ABC Film Challenge – Oscar Nomination – F – First Reformed (2018)

Director: Paul Schrader

Writer: Paul Schrader (Screenplay)

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer, Victoria Hill, Philip Ettinger, Michael Gaston


Plot: A minister of a small congregation in upstate New York grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past.


Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes


There may be spoilers in the rest of the review


Verdict: Hawke’s Powerhouse Performance


Story: First Reformed starts as we meet minster Toller (Hawke) who has a small congregation in the Fist Reformed church one with a big history about the celebrate an anniversary. One of the community Mary (Seyfried) is worried about her husband Michael (Ettinger) who has become worried about the future for their unborn child.

After the death of Michael, Toller starts looking into the climate change problems, believing he is getting ill, only to learn the truth about the local supply which has a connection must close to home.


Thoughts on First Reformed


Characters – Toller is a minster with a tragic past, he lost a son in war which saw his marriage end and his own problems coming to light. He turned to the bible which seems him getting a chance to help people who need it, he soon learns that his own health is getting worse and the problems in the world are starting to get to him. Mary is a pregnant woman who believes there is something wrong with her husband, she turns to Toller for help an he does all he can to help him through his problems, while she deals with life about to bring a child into the world. Jeffers runs the church in the area, he gave Toller the job and is always planning for investments to the church. Esther is the ex-wife who still works for the church, they do still support each other even if they have been through the problems of losing a child.

PerformancesEthan Hawke gives a career best performance here, he shines on so many levels, he will leave you feeling disturbed by what is going on, while also feel sympathetic to his situation. Amanda Seyfried, Ceric the Entertainer and Victoria Hill complete supporting cast and are good throughout the film.

StoryThe story follows a minster who starts to question his faith and mortality when he learns who is behind the funding for his church, leading him to want to make a rash decision. If we are going to be honest about this story, we must admit that it will split the audience mostly because of how it ends, it won’t keep everyone going home saying wow, it will leave people going what happened, which is always going to put the audience off, sure we don’t always want to get spoon fed answers though. This does have plenty to focus on and does offer a big question about the future of mankind, what people will do to save it no matter what they do for a living.

MysteryThe mystery involved in the film comes from Toller learning the truth about what is going on and just what he will do about it.

SettingsThe film is set in a small town in New York, it shows how businesses will operate around it and how the community will come together through the difficult times.

Scene of the Movie –
Seeing the world in a breath.

That Moment That Annoyed Me The end could be more conclusive.

Final ThoughtsThis is an interesting movie that has a brilliant performance from Hawke, it brings forward big questions while most of the film is interesting it could have a better conclusion.


Overall: Carried by the performance of Hawke.





Martin Scorsese Weekend – Raging Bull (1980)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: Paul Schrader, Mardik Martin (Screenplay) Jake LaMotta, Joseph Carter, Peter Savage (Book)

Starring: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Colasanto, Maria Gallo


Plot: An emotionally self-destructive boxer’s journey through life, as the violence and temper that leads him to the top in the ring destroys his life outside it.


There may be spoilers the rest of the review


Verdict: Over Hyped Boxing Film


Story: Raging Bull starts in 1941 the Bronx, New York City where we meet boxer Jake La Motta (De Niro) and his promoter, sparing partner and brother Joey (Pesci). The two look to set up the next fighter even though the married Jake spots the 15-year-old Vickie (Moriarty) who has connections with the mob.

Through the 40’s Jake remains unbeaten and marries Vickie and on the verge of a potential title fight. With his career taking off, his personal life is starting to fall apart as he becomes paranoid about what Vickie is doing with his violent side coming through.


Thoughts on Raging Bull


Characters/PerformanceJake is a brilliant boxer, one of the best of his generation but his out the ring temper causes more problems in his life as he is insecure about his wife’s loyalty, his brother’s loyalty and the people in his life. Vickie is the long-suffering wife that must deal with the temper of Jake while trying to retain a personal life against his wishes. Joey is the brother of Jake who also trains and books his fights but the two are always at conflict with each other.

Performance wise, De Niro is great through this film and you can see why people rave of his performance but I feel and we know he is capable of even better now. Pesci does a good job in what must have been a break through role for him. With Moriarty in her debut hanging with the big names very well.

StoryThe story does follow the career of Jake La Motta from small time boxer to champion to what happens to him after his career in the ring is over, we follow his paranoia in his personal life which comes out in his aggression. If you are into your boxing history you will enjoy the story otherwise you might not connect as well.

Biography/SportsLooking at the career is interesting but I do feel other boxing films are painted a more interesting career, the boxing itself looks fantastic through the film.

SettingsThe settings show us the time we are seeing the events unfold in which is done well throughout.

Final ThoughtsThis is a boxing film that I have heard huge things about, but I didn’t find myself getting engaged with the story in the way I was expecting and found elements of this film kind of boring.


Overall: This is one of the most popular boxing films of all time but it won’t make the top of any of my lists.




Taxi Driver (1976)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: Paul Schrader (Screenplay)

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle


Plot: A mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, while attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process.


There may be spoilers the rest of the review


Verdict: Classic, Maybe Not?


Story: Taxi Driver starts we meet Travis Bickle (De Niro) a war veteran struggling with sleep and finding peace in night shifts as a taxi driver as he becomes fascinated by campaigner Betsy (Shepherd). Travis also isn’t happy with the state of New York City and wants to see it cleaned up.

When Travis decides to get himself protection he starts to look to clean up the streets himself to protect a preadolescent prostitute Iris (Foster) which leads to the violent outbreak of his.


Thoughts on Taxi Driver


Characters – Travis Bickle is the lonely unstable former marine that is suffering from insomnia deciding to take a job as a taxi driver at night, he wants to clean up the street and his anti-social behaviour makes his isolation become a violent outrage against the city. Iris is an underage prostitute in the city that keeps crossing paths with Travis and is the one that Travis most wants to protect. Betsy is the love interest of Travis, well the woman he takes out twice only to show us how difficult he finds it to socialise.

PerformanceRobert De Niro does carry this film with a performance that could be the best of his career. Jodie Foster is brilliant in her role where she shows how talented she was at a young age. The rest of the cast are good throughout the film as De Niro works with them all.

StoryThe story here looks into loneliness in the Big Apple, a man that doesn’t fit in and wants to clean up the streets which he believes are not going the way he believes he should. We look at the underworld of prostitution and see the colourful characters that come out at night but in the end it just feels like a study of New York itself.

CrimeThe crime underworld being shown in this film is good as we see one man want to clean up the streets in his own way.

SettingsNew York is a setting I always love seeing used for settings and in this film we get to see the darker side of the Big Apple.

Scene of the Movie – You Talkin to Me?

That Moment That Annoyed Me The fact the film has been put on the all time greats list.

Final ThoughtsThis is a film I have only ever heard wonderful things about and sure the acting is fantastic throughout, the idea of a man feeling like he needs to clean up his neighbourhood is good to but when you look at the full picture it mostly just feels slow and dated in the storytelling process which spends over an hour building in one direction only to head off into another one for the second half of the film.


Overall: Brilliant acting, but storytelling leaves questions marks.




Nicolas Cage Weekend – Dog Eat Dog (2016)

dogDirector: Paul Schrader

Writer: Matthew Wilder (Screenplay) Edward Bunker (Novel)

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Matthew Cook, Omar J Dorsey, Louisa Krause, Melissa Bolona


Plot: A crew of ex-cons are hired by a Cleveland mafioso to kidnap the baby of a rival mobster.


There may be spoilers the rest of the review


Verdict: Boring Crime Thriller


Story: Dog Eat Dog starts as we see just how mad, Mad Dog (Dafoe) really is when things don’t go his way, before we get narration from Troy (Cage) explaining his relationship with Mad Dog and Diesel (Cook). These three men are all out of prison reunited with Troy recent release.

The three friends get hired to do their first job since Troy’s release which is to locate a drug stash in the possession of Moon Man (Dorsey) and with Mad Dog on the team the man who hires them questions the decision but can these three men work together they get a one off big paying job which could mean they can walk away for good but it involved kidnapping a baby.

Dog Eat Dog is a crime thriller that is full of unlikeable characters from start to finish. The job is all messy and you just can’t get behind the hapless trio as they look to get rich off this final job. I feel this could have worked more as a comedy but as a serious film it really just misses on every level.

Cage and Dafoe get to be unleashed to be their estranged selves once more Christopher Matthew Cook coming from nowhere and seemingly out shining them both. The rest of the supporting cast is largely forgettable too in what overall is just truly forgettable film.

Overall: Easily one of the most boring films of the year.




Dying of the Light (2014)

logoDirector: Paul Schrader

Writer: Paul Schrader (Screenplay)

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Anton Yelchin, Alexander Karim, Irene Jacob, Aymen Hamdouchi, Claudius Peters, Adetomiwa Edum


Plot: When a devastating illness threatens to end Evan Lake’s career in the CIA, he goes rogue to hunt down a terrorist who tortured him during a mission gone awry years ago.


There may be spoilers the rest of the review


Verdict: Slow Burner


Story: Dying of the Light starts by showing Evan Lake (Cage) undercover getting tortured by his captive. Flash forward 22 years and Evan is one of the most decorated members of the CIA moulding the minds of the latest crop of young agents. Evan is pushing retirement age and stuck at a desk job while he wants to get back into the field work but keeps getting shunned. Young agent Milton (Yelchin) offers him support. Move to Bucharest where a terrorist hunt leads to documents becoming uncovered that fall into Milton hands. Evan gets diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia which will cause him to have side effects in his everyday life.

Milton gives Evan the information that his long time enemy Muhammad Banir (Karim) is still alive even though he has been told by everyone that he has been long time dead. CIA wants to force Evan to retire early because of his illness and don’t want to let him go after Banir, leading to him getting fired. Milton shows his loyalty to Evan by bringing him the evidence that could lead him to find Banir, but Banir is aware his doctor could be the connection the CIA are looking for. Evan and Milton travel to Romania to bring the case together to go and take down Banir once and for all.

Dying of the Light is one of those investigation thrillers that falls into the category of a lot of talking and a flash bang wallop quick ending. The side of the story that is vastly more interesting in how the characters both Evan and Muhammad are dealing with different illness and both won’t live much longer as well both feeling like they were left incomplete with the meeting 22 years ago. This side of the story shines through over all the thrilling or lack of thrilling side to the investigation. This will end up going down as a mediocre thriller and as both the director and Nicolas Cage are slamming the editing I don’t think many people will remember it. (5/10)


Actor Review


Nicolas Cage: Evan Lake one of the most decorated CIA agents in their history, he is reaching retirement age but get diagnosed with Dementia and with his final moments he wants to take down his remaining enemy Banir. Nicolas does a good job and does well with the mental condition his character has to go through. (7/10)


Anton Yelchin: Milton Schultz young agent who wants to help Evan, he gives him evidence that Banir is still alive and teams up with Evan to take him down. Anton is a bigger name that this needless supporting role where he really offers nothing to the story. (4/10)


Alexander Karim: Muhammad Banir terrorist that Evan is after, long thought dead he is suffering from a disease that exposes him still being alive. Alexander does a solid job with what little he has to work with. (6/10)


Support Cast: Dying of the Light supporting cast is the CIA members trying to shut down Evan who all come off generic. Along with contacts who help track down Banir and the people involved with him. They all do what they need to do for the story but nothing more.


Director Review: Paul Schrader –  Paul does a good job balance the two but sometimes the investigation side feels slow, but I read the film isn’t how he chose it to be so will not criticize him. (7/10)


Drama: Dying of the Light shows how the characters deal with the illness as they look for competition in their lives work. (7/10)

Thriller: Dying of the Light tries to pull you in but too many things make this unbelievable for a thriller. (4/10)

Settings: Dying of the Light uses its settings well but nothing that makes for stand out. (5/10)

Suggestion: Dying of the Light is one to try, it isn’t going to amaze but you could enjoy this one. (Try It)


Best Part: The final moments makes you think it was worth the wait.

Worst Part: Drags through the middle.


Believability: No (0/10)

Chances of Tears: No (0/10)

Chances of Sequel: No

Post Credits Scene: No


Oscar Chances: No

Budget: $5 Million

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes


Overall: Dying to be Good

Rating 50