REVIEW: “THE IRISHMAN” (2019) Netflix

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“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-

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

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

“GET HARD” (2015) ~ Warner Bros.

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I didn’t go into this screening with magically high hopes for a genius comedy here, I think you know from the trailer that’s not what you’re going to get, but I was looking for a few laughs. And it completely delivers on that aspect as that’s pretty much exactly what you get ~ ‘a few laughs’ ~ but then you can probably guess that from the trailer also.

So the best way for me to possibly describe Get Hard is to call it a socially acceptable racial observation humor disguised as a buddy flick. We’ve seen this formula before in comedies that worked really well like Blazing Saddles, Stir Crazy or 48 Hours. All funny movies..but time has made the landscape different nowadays and I hear the movie is getting some backlash for this exact reason. Basically the movie looks at how different races and social classes perceive each other through the eyes of stereotypical white, black & hispanic characters. The only thing I can say is just relax and realize this is just supposed to be entertainment not a social study on life today and if you can’t do that, which I understand also, then this probably isn’t the film you should go see.

We start off with Will Ferrell as “James King” an ultra rich stock broker who is engaged to his boss’ “Martin” (Craig T. Nelson) daughter “Alissa” (Allison Brie). Everything in life is going swimmingly for him it seems, that is until James is arrested for multiple counts of fraud ala Bernie Madoff. Unlike Madoff, James is actually completely innocent and as he refuses to take a plea deal, he ends up with a maximum sentence of ten years in San Quentin State Prison with the Judge giving him thirty days to settle all his affairs. Knowing that he has a huge probability of something happening to him in jail, he hires the only black guy he knows, “Darnell” the guy who washes his car played by Kevin Hart. James also just assumes Darnell has been to prison just because he’s black, but because Darnell needs the money to move into a new house, he just follows along with this line of thinking as it looks like an easy street to get the money he needs. Darnell now has less than thirty days to get James prepared for the next ten years of his life in prison..but remember it’s a life he really knows nothing about having truthfully never been to jail or even gotten so much as a parking ticket.

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The movie is filled with quite a few outrageous and somewhat memorable scenes mostly involving the ‘prison training’ of Ferrell’s character King. The movie starts with Ferrell’s ass in your face and it never backs down at trying to be funny (key word = trying), though a lot of it is oh-so-obligatory comedy rounds. I don’t want to spoil any of the funny scenes, as they are mostly during the first half of the film with one scene in particular that did have almost everyone (including me) gut laughing in their seats. But after that, I mostly just did a lot of eye-rolling at how just bad & dumb some of it really was.

The biggest fault of Get Hard is that it was completely & utterly predictable. The moment Ferrell is sentenced to jail, it was quite obvious why he was arrested in the first place. The movie did have one or two original scenes/situations, but they were also pretty much by the ‘comedy’ book with the once again obligatory cliched moments of stereotypical racial and gay jokes. We all get it, all rich white people think blacks are criminals and gay people all meet up in public to give each other oral sex..blah blah blah..
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The one highlight for me was that Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart really DO work fantastically together. I’m not going to lie, but I wasn’t expecting much from this movie but what absolutely makes this movie work even somewhat is due to the performances of Ferrell and Hart. Not that these guys aren’t funny..but let’s be truthful, both of them have played the same character over & over in most of their last few films. They thankfully went against some of their usual schtick of Hart screaming everything & the “Kevin Hart short jokes” which are just tired, were barely acknowledged As usual, Will Ferrell is a lunatic. He goes all out being over the top, but not in an obnoxious way. Hart is more of a straight man to Ferrell and that to me, is what made this relationship work well. T.I. as Darnell’s cousin “Russell” also does a quick turn here as leader of the ‘Crenshaw Kings’ whom Darnell comes to for advice and James actually tries to join when he shows them legit stock market tips and gets the street name moniker of ‘Mayo’ in a couple of fun, lighter moments.
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I wouldn’t say that Get Hard is anything close to rip-roaring, gut-busting hilarious, nor is it trying to reinvent the comedy wheel..but it has it’s funny moments and if you are fans of either Ferrell or Hart and looking to kill an hour and a half or so at the movies, then you will be fine. But go in with an open mind because remember, it’s just supposed to be comedy not a discussion of social problems and if you can go in with that mindset, I think it does what it sets out to do and that’s try to make people laugh.

Grade: C
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