Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

The Irishman - Rumination on a Rumination

The Irishman  - Rumination on a Rumination  -- by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

After reading Charles Brandt's 2004 book, I Heard You Paint Houses, Robert DeNiro approached Martin Scorsese about bringing the story to the screen.  Through numerous fits and starts, including studios not interested in these two making another gangster film (imagine that) and the consideration of breaking it into two films, we finally have it, 15 years late, but right in time.  Why now?  Well, first, the technology has finally advanced to the point where major characters' faces can be de-aged through CGI so that DeNiro, for example, can believably range from 24 to 80-years-old--although a bulky midriff and creaky joints betray the notion, at times.  Second, streaming services have become viable venues for major films and stars.  Also, home viewing is preferable to theaters in minimizing imperfections of the de-aging process and making the hefty 209-minute runtime more palatable.

For his cast, Scorsese mined actors from his own films, plus The SopranosBoardwalk Empire, and other mob-based shows.  Rumor has it Joe Pesci had to be asked 50 times to come out of retirement, and surprisingly, this is the first film pairing the director and Al Pacino.  In sum, they form the best cast possible for one of his mob films.  Fittingly, The Irishman opens in typical Scorsese fashion with a long tracking shot, accompanied by the classic doo-wop tune, In the Still of the Night.  This time the camera meanders through the halls of a retirement home, eventually landing in a close-up of the grim, craggy face of an old man in a wheelchair.  He is Frank Sheeran (DeNiro), the eponymous Irishman.  We don't know it yet, but the director has set the tone that will remain throughout the film, not the action-packed rise-and-fall thriller, but rather an elegiac rumination of a life that led to this moment--alone, in a nursing home.  And when one considers the director and his actors we can't help but conclude that Scorsese and DeNiro are saying as much in real-life subtext as they are in the telling of the tale.

Frank, as the narrator, reflects on his rise from freight hauler to trusted associate of both Mafia and Teamster hierarchy.  He starts dipping his toes in crime, meeting Philly mobster Skinny Razor (Bobby Cannavale).  But a chance encounter changes his life: Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), the boss of a small Pennsylvania Mafia family and a respected fixer and negotiator, takes a shine to Frank and adopts him as a protege.  Through Bufalino, Frank meets Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel), Don of the Philadelphia family; Russell's cousin Bill (Ray Romano), who is Jimmy Hoffa's attorney, and eventually a fateful association with Hoffa (Al Pacino) himself.

A running storyline involves a trip Frank and Russell make with their wives, Irene Sheeran (Stephanie Kurtzuba), Frank's second wife, and Carrie Bufalino (Kathrine Narducci).  Stops along the way, introduce flashbacks that create a historical timeline, melding US politics, the Teamsters, and La Cosa Nostra in the macro, and individual mob vignettes in the micro.  These vignettes illustrate the lethal nature of the lifestyle, sometimes with just a caption that reveals a character's fate, sometimes with the re-creation of a fatal capping.  Frank's business and personal life intersect most vividly through his daughter, the quiet Peggy (Lucy Gallina as the child, Anna Paquin as the young woman), who becomes the metaphor for Frank's relationships at home.  She also provides the emotional connection, or lack of same, with Bufalino and Hoffa.

Sheeran's story has been disputed as inaccurate at best and possibly fabricated, but thankfully that didn't deter DeNiro in making The Irishman.  It's Scorsese's best film since 2006's The Departed (no, we do not consider Wolf of Wall Street to be in the ballpark).  Steve Zaillian's (Schindler's List) screen adaptation is talky, yes, but that's what this story is about: conversations, deals, negotiations, and, finally, contracts.  Regular Scorsese collaborator, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, does yeowoman's work pulling all of the loose threads together, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and production designer Bob Shaw capture the atmosphere of the La Cosa Nostra and Teamster heyday, and Robbie Robinson's (The Band) musical score mixes old standards and original music to set the tone.  As one would expect, all of the performances are excellent, but we have to give a special nod to Joe Pesci for his toned-down, nuanced portrayal of Russell Bufalino.  It's a side of the actor we haven't seen before, and among this galaxy of stars, he shines the brightest.  Expect recognition for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, and a couple Acting nods (unfortunately, Robinson's score does not qualify, due to the heavy use of previously recorded material).
9.5 out of 10

Knives Out

Knives Out -- a review by FilmZ

Rian Johnson's film resume' is intriguing and eclectic, and his Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the only truly good entry in that series since The Empire Strikes Back, so it should surprise no one that he has written and directed a cracking good old-fashioned whodunit.   As a fan of the genre and one who has tried his hand at writing them, let me note that a good Agatha Christie-type mystery is no mean feat.  And from the opening shot of the dark old mansion on a misty day with two giant black hounds loping across the lawn, the mood is set.

Following his 85th birthday party, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) — a bestselling mystery writer and multi-millionaire patriarch of a dysfunctional family — is found dead of an apparent suicide. Soon after local cops Lt. Elliott (LaKeith Stanfeld) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) begin questioning family members, super sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a Southern-fried Hercule Poirot shows up.  He has been hired by an anonymous benefactor to prove the death is murder, and his reputation as an uncanny bloodhound has preceded him.

So, the game is afoot, as Blanc interviews the array of reprobates and weirdos that make up the Thrombey clan.  In the classic mystery fashion, all of the suspects have something to hide,  all have reason to want the old man offed.  There's daughter Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis), a self-made business tycoon, not counting the $1 million dollar stake her dad provided; son Walt (Michael Shannon) who runs the publishing empire that only handles dad's bestsellers; Joni (Toni Collette) a New Age social media influencer whose product "Flam" is of dubious purpose; Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson) whose bigotry is exceeded only by his philandering.   And then there are assorted grandchildren: an alt-right snot, a leftist coed, and most notably Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans) the blackest sheep in a family of black sheep.  The only decent survivors, it seems, are Greatnana (K Callan), a dowager, and Marta (Ana de Armas), Harlan's immigrant nurse whom everyone in the family loves even as no one knows her home country (Bolivia? Uruguay? Paraguay? Brazil?)--but even those two have their secrets. The house itself is like a giant Clue board through which the above suspects and several more move furtively, their behavior announcing their guilt even as every utterance asserts their innocence and every index finger points elsewhere.

Rian Johnson has surely done Dame Agatha proud with a twisty mystery that spins us around when we think we have everything straight.  The cast seems to be having marvelously evil fun.  Chris Evans runs gleefully counter to his Captain America image and Toni Collette, as usual, steals every scene she is in as the vapidest guru to hit the screen in years.  In the lead, Daniel Craig expands the comic chops he flexed in 2017's sneaky-good heist film, Logan Lucky.  It's a foregone conclusion that a comedy will not win any awards, but none of the Oscar-nominated films will give you a better time at the movies this year.
9.0 out of 10
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