REVIEW: “THE IRISHMAN” (2019) Netflix

Standard

“THE IRISHMAN”  is both a period piece and an almost historical type piece as you need to know a little history to understand the direction of the narrative and flow of this epic film. The movie, while following Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro) as our designated main character, revolves around Teamsters union boss James “Jimmy” Riddle Hoffa (Al Pacino). Fortunately Frank goes to great lengths to narrate the story for the audience and provides a healthy dose of context for those of us not from the Kennedy era. The main thing you need to know going in is that Jimmy Hoffa had mob ties, and that he vanished in 1975 and was presumed murdered by mob bosses for being “uncooperative”. While I’m sure a few ‘liberties’ have been taken by the film, it does make you go ‘hmmmm’ more than once after viewing.  It’s good to note as well, that it is based on the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt, who’s legal career cannot be disputed. Once you do see the movie, you will understand how perfectly rich that title is.

The movie unfolds over four acts, told over several decades by Frank Sheeran. In act one, Frank is introduced as a WWII veteran who is stuck driving food delivery trucks in and around Philadelphia. He has the bright idea to steal some of the steaks that he’s delivering, and sell them to local mobster Felix “Skinny Razor” DiTullio (Bobby Cannavale). Eventually his brazen willingness to break the law catches the eye of Italian mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), who happens to be a mobster on a national level, a man who might be commonly be referred to as an ‘underboss’ in the mafia levels structure. His calm demeanor is both comical yet terrifying. A soon to be classic line encompasses Bufalino perfectly: “You might be demonstrating a failure to show appreciation.” Under his mentor-ship, Frank becomes a ruthless action/hit man for the Italian mob and explains with rather entertaining dispassion how he does his job properly. In act two, Russell introduces Frank to Jimmy Hoffa, the outspoken and fearless president of the National Teamsters Union. Their relationship grows and Hoffa becomes Frank’s second mentor. Together they use intimidation and bribery to gain influence until the election of John Kennedy, who subsequently appoints his brother Bobby Kennedy as Attorney General and he immediately goes after Hoffa.

The first two and a half hours are the most fun, and in particular the end of act three is some of the most tense and dramatic storytelling that I have had the pleasure of seeing in recent memory. At a dinner celebration for Frank (who eventually becomes a Teamster boss himself), tensions between Hoffa, Bufalino and the other mobsters reaches a breaking point, and the decision is made to make Hoffa disappear. But in a gut wrenching twist that you had a feeling just might be, Frank is the one tasked to do the job. In a beautiful display of cinematography over a thirty-minute buildup, Scorsese forces the viewer to the edge of their seats with the dread of what’s about to happen. Robert De Niro’s performance in these moments is master class; the inner conflict is all the more apparent thanks to all of the time we spent watching Frank being groomed by Bufalino and Hoffa in equal measure.

Getting away from the plot a bit, the movie is actually surprisingly funny. In one particular scene, someone insults an older Bufalino at a dinner reception. He and Frank exchange glances, and the frame suddenly cuts to a hotel bed covered in guns. Frank then narrates with excess detail and hilarious dispassion the ideal weapon for a public assassination. Moments like these are thrown throughout the film and keep it from getting too bogged down in it’s violence. It’s impressive how quickly jokes fly, given the disproportionate amount of people getting shot point blank in the head.

The heart of the movie is definitely Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. De Niro was de-aged apparently with some really good CGI, as he is supposed to be younger than both Pacino and Pesci. While it’s fairly obvious, it was never too distracting to not enjoy what was unfolding onscreen.  Al Pacino is a an absolute over-the-top riot as Hoffa, and is certainly one of the best roles that Pacino has bit into and played in awhile.  While De Niro on the other hand, goes for the more understated, it as if he is the ying to Pacino’s yang that makes this pairing so wonderful to watch together. Pesci as Bufalino is chilling, and it’s fun to seem him as the boss in this gangster movie after being a junior-level mobster in ‘Goodfellas’ so many years ago. The mentor-ship between De Niro’s character and both Pacino and Pesci is amazingly entertaining. Mention must be made of the flawless ensemble cast which backs up these principals, including the amazing women, who play such important, but background roles in the film is the cushion that rounds out these characters and nuances of story line. Kathrine NarducciRay Romano, Anna Paquin and Aleksa Palladino to name just a few, and while not always front and center, they add so much into the texture of their scenes.

The only thing keeping me from calling this movie perfect is it’s length. The almost three and a half hour run time is a very long one, and while occurring infrequently, the movie does drag a bit. This is most apparent in the fourth act where Frank introspects during his final years, and attempts to achieve reconciliation for all the murders he’s committed. It doesn’t really offer any closure or seem necessary to wrapping up the narrative.

Ultimately that doesn’t even come close to making me not recommend seeing “The Irishman” at all. There’s a reason Martin Scorsese will forever be known for his gangster movies. Combining comedy, violence, brotherhood and drama, he has created a formula that continues to work. The fact that he continues to still make such excellent movies after all these years, well it says a lot about the man himself.  Well done Mr. Scorsese, well done.

Grade: A-

Follow me on twitter: @pegsatthemovies and Instagram: peggyatthemovies

 

Media Review Screening: Tuesday, October 29, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup

“THE IRISHMAN” NOW PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS // ON NETFLIX NOVEMBER 27, 2019

REVIEW: “BEN-HUR” (2016) Paramount Pictures

Standard

Let’s start by stating the obvious. If you go into this version Ben-Hur with visions of the original classic film, you will be disappointed. It is a very conservative, safe, tale re-told for current audiences. Remember this is being done by none other than Roma Downey & Mark Burnett, sponsors of some of the most cheesy TV shows ever done. And while it’s the ‘cool’ thing to just trash this film because it is a remake blah blah blah.. give it a rest people.
ben hur 4
Opening up on this remake/adaptation of the classic epic of Ben-Hur it has mostly the same plot-line as the original. We move on through the tale of the two brothers, Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), is falsely accused of an assassination attempt by his childhood friend and adoptive brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell). He survives years of slavery under the Romans and rises from the ranks hoping to one day get his revenge. The storyline is the same predictable one as the 1959 version though some of the dialogue was very modern day, which was a bit distracting, as it took me out of the time-frame of the story on occasion. One of the things that really struck me and stood out, is when they flash the time period it’s set in, you realize just how long people have been killing each other in the name of religion.
ben hur 2
The main positive point is the acting as Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell both do a decent job, again, if you’re expecting Charlton Heston, Don’t. Let it go and just roll with it. Morgan Freeman as Ilderim, does voice over and basically phones in his acting performance also. At one point, it’s so completely ridiculous that he’s yelling instructions that would’ve been impossible to be heard over the noise of the race! Add in one other notable cheesy scene for me, is where Judah Ben-Hur is washed up ashore as the only survivor after the ship he is a slave on is destroyed, and I felt like Wilson the volleyball should just make a quick cameo. But to give credit where credit is due, I must say that I did enjoy the spectacle that was the ending chariot race.
ben hur 3
The women in the film Ester (Nazanin Boniadi), Naomi Ben-Hur (Ayelet Zurer) and Tirzah Ben-Hur (Sofia Black-D’Elia) all felt really muted. Esther didn’t really feel like a full character for her being the female lead. Add in Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus with the muted group as he’s barely featured until the end. And while I’m not a fan of religious films, they did need to give the character a little more explanation here.

So continuing on with quite the dismal film year of 2016, I can’t say I hated this film as so many of the people who are trashing it just because they can. I will say that the venture might have fit far more comfortably perhaps on a home screen level. Lastly, though I believe a great movie might be in here somewhere, sadly, only a mediocre one found its way to the screen.

Grade: C-
@pegsatthemovies

Review Screening: Tuesday, August 16, 2016 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV meetup
Nationwide Release: Friday, August 19, 2016

REVIEW: “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES” (2016) Lionsgate

Standard

ppz
Featuring a talented, mostly younger British cast of actors that I truly like and admire, I must admit I have been looking forward to this take on Jane Austen/Seth Grahame-Smith’s mash-up of “Pride and Predjudice and Zombies” for some time now. And yes, it delivers – if of course what you are looking for is a sure-fun little take on an iconic story. Here the zombie apocalypse has landed in the middle of Austen’s prim and proper story, including the now-famous attraction between Elizabeth Bennett (Lily James) and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley).

Anyone expecting the seriousness of Ms. Austen’s 1813 novel will be disappointed ~ hence the title should have provided a pretty solid hint of that to most. While her characters and general story line act as a structure here, I expect most critics to destroy this one because it’s made simply for fun, not for art.
ppz 1
Of course, any Pride and Prejudice spin-off ~ even one with zombies ~ must pay meticulous homage to Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. In this versions, it turns out that Elizabeth and her four sisters are highly trained warriors raised to survive and fight against the undead. Mr. Darcy is billed as a zombie hunter and protector of Mr. Bingley, the rich bachelor hooked on Jane Bennett. We follow suit on the original story as things are still made topsy-turvy by the devious Mr. Wickham, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and especially the flamboyant Parson Collins. The interactions between the characters juggle between loyalty, romantic attraction, emotional chaos and hand-to-hand combat – with just enough comedic elements that most viewers will find plenty of opportunities to get some good laughs in. Make no mistake though, this is no ‘Walking Dead’ rip-off and it’s nowhere near as gory with it’s details.

Lily James and Bella Heathcote in Screen Gems' PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

Lily James and Bella Heathcote in Screen Gems’ PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.


And yes, this talented cast is all in. They play it mostly straight to achieve the balance between somber and silly. Lily James and Sam Riley again, are both fun to watch as Elizabeth and Darcy. They are the film’s best fighters with both swords and words. Jane (Bella Heathcoate) is “the pretty one”, who is wooed by the simply stunning Douglas Booth as Mr. Bingley.
ppz 3
Lena Headey makes an impression in her limited screen time as an eye-patched Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Jack Huston is well cast as the devious Mr. Wickham. Screen veterans Charles Dance and Sally Phillips take on the role of parents to the five Bennett daughters, but it’s Matt Smith, who turns the film fun with his comedic timing and his unconventional twist on the oddball Parson Collins, who pretty much steals each of his scenes.
ppz 6
Even though this entertaining film offers plenty of fun with laughs, action and romance, I am hoping it doesn’t kick off a new zombie-adaptation trend as that would truly get annoying and mundane. Personally, I just like to be entertained, even sometimes in the silliest ways like this film did for me.

Grade: C+
@pegsatthemovies

Nationwide release on Friday, February 5, 2016