Schoonmaker – almost certainly the most important collaborator of Scorsese’s – expertly patches the chaos together, and with the exception of some minor lulls the 180 minute runtime whizzes by. In terms of its overall pace, style and structure it resembles – those names again! – Goodfellas and Casino, but is also very much its own beast.


DiCaprio, meanwhile, earns our undivided attention. The film, I must point out, offers a strong ensemble cast – notably a sultry Margot Robbie as Belfort’s second wife and Matthew McConaughey’s committed extended cameo as Jordan’s wall street mentor (Jonah Hill, by the way, is fine: not exactly offering a whole lot we haven’t seen from him before, but acting as something of a useful comic foil for DiCaprio). The lead, though, is a force of nature. DiCaprio paints Belfort as a charismatic asshole, the performance growing in complexity as drug addiction and other excesses take their toll. He’s smug and often insufferable: occasionally he even shatters through the fourth wall to shamelessly talk down to the audience. But DiCaprio also manages to portray how Belfort manage to stir up such loyalty among his supporters – during several intense motivational speeches to his staff, you’d almost be forgiven for briefly buying into his twisted, exploitative ideologies and practices. He also has a strange but fragile loyalty about him, explored intriguingly in the film’s second half. Scorsese forces Belfort through some crazy comic ordeals, but in DiCaprio’s hands he’s an individual with depth.


Any negatives worth noting? Well, one could argue certain sections feel repetitious, and there are perhaps moments of sluggishness (appropriate, maybe, given the increasingly grueling drug addictions experienced by the characters). Many moments are pitched extremely broad, with some scenes ending up feeling flatter than others. And these thoughts could lead to the question of how much depth there really is underneath the vibrant surface. Quibbles, these are. The Wolf of Wall Street is a refreshingly raw and vibrant Scorsese joint: a film that serves as a warm reminder of many of his most iconic directorial trademarks, as well as bringing plenty of new tricks to the table. It’s a wild ride and as funny as anything you’re likely to see in the cinema over the coming year. Martin Scorsese might have spent the last few years asking us to look back at cinema history with him, but on the strength of The Wolf of Wall Street we should all be greatly enthused about his present and future too.

Stephen McNeice

18 (See IFCO for details)
179  mins
The Wolf of Wall Street is released on 17th January 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street– Official Website


Cinema Review: John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man

Dreaming the Quiet Man

Dreaming the Quiet Man


DIR: Se Merry Doyle • WRI: Stephen Walsh • PRO: Martina Durac, Vanessa Gildea • DOP: Patrick Jordan • ED: Nicky Dunne • Cast: Maureen O’Hara, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Jim Sheridan, Gabriel Byrne


At the time of writing, the spectre of Euro 2012 has really begun to grip the nation as the Republic of Ireland take part in their first major tournament in all of ten years. However, though the excitement in the exploits of Giovanni Trapattoni’s men has spread across the country, there will still be a certain section of Irish society who will only have a passing interest in how the Boys In Green fare in Poland and Ukraine.


With this in mind, there is always room for an alternative, and that is a role that the John Ford Symposium filled with some relish during its four-day run in the capital recently, starting on 7 June.


Amongst the events that took place during this time included a screening of Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece Unforgiven (Eastwood was the recipient of the John Ford Award last year), an outdoor screening of The Searchers, a real stand-out from Ford’s back catalogue, and public interviews with Peter Bogdanovich and Stephen Frears.


Another key fixture in the Symposium’s calendar of events, however, was the premiere of Se Merry Doyle’s insightful documentary, John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man, which takes an in-depth look at the Irish-American helmer’s time making his love letter to The Emerald Isle back in 1952.


In the long history of the Irish film industry, few films have made as inedible a mark as the John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara fable, which sees Wayne’s Sean Thornton returning to his birthplace in the West of Ireland following an ill-fated encounter in America.


This is something that Doyle seeks to examine in his documentary, and he has secured a real coup by getting O’Hara to speak candidly about her role in the film for the very first time.


Though she is now in her early 90s, O’Hara seems as sprightly as ever, as she recalls vividly her experience of portraying the now iconic Mary-Kate Danaher. We also get interviews with the aforementioned Bogdanovich (who had previously made the documentary, Directed By John Ford, in 1971), Martin Scorsese, acclaimed Irish director Jim Sheridan, and a variety of residents from Cong in County Mayo, where a large portion of the film was shot, who all give their take on what has helped the film to stand the test of time.


Amongst the elements that have captivated the interviewees, Scorsese in particular, down through the decades is the mythical feel of the film, which is brought into sharp focus during Thornton’s arrival by train to the fictional Inisfree, and its depiction of Irish traditional life, which was largely alien to watching US audiences.


There is also quite a lot made of the fact that Ford had such a hard time convincing the major studios in Hollywood that The Quiet Man was a worthwhile project to invest in, with many of them feeling that it wouldn’t be a profitable project for them to pursue.


Profitable it was though, and Ford would go on to win the Best Director Oscar at the 1953 Academy Awards (for a record fourth time), with Winton C. Hoch and Archie Stout’s green-tinted Cinematography also being recognised.


However, as fascinating as it is to hear the ins and outs of the making of the film, this documentary also offers a greater understanding of what Ford was like as a director, and as a man. Footage from Bogdanovich’s documentary where he attempts to interview Ford, and Bogdanovich’s own recollection of shooting the film, shows us how difficult the man born John Martin Feeney could be, and O’Hara also reveals the problems she had working with Ford on The Quiet Man.


What also comes through, however, is how brilliant a filmmaker he was, and O’Hara herself has no hesitation in saying that Ford was the best director that she worked with. Ford himself often said that he didn’t have any great interest in films, and that he only ever saw it as a job, but it is clear that The Quiet Man was a film that was very close to his heart.


Given the legacy of The Quiet Man, Doyle’s documentary will undoubtedly have a life outside of the cinema, but for those who have been taken in by the recent Symposium, and are fans of Ford’s 60-year-old classic, it is well worth venturing to your local theatre to catch John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man while it is showing.


Daire Walsh

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man is released on 15th June 2012


Cinema Review: Hugo – Film of the Week

Hugo to cinema

DIR: Martin Scorsese • WRI: John Logan • PRO: Johnny Depp, Tim Headington, Graham King, Martin Scorsese • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Thelma Schoonmaker • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee

Martin Scorsese’s latest film tells the tale of Hugo, a young boy, who loses his father and is taken in by his alcoholic Uncle. Seeking a substitute family he starts fixing things for the mob. He soon rises through the ranks earning himself the name ‘Hit-Man Hugo’. But his life of crime eventually catches up with him as the hit man himself becomes the target of a hit.

Well, not exactly – calling to mind that scene in The Sopranos where Christopher sees Martin Scorsese and yells ‘Marty! Kundan… I loved it!’ Scorsese veers off course and tackles a children’s film in 3D. Yet if truth be told it’s more a case of him taking Brian Selznick’s illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret and crafting a child’s adventure story into something that’s not necessarily for children and in doing so creates something much dearer to his heart than wiseguys and psychos – the magic of film itself.

Scorsese announces himself immediately in the film’s opening scene as his camera soars majestically over Paris and swoops breathtakingly through a train station, landing upon the eyes of the film’s titular hero.

Hugo (Asa Butterfield) has become an orphan and now lives secretly in the walls, passageways and ceilings of a 1930s Parisian railway station ensuring that its clocks tick tock. When he’s not on the job, he’s playing Dickens’ Oliver stealing what he can in the station in order to survive and to continue his work fixing a writing automaton his father left him, while all the time evading the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) – a cross between Inspector Clouseau and Officer Crabtree, the British spy posing as a policeman in Allo Allo – who’s determined to round up all the pesky orphans and send them off to the police station. Boo! Hiss!

Hugo gets into trouble with the station’s crusty, ill-tempered toyshop owner (Ben Kingsley) who confiscates his notebook which contain the plans for Hugo’s work fixing the automaton. In his desperate efforts to retain it, he chances upon Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and together they set off on a magical adventure. Their initial adventure soon gives way to something more than both of them could ever have imagined and this is where the film comes into its own – extending beyond its initial narrative to become a celebration of film itself.

The film looks absolutely beautiful, thanks to the ravishing production design of Dante Ferretti, Scorsese’s legendary companion and purveyor of lavish costume and sets. Added to this is the use of 3D, which for once is integral to the storytelling. The film speaks for itself and there’s no need to go into the plot details – all the better to discover it for yourself as Hugo and Isabelle do. Their adventure is ours. Such details function to provide Scorsese with the platform to engage in this eulogy for the wonder and magical quality of film and cinema, and testifies to Scorsese’s own ongoing vocation to preserve and restore old films himself and get them projected once again onto a cinema screen. The heart-shaped key that Hugo requires to operate his automaton is unashamedly symbolic of the director’s sentiments writing this passionate love letter to cinema.

Steven Galvin

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
Hugo is released on 2nd December 2011

 Hugo – Official Website


Midday Movies

The little festival that can

Now in its sixth year, Guth Gafa documentary film festival, in Co Donegal, is making an international name for itself. As an antidote to loneliness, the annual gathering of international documentary filmmakers in the tiny Gaeltacht village of Gortahork beats most. In any given year, a clutch of the latest and best film-makers bounce from festival to festival around the world. Mostly, they wash up in teeming cities, surrounded by thousands but meeting none. Then they arrive at Guth Gafa, and within the tiny pubs and temporary cinemas they come face to face not only with each other but also with their audience….



Is the stage now set for theatre to offer solace?

Fintan O’Toole has gathered an impressive team to explore the role art can play in Irish life, writes Darragh McManus. ‘The whole question of art and society, it seems, gets pushed to one side during times of economic crisis. We can’t afford culture, the argument goes, when that money needs to be spent on jobs and hospitals and education. The counter-argument, though, insists that art is even more important when times are tough: it offers solace, helps us make sense of what’s happening, and lets us see a higher, more rarefied plane of human existence, something soaring above the worries of economics and politics…’



One cool pirate

When Johnny Depp thinks about what it is he does for a living and how well he’s paid for it, he has to laugh. Currently starring in the fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which will ironically be screened at Cannes this year, Depp was paid somewhere between $32m and $35m (€22.2m-€24.3m) for this film alone. ‘To an outsider standing around watching this going on, it’s ludicrous. I mean it’s really an insane thing,’ he says, laughing…



Scorsese ‘to direct Taylor and Burton biopic’

Director Martin Scorsese is set to direct a film based on the tempestuous relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, reports say. The couple married and divorced twice over a 13-year period, after meeting on the set of Cleopatra in 1963. Paramount Pictures are said to be in negotiation with Scorsese, after buying the rights to the book Furious Love. Released in 2010, the book received little interest from studios until Taylor’s death earlier this year. The Hollywood couple, both British, appeared in 11 films together, including the 1966 film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which Taylor won the second of two best actress Oscars…



Girl with Dragon Tattoo trailer released

The first trailer for the eagerly-awaited US adaptation of the Stieg Larsson bestseller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been released. Directed by The Social Network and Se7en’director David Fincher. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo stars Daniel Craig as investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as his troubled partner, hacker Lisbeth Salander…




Shutter Island

Shutter Island

DIR: Martin Scorsese • WRI: Laeta Kalogridis • PRO: Brad Fischer, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Martin Scorsese • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Thelma Schoonmaker • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams

There are 2 ways to approach Shutter Island – one is as a masterfully constructed cinematic homage; the other is as a return by Martin Scorsese to the overblown schlock fest of Cape Fear. As always, the truth is somewhere in between.

Shutter Island reunites Scorsese with the scowling, cherub-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio has certainly improved in his Scorsese-muse role over the years as he admirably battles to play roles beyond his features. Woefully out of his depth in Gangs of New York, he went on to just about hold his own in The Departed. In Shutter Island, Di Caprio comes of age somewhat, putting in a strong lead performance as U.S. marshal, Teddy Daniels, who comes to the island’s Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane in order to investigate the disappearance of one of the inmates. Once on the island with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), Daniels is soon wrestling with his own personal demons as well as the case at hand.

As well as the inmates, Shutter Island is haunted by the presence of the likes of Val Lewton, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. Scorsese lashes it on thick as he crafts this popcorn pot-boiler and directs the camera mixing his own visual trademarks with twitching nods to cinematic legends.

Scorsese pulls rabbit after rabbit out of his director’s hat as he cranks up the atmosphere to match the apprehension and sense of foreboding menace on the island (beautifully designed by Dante Ferretti) as Daniels becomes deeper and deeper involved in the goings-on of the mysterious asylum and his own past. Scorsese is a master of manipulation and Shutter Island allows him to integrate his passionate love of cinema with his mastery of direction to create an ominous feast of claustrophobia, paranoia and terror that at times can leave you breathless.

And yet, the centre can’t hold. To invert a classic phrase, Shutter Island is an example of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. The film suffers as the substance struggles to compete with the style. There are too many forced scenes that exist merely to cater for the overly signposted, unsatisfactory ending. On top of this, there are too many bluffing scenes that struggle to engage and at times just seem completely out of place. The film is way too long as Scorsese seeks to make an epic out of what is essentially a B-movie. If he’d trimmed the fat off here and trusted a tighter screenplay, he, and we, would have had a much better film. As it is, Shutter Island is what it is: a master craftsman doing manual labour. I was told that Lacanians love it – whatever that means…

Steven Galvin

Rated 15A (see IFCO for details)

Shutter Island is released 12th March 2010

Shutter Island – Official Website