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

Spike Lee and the BlacKkKlansman

There’s a message in this film which Spike Lee is trying to drive home, which is all well and good and which I support.  But this is a broken movie.  Chief among its several issues: it needs to speed things way up and keep better focus.  There’s some entertainment value here, but not enough to recommend.  5/10

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A couple thoughts about Spike Lee

When I saw in NYC Summer of Sam, I was disappointed.  The fresh vision he brought to She’s Gotta Have It, Jungle Fever, and what Ebert AND Siskel hailed as the best movie of 1989 (an exceptionally rare agreement), Do The Right Thing, had had almost completely evaporated.

Going in almost 30 years later to BlacKkKlansman, I was hoping that Spike Lee had his mojo back.  I thought fondly of the great Oldboy.  Though Oldboy had nothing in common with the early African American-centered Spike Lee canon, it was damned good.  I’m wondering if Lee was inspired by the potent story.  In BKkK, he clearly has a message to communicate, but he muddles that up with a blurry dramatic presentation.  Another disappointment.

Until proven otherwise, we have to add Spike Lee to the growing heap of great directors who have turned sour, the best example being Oliver Stone.

Makes you appreciate Quentin Tarantino all the more — really curious about and looking forward to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Christopher Nolan Outwitted Again in Dunkirk [u]

Christopher Nolan is highly overrated.  Let’s review:

Following: Caught some of it via VOD.  Don’t remember it well enough, but it started sucking quickly enough that I did not finish.

Memento: A stupid, implausible film.

Insomnia: An utter waste of the talents of Al Pacino and Robin Williams, and a tremendous missed opportunity given the powerful latent elements.  Look at The Machinist for an example of how to use insomnia effectively.

Batman trilogy: Not great; I’ll take Tim Burton over Christopher Nolan any day of the week.

Inception: I saw this before writing my blog, so I don’t remember why I didn’t like it.  But I do remember it wasn’t good.

Interstellar: OK; maybe his best film other than Batman Begins.  But Nolan’s best only reaches a marginal thumbs-up.

And Dunkirk.  I liked the opening sequences, about the first 20-30 minutes, very much.  Nolan very effectively demonstrates the utter futility of the situation.  For that I give him credit.  But then he enters into Balkanized, choppy storytelling that has no flow.  The only thing more futile than the armies’ dire circumstance is the hope that Nolan can convey the powerful story at hand in a way it deserves.

Ultimately, add Dunkirk to the long list of films that show what a hack filmmaker Christopher Nolan is.  This is a great story that I wish Steven Spielberg had made.  5/10

Comparison Notes: Captain Phillips — for how dramatic, edge-of-your-seat true naval adventures should be told.

UPDATE: I just read about the Dunkirk evacuation on Wikipedia.  It was a dire situation, and many lives were lost — but not near so many as Nolan would have you believe: most of the British troops were saved.  Watching Dunkirk, you’d think that only a slim percentage of the army survived.  This looseness with the facts is about enough to drop my rating down another peg.  What a hack.

Will we be among The Beguiled?

Lots of pros in The Beguiled.  I dug the lush homestead and the tight story.

Cons: Colin Farrell is a fine actor, and did a fine job here.  But there could be a more enigmatic, a more beguiling, if you will, character there.  His character was easy to read early on, which made the direction of the plot, i.e. its gradient, too easily discernible at any moment.

I look forward to Sofia Coppola’s films.  She may not always knock it out of the park, but she has an idea what she’s doing, and her films have a unique feel to them — if this one less than others.

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A small movie like this must open up more dimensions, unless the one it chooses forges an exceptionally strong vector.  Still, compelling and entertaining.  7/10

Comparison Notes: the considerably more potent films Dead Calm and Misery

Film Brief: Hidden Figures

hidden-figures-text-blockHidden Figures is quite formulaic, but nonetheless entertaining, and, as it depicts real lives and history, somewhat edifying.  My own experience causes me to question the accuracy of events within the NASA centers.  The math and operations often seemed more Hollywood than scientific.  A scant few viewers will notice this glitch.

To put it another way, the Rotten Tomatoes (yes, still useful) summary:

In heartwarming, crowd-pleasing fashion, Hidden Figures celebrates overlooked — and crucial — contributions from a pivotal moment in American history.

The timing on this movie is good too, given the politics of the clown administration.  7/10

Film Brief: Jackie

jackie-poster

I am hardly a Jackie Kennedy scholar, but there seemed something a bit odd in Natalie Portman’s performance, something where I wasn’t sure if it was dead-on or off in a bizarre direction — one of my initial thoughts was, of all people, Marilyn Monroe.  And there was a certain detachment.  However, a brief look at Mrs. Kennedy’s White House tour (highlighted in the film) makes me think Natalie Portman might well have nailed it.

Jackie raises the obvious comparison to Sofia Coppola’s much superior Marie Antoinette.  Tragedy, we know, is in the offing.  I was severely disappointed by Jackie, but I admit the film held me, and that goes a long way.  I kept waiting for the film to reveal itself, to show me a door I had not previously known.  By the end of the film, that door was yet to be found.  6/10

Comparison Notes (Recommended): Frost/Nixon