The Irishman – Ramble On

My thoughts on The Irishman will ramble like the film itself.

1- I think no intermission speaks to the lack of chapters, to the lack of big story arcs. Does a movie that’s 209 minutes long need an intermission? Even if you don’t need to use the john, that’s a long time to sit. Longer films of yore had intermissions: Lawrence of Arabia, 2001, Patton, and, it was rumored, The Hateful Eight. But those movies all had significant story movements. Chapters, if you will. Like a novel. Or a good epic/saga-like film. Such sweeps don’t exist in The Irishman. The film starts and just goes in a somewhat monotone fashion until it’s done. No intermission is criminal.

2- Yes, monotone. But there’s a lot going on. And it’s not exactly draggy. As long and big as it is, The Irishman is not hard to follow and hold one’s interest, more or less, for the whole length. It’s not boring.

3- I felt that all the star power was not used that well. Pacino, yes, because he plays Jimmy Hoffa, a larger-than-life character. The De Niro and Pesci characters I thought should have been played by younger actors. I didn’t entirely buy their act, though I give some credit for the depiction of aging.

4- One big problem is that it’s hard to become emotionally invested in the Irishman/De Niro’s character.

Think about The Departed. You’re pulling for the good guy, the DiCaprio “good cop.” You’re not pulling for anyone in The Irishman. They’re all pretty much a bunch of weasels, and not even the fun quirky type of weasels you can pull for in any way. So that even more is why it’s a big so-what. Somehow in Raging Bull, even though Jake La Motta was a jerk, you were made to care about him a little. You’re definitely pulling for our hero/anti-hero in Breaking Bad. In The Irishman, I found myself glazed over because I just didn’t care, other than as a point of interest.

It’s a personal odyssey, but it’s not thrilling enough to be a personal thriller. Not round, but flat.

5- The worst sin: I don’t think anyone’s going to come back in 5 or 10 years and say oh what a great movie that was. There’s nothing particularly memorable or novel about it. There’s no a-ha! moment. There’s no classic quotable line or citable scene. It was all rather hum-drum. Well-executed, but humdrum.

6- The Irishman never plunges into a juicy, thrilling story like The Departed. That kind of lock-in setup never happens. The film just plugs along. However, the meditative moments that draw the film to a close combine with the earlier highlights and better sequences to raise the whole into positive territory, if barely.

7- Captions are placed over characters who will meet a usually violent end, even though those characters have little or nothing to do with the story. They’re introduced on screen, with a note on their demise, and proceed to have no import.

8- The film’s only title presented on-screen (prior to end credits) is “I Heard You Paint Houses.” This is code for whacking those who need to be whacked. Again, if Scorsese had any sense of grandness we’d see intro titles. And why “I Heard You Paint Houses”?  Like that’s a big-time title. Of course there’s no intermission. We couldn’t even get titles.

9- On Netflix. Back to point 1. There are big plot points, but the film just isn’t built in a way that lends itself to an intermission. Or maybe it does, if the desire were there. One may wonder if the film was built this way to make the theater-going experience as uncomfortable as possible. So that Netflix could make a point: how much better would this be to watch at home? Locally, in all of San Diego county, the only place showing the film was the Landmark Hillcrest, the local art house. Like a Scorsese film starring De Niro and Pacino is some kind of indie.

The Landmark features non-reclining seats that if anything are less comfortable than average. So I said if you can’t beat em, join em. I tried to stay with the film best I could, taking no break in the last 2 hours of the film. And, I admit it worked well to watch at home. Unlike Roma, there’s not a ton of long shots with detail that is missed on your home screen.

It would seem that this type of release will become more and more the norm. It’s a little sad. I give A24 grief now and then, but they, along with Fox Searchlight, Blumhouse and a couple other studios, are keeping the theater alive with movies other than Marvel and animated releases.

10- Marvel movies aren’t cinema. In significant vectors, neither is The Irishman. In just as many other vectors it is. There’s a lot of good production value here — would we expect anything less? I hardly loved it, but at least we’re not seeing the downward spiral à la Oliver Stone.

11- A lot of caveats on this, but on balance: 6/10.

Comparison Notes: The Departed, Mystic River, Donnie Brasco, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, JFK, The Drop

The Favourite movie of the year is…

…not The Favourite. However, the period aspect of it is well done, and it engages from start to finish: its greatest accomplishment.  I also very much liked the use of super-wide angle lenses.  The story stumbled in the home stretch, and the end left me dissatisfied.  In other words, there could have been more, but it wasn’t bad.  I suppose you could say that about any movie in the 3 to 8 range.

How’s that for cogent analysis.  7/10

PS To clarify, The Favourite may well be “the” favorite film this year, in the sense that it is sure to rack up many awards including very possibly the big one.  It’s just a couple pegs south of my favorite.

Comparison Notes: Dangerous Liaisons / Valmont / Cruel Intentions, Mother, Requiem for a Dream, Ridicule (1996), The Little Hours

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Can You Ever Forgive Me? struck a chord with me — it brought back those times being down-and-out and/or drunk in New York City.  I wanted a little more plot-wise with this true-life story, but then it is a true-life story.  I would have welcomed more about the earlier parts of our heroine’s life and career.  Still: this is one of the better movies of 2018, on the high end of 7/10.

PS Kudos again to Fox Searchlight.

Comparison Notes: Norman, The Visitor (2007)

Film Brief: Patti Cake$

I wouldn’t call it an “unambiguous joy,” as did the oft-overstated Manohla Dargis, but I did like it.  Jake Coyle, AP:

The Sundance sensation “Patti Cake$” may flow with formulaic beats but it’s got spirit for miles (eight of them, at least) and features one of the best mother-daughter relationships of the year.

I would have liked Patti Cake$ more had the music, in this case the rap, been more effective on me — only one track swayed me.  Call it a minor case of the Inside Llewyn Davis Syndrome.  Still though, on the high side of 6/10.

Comparison Notes (recommended): 8 Mile

Under the Spell of Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene - poster large

Every once in a while we are blessed with a phenomenally great indie.  Martha Marcy May Marlene is a gripping, brilliant fresh take on one of the most compelling genres when done right: life in a cult.  One cannot help but thinking of the Manson clan while watching.  Peter Travers:

After you see Martha Marcy May Marlene, you’ll know [Elizabeth Olsen] as an actress of uncommon subtlety and feeling. It’s a sensational performance in a gripping psychological thriller, from gifted first-time writer-director Sean Durkin, that reveals its secrets in the silence between words.

…it’s Olsen, as a damaged soul clinging to shifting ground, who makes this spellbinder impossible to shake.

Highly recommended: put this on your short list.  Rental available on iTunes.

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Sound of My Voice, Electrick Children, The East

Twin Journeys of the Soul

Marisa Tomei The Wrestler movie image

Marisa Tomei

OCCASIONALLY I PAIR movies in my mind. L.A. Stories are a definitive example — though suddenly I’m thinking Grand Canyon could make it a trifecta.  Another two movies released almost exactly a year apart are bound forever in my imagination.  They are both deeply personal, heart-wrenching voyages by tortured souls — and two of the most powerful films to come out in recent years.  And in each case, surprise surprise — they received (mostly) the recognition they deserved.

The first was Mickey Rourke’s triumphant comeback The Wrestler (2008), a sort of latter-day antithesis to Rocky.  Thinking about it now, it strikes a note or two of the Scorcese classic Raging Bull — except Rourke’s character in The Wrestler is much more sympathetic than De Niro’s — you root for him to succeed and find love and happiness, whereas you feel Jake LaMotta pretty much gets what he deserves.

Roger Ebert’s 4-star review is excellent; two snippets:

Mickey Rourke plays the battered, broke, lonely hero, Randy (“The Ram”) Robinson.  This is the performance of his lifetime, will win him a nomination, may win him the Oscar.  Like many great performances, it has an element of truth….  This is Rourke doing astonishing physical acting.

I cared as deeply about Randy the Ram as any movie character I’ve seen this year.  I cared about Mickey Rourke, too.  The way this role and this film unfold, that almost amounts to the same thing.  Rourke may not win the Oscar for best actor.  But it would make me feel good to see him up there.  It really would.

I couldn’t agree more.  Tragically, the Academy once again robbed their treasured statuette from the movie and performances that most deserved it. The exceptionally lame Slumdog Millionaire won the top prize that year; The Wrestler, an infinitely better movie, wasn’t even nominated.  Sean Penn won the acting prize that year for Milk, which I don’t have as big a problem with, though, again, The Wrestler was the better movie.  Luckily and as consolation, The Wrestler remains available for us to embrace.  Such a great film.

* * *

CRAZY HEART

Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal

The following December arrived another in a long string of successes for Jeff Bridges, one of my favorite actors: Crazy Heart.  I was a little reluctant to watch this movie, and ended up enjoying it much more than I expected — this is a warm and delightful film, but like The Wrestler, deals with an aging man exorcising his demons along a tortuous path.

About a fading country music star, both Crazy Heart’s story and its music resonated with me.  Songs were performed à la Walk The Line by Bridges and supporting cast.  Roger Ebert, again with his highest rating:

One of the ways the movie might have gone wrong is if the singing and the songs hadn’t sounded right. They do. Bridges has an easy, sandpapery voice that sounds as if it’s been through some good songs and good whiskey, and the film’s original songs are by T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton (who died of cancer in May at Burnett’s home). Bridges conveys the difficult feelings of a singer keeping his dogged pride while performing in a bowling alley.

I do not agree with a number of detractors who claim that the story is not particularly original.  I think it is, but either way, it’s the way the story is told, which is masterfully.  Like The Wrestler, I highly recommend the charming, soulful, and lovely Crazy Heart.

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