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

VOD Log: Roma

Netflix does Roma a tremendous disservice by releasing it simultaneously to its own streaming service and theaters.  Yes, I see that it officially was released in a highly “limited” way to theaters beforehand, but that does no good for people who live in such far-flung locations as San Diego.  By releasing in that way, it very well assures that the only way realistically to watch it is at home.

Which is a shame, because of all the films of 2018, Roma is the one that perhaps most of all needs to be seen on a big screen.  There are many sweeping long shots with lots of small detail that are absolutely miniaturized on even a 4K 55″ set as mine is.

A MOVIE SHORT-CHANGED BY NETFLIX

Roma′s visual depth is one of its strongest features, despite being in black and white — this is a very cinematic film.  But I can only go by my viewing experience, which was handicapped.  That, and trailer perjury — there is no Pink Floyd in the movie — knocks Roma, as seen at home, down to as many as two pegs from where it might otherwise have been.  One thing it does is reaffirm why I go to the movies.

Having said all that, the movie did hold my interest, and I liked a number of the scenes.  Roma had a good, almost Iñárritu-like flow to it, and even on my small screen the visuals were conveyed, though tamped down like so much pipe tobacco.  7/10

Comparison Notes: La Dolce Vita, Wings of Desire, Bicycle Thieves, La Cérémonie, The Housemaid

Innocence Lost: Making a Murderer Part 2

FOR FANS OF TRUE CRIME, THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS

Almost exactly two years ago I wrote: “Making a Murderer on Netflix is a magnificently compelling, gut-wrenching, and heartbreaking series.”  Part 2, released in October last year, doubles down on being among the most riveting television ever aired.  And where Part 1 might have been shortened by a couple episodes, that is not at all the case in Part 2 — every minute is used to its full value.  For fans of true crime, this is as good as it gets.

SPOILER ALERT! — Referring back to my previous spoiler comments, I will add that the Avery case, in the absence of anything to contradict the evidence raised by Kathleen Zellner —  is even more solidly, and clearly, on the side of his innocence.  Zellner is in a different league than the original defense; we will see where she can take it.  Does this mean a Part 3 is in the offing?

[End of Spoilers]

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So I never was able to produce a TV 2018 part 2 post as intended.  Those items, including Roseanne without Roseanne, are hereby tabled for a future post.

Better Call Saul Midstream Debrief

NOTE: As with my Breaking Bad post, NO SPOILERS will be found herein.

Kettleman!

If I ever have a child, I will name him or her Kettleman.  On the other hand, Ehrmantraut has a nice ring to it…

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Better Call Saul might not be the best show ever aired, but that’s debatable.  It must be the most purely entertaining.  And though I indicated it was mere coincidence that Saul Goodman’s arrival on Breaking Bad heralded that series sweeping into the clip it would ride to the end, know now that it was more than coincidence.

As a spin-off, Better Call Saul could not be more different than Breaking Bad.  Except, possibly, in those scenes with Saul, Breaking Bad is completely devoid of humor.  Better Call Saul, on the other hand, deftly folds equal measures of comedy and taut drama.

Better Call Saul - text blockLike its progenitor, Better Call Saul suffers from moments of incredulity — a Vince Gilligan trademark perhaps.  An easy way the show could have greatly lessened this flaw: just throw out that first run-in with Tuco, and save him for later.  It’s just one too many coincidences.  Even so, this show is so fun that those few moments click by rapidly, and become even more inconsequential than in Breaking Bad.  I only bring it up, really,  as a point of comparison to Mad Men, which has no such instances.

As a counter-balance, Better Call Saul offers one of the most realistic depictions of the work lawyers actually do that I have ever seen on TV or film.  Name another show that features — time and again — the grunt-work of sifting through stacks of paper.  That essential bane of actual attorneys is rarely if ever included in courtroom dramas.

Oh and the relationships!  Between Kim and her boss, between Jimmy and Chuck, between Jimmy and Kim… oh how I adore this show!

Season 1 is available on Netflix, and if past is precedent, you’ll have to wait a week before the Season 3 premiere (i.e. another year) before Season 2 comes on board.  On that note: Vince Gilligan appeared on celebrity Jeopardy!, and was asked why there were not more episodes.  The answer was that the network would love more, but he felt the quality would suffer.  And he has a point — I think that’s another kink with Breaking Bad: things getting a little stretched out at times, something Better Call Saul never suffers from.

Breaking Bad Debrief

breaking_bad_amc-1600x1200

NOTE: Don’t let the post title scare you off.  There will be NO SPOILERS in this post.

In the second season of Breaking Bad, a pair of junkies who can barely put one foot in front of another supposedly are able to pull off the heist of an ATM from a convenience store and ferry the cash-laden machine back to their den.  This is the most extreme example of a loss of logic that occasionally drags on the series.  Those moments — often necessary to continue the story — usually occur amidst high-tension drama and are therefore fairly easily overlooked.  And these lapses are the only negative I can mention about Breaking Bad.

Wikipedia:

Breaking Bad is widely regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time… [and] entered the Guinness World Records as the most critically acclaimed show of all time.

I certainly don’t put Breaking Bad at the top of all television series ever — the aforementioned momentary lapses of reason are enough to knock it a peg below, say, Mad Men.  But it’s way up there, certainly in the top ten.  The series Breaking Bad - Sleepingstarts off a little roughly, but coincidentally once Saul Goodman enters as a recurring character half-way through Season 2, the show falls into a highly entertaining groove and never leaves it.  It is almost always riveting, edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

In other words, I highly recommend Breaking Bad.  Unlike Mad Men, make sure to watch starting with Season 1 Episode 1.  The entire series is available on Netflix (Yay!).

Indie Log: Metro Manila

Metro Manila - poster
For some reason — maybe the poster artwork — I thought Metro Manila was going to be a highly stylized, slick action pic.  But it’s hardly anything of the sort; rather, it is a brutal, straightforward depiction of a family attempting to survive abject poverty in a place where it is readily commonplace.

Especially regarding the wife, Metro Manila avoided plumbing the ultimate depths it might have.  But make no mistake: this is a great, suspenseful foreign indie.  8/10

Availability: Netflix