Tag Archives: De Niro

Oscars 2019 Best Picture Review: The Irishman

Irishman

Robert de Niro (second from left)  plays Frank Sheeran and Al Pacino (second from right) plays Jimmy Hoffa in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. A story about loyalty and betrayal.

Just when you think Martin Scorsese has done everything he could in film, along comes The Irishman. This film may not be his best, but it adds to his stack of films one can call great works.

Martin Scorsese is undoubtedly the master of gangster films or Mafia films. We have sensed there would be successors in the likes of Quentin Tarantino, but that has not yet come to be. Tarantino has his own gangster style, but Scorsese films are the Mona Lisa’s of gangster movies, if you can truly call a gangster movie a Mona Lisa! Scorsese has shown his versatility in film making since the beginning of this century. His films since the new century began have taken a wide range of genres from epic to fantasy to a family film to business-scam drama to dark comedies to religious biopics. However when watching The Irishman, his first gangster movie since The Departed, it only seems natural that gangster movies were what Scorsese was born to do. Although films in the other genres he tackled are very good, it just seems natural that way. Even the excitement of having Scorsese ‘all-stars’ like Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel adds to the excitement. Additions like Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale and Anna Paquin also add to the excitement.

Now the film has a lot of common elements you’ll expect from a Scorsese gangster movie. It tells of a man and his involvement with the mafia and of his daily duties. It also goes back to his past in how he developed the right type of insensitivity to become as consistent hitman. It also tells of some of his more legendary kills. The film also adds something different. It adds in the story of the ‘vacation of a lifetime.’ It’s not something you’d expect to be in a Scorsese film, but it’s done in a fashion you’d expect to see from Scorsese.

However it’s the aftermath that one would not expect to see in a Scorsese film. It’s like it almost shifts to a completely different film for the last half-hour. That’s what hit me about the film. It not only tells the story of a man who committed a lot of murders and also allegedly committed the murder of the man behind the most intriguing missing person case in the past half-century. It tells of the aftermath of how he would come to regret his actions over the years. Even of how he appeared to have it all and win it with fear during his lifetime, but would be doomed to die alone. You can pinpoint exactly where in the scene where Peggy ask Frank about Jo and Frank calls a distraught Jo up trying to comfort her, but knowing he’s the one who killed her husband. That’s a change of pace from Goodfellas about a mobster who lived the mob life, was imprisoned for it and regrets nothing. Even before the scene of the killing of Hoffa, there are freeze-frame montages that mention of the aftermaths of others involved in the Philly mob Frank Sheeran and Russell Bufalino were a part of, including those shot dead or imprisoned for life.  I think the whole theme of the movie wasn’t just mob life, but how everyone involved pays in the end.

Now one thing we should remember is that we should not completely embrace this story as a true story, even though it’s very accurate. The film is based off the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. Brandt is a former homicide prosecutor, investigator and defense attorney and he’s the man who interviewed Frank Sheeran shortly before his death. During the interview, Sheeran told of his life as a hitman and of his own involvement with Jimmy Hoffa. Sheeran confessed it all to Brandt months earlier and saw a priest the last few months of his lives so he could die with a clear conscience in December of 2003. The case of Jimmy Hoffa is still unsolved and his body has never been found. The FBI have had a lot of stories and sources, but it’s Sheeran’s story that’s the one they’re most going with. However there are still some naysayers that are claiming that Sheeran lied in the interview. Whatever the situation, this missing case is still unclosed. I won’t completely call Sheeran’s story the whole truth, but I believe he makes a strong case and it’s hard for me to sense him lying.

Once again, Martin Scorsese proves himself to the be master of gangster movies. Quentin Tarantino may take ruthless killers to a new level, but Martin is still the master. This film that he directs with a script written by Steve Zaillian is a complex film to pack into 3 hours and 20 minutes. Usually if a film is that long, I would expect the director to justify it. Martin has delivered a lot of three-hour films in the past, but I’m convinced he has justified the time here. If you yourself are one of the people that has been fascinated by Jimmy Hoffa and his missing story, this will be a film that will intrigue you.

It’s not just the story that will intrigue you, but how the Scorsese/Zaillian creates it and arranges it from beginning to end. It starts as the audience visits a nursing home, tours around seeing family after family and comes across a lonely man: Frank Sheeran. Then it jumps into 1975 and the story of how Frank, his wife, his mob boss Russell Bufalino and Russ’ wife Carrie were going on a ‘trip of a lifetime’ from Philadelphia to Detroit. Then it paves on how it led to all this from Frank’s days of truck driving to introduction to the mob to being a hitman for hire to a close friend of Jimmy Hoffa. The story shows of Hoffa’s rise, downfall and attempted comeback. It also shows Frank’s struggle of who should he be loyal to: Hoffa or the mob? It slows the moment of the ‘big day’ down and it delivers the aftermath with feeling that cuts deep. Also it treats the film as if Sheeran is giving us an interview. Almost like we’re Charles Brandt! I have to say the format of the film works and will keep one intrigued whether they’re a fan of Scorsese films, fan of mob films, or just have an interest in Jimmy Hoffa. It’s interesting how the film begins with “In The Still Of The Night” and it’s nice to hear and is replayed at the end, but it sounds haunting at the end. The film and its layout of the story makes it work.

Big credit to Robert de Niro for playing the role of Frank Sheeran. To do Frank, he has to cut deep into the man and how he went from a fearless killer who was able to adopt the coldness of killing to being the man with regrets in the end and wants to die with a clear conscience. Robert does an excellent job of it. Also excellent is Joe Pesci playing the mob boss who wants to call the shots of Sheeran and Hoffa. Pesci really knew how to steal the scenes in the film. Al Pacino was also great as Hoffa. He did an excellent job in delivering a multi-dimensional and complex performance of a man in history who was just as complicated as he was a legend. There were a lot of good supporting performances from Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale and Harvey Keitel. However one of the biggest standout performances came from one with little dialogue: that of Anna Paquin. Her role of Peggy Sheeran required her to say with her physical actions and facial expressions and she did an excellent job. Even one of the few spoken lines she had in the film “Why haven’t you called Jo?” would pave the way to where the film changed from a story of mob work to the story of regret.

The film should also be admired for its technical merits too. There’s the visual effects team that did the top-notch CGI effects to take the ages of de Niro, Pesci and Pacino back 30 years without them needing heavy make-up. It’s not just the actors acting younger than their ages but the CGI too! There’s also the costuming of Sandy Powell and the set designs by Bob Shaw and Regina Graves to take the film back to the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. There’s also the inclusion of music into the film that takes the film back to its set times. The score from Robbie Robertson also ads to the film.

The Irishman may be a true story, or it may be one big lie. However you put it, it’s a very telling story that paints a vivid but dark picture of what might have happened in one of the most intriguing missing cases ever. It’s also another film Scorsese directs and puts together in excellent fashion. It’s easy to see why it’s another contender for this year’s Oscars.

Oscars 2019 Best Picture Review: Joker

 

Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix showcases a villain in the making in Joker.

“I thought my life was a tragedy. Turns out it’s a comedy.”

At first you’ll think a film like Joker is yet another popcorn movie. I mean the film about the eventual making of Batman’s most legendary villain. what more can you expect? Actually it goes beyond what you’d expect.

This film is interesting, and I don’t mean interesting in a negative way. We live in a time where superhero movies are the call of the day. We love heroes. We even consider anti-heroes like Deadpool a guilty pleasure. Very rarely do we get a movie of the origins of the villain. Before this film, I’m sure there were all sorts of ideas for a villain film, including a few ideas in the past for a Joker film, but it never came to full fruition. I always felt that if there was to be a first major ‘origin of a villain’ film for a superhero franchise, there would be a Lex Luthor movie before any Joker movie. I was wrong!

One thing about the Joker is that there have been several stories of the original of the Joker from DC Comics. Actually the original story of how the Joker came to be is in 1940 that the Joker fell into a vat of chemicals which left his skin and appearance the way it is., as well as the chemicals making him insane. Another 1951 story is that the Joker was a normal person until Batman interfered with him and he fell into a chemical vat. Interesting to know that Jerry Robinson who created the Joker never paid too much focus to his origin, just the villain he became.

This is one story of the evolution of the Joker that’s like no other. The film presents Gotham City as a big city full of crime and being run as a plutocracy in which mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne supports, but wants to take to higher levels. It seems like their one escape from the hell is through watching The Murray Franklin Show. Meanwhile Arthur Fleck is one of the marginalized people. He’s mentally ill, possibly from a head injury from his abusive childhood, but he just wants to make people smile and laugh. Whatever attempts to do so backfires and it seems like he’s dragged down by them. He tries to get a girlfriend with a mother in his own apartment but that falls apart. The mental illness consumes his mind and it interferes with his life. On top of it, his mental illness made him look like a fool with a clip run on a late night show. However it’s right after receiving an answer for what he dug for about his mother that he loses it. He threw in the towel for what he wanted to be and just explodes. He already got a good sense that he was good at revenge by that subway shooting. Following the revenge shooting he gave on a fellow clown of his, he got a sense that he was actually destined to be a person of revenge. However his biggest act was yet to come on the Murray Franklin show. He had an act that was an act of entertainment mixed with an act of revenge on Franklin. That started the wave of anarchy and mayhem in Gotham City  which would pave the way for the Joker to be king and would lead to the murders of Thomas and Mrs. Wayne in front of Bruce.

The thing about this story about the Joker is that it’s obvious the Joker story is meant to be dark just by the way it starts. It presents Gotham of a place of doom and gloom and Arthur as one of it’s many casualties. His mental illness is also portrayed in a dark manner with its symptoms and how he’s dealt with by the government. Actually mental illness has to be the biggest theme of the film. I don’t know if there’s a specific mental illness that is exactly like what Arthur has. I’m sure it’s possible because I remember the son in Parasite is left with a mental illness that has him laughing at the wrong times since his skull fracture. Whatever the situation, Fleck lives in what appears to be a prison of his mind that is common with a lot of people. Fleck’s mental illness has him write down statements of truth rather than statements of humor for his comedy routine. Those statements seem to echo that of many other people with mental illness. I think that’s the biggest thing that grabs people about the film, about how Fleck’s struggle is a common struggle with many.

The ending becomes an ending one should expect as Arthur Fleck is supposed to end as the Joker in the movie, right? However we get a lot more. The marginalization of the majority of Gotham City is reflected well inside Arthur Fleck. Recently he snapped. He’s already committed revenge against his mother and his coworker by shooting them. However it becomes obvious those two were all dress rehearsals and that he was planning for his biggest act on Murray Franklin. You could tell something was up by the way he walks to the Franklin studios in his Joker outfit and dances around. However even if you did anticipate Arthur would get his revenge on Franklin on live TV or not, I’m sure most did not expect the mayhem of a Gotham City riot to happen and this anarchy to happen either just after the Joker’s appearance on the show. Also some might not have expected the ending to be a case of both the Joker arriving and the legend of Batman just starting.

Now there was some talk when the movie first came out that there was fear there would be some copycat violent incidents. When you look at the film, it’s a film that features a lot of disturbing things like mental illness, marginalization, incels and vigilantism. There’s even that line just before Arthur shoots Murray: “What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash? You get what you fucking deserve!” No violent incidents have come of it. And even if one did, I believe it is not the responsibility of the filmmakers. I learned a long time ago in the 1990’s that you can say all you want how influential entertainment is on certain people or society, In the end, it;s not responsible. People are responsible for their own actions.

First off, the biggest accolades have to go to Joaquin Phoenix. This was a captivating character to play, but also a complex character to play as well. To portray this version of the Joker on the big screen was not an easy thing, especially since the character lives in both a fictional world of chaos and a mental world of chaos. Joaquin made it work, and in a way that keeps one in their seat. Also this may make history as the first-ever performance of a superhero character to win an Oscar. Additional accolades have to go to Todd Phillips. This movie he directed and co-wrote with Scott Silver worked beyond anyone’s expectations and even won moviegoers in the process.

For acting, it appeared Phoenix had the most developed role of the film while the other roles lacked dimension in comparison. However the performances did a lot to show their presence and add to the film rather than just be something for Phoenix to work off of. There was Frances Conroy who played Arthur’s mother and she did a good job of portraying her character’s own mental illness. There was Robert de Niro who did a good job as the host that’s friendly one minute, mean the next. There was Zazie Beetz who plays Arthur’s love interest. Technical efforts in the film were also excellent. There’s the cinematography by Lawrence Sher, the costuming by Mark Bridges, the makeup work, the production design, and of course the musical score by Hildur Guðnadóttir. I’m a fan of film scores and Hildur was excellent in delivering a score to fit a dark and disturbing world as well as the chaos in Arthur’s mind.

Joker does present a unique story of how one of DC Comics’ most legendary villains came to be. However it’s a lot more as it takes us into the character’s mind and into the world of mayhem he lives in. And it connects with you in a surprising way.

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence shine in Silver Linings Playbook.

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence shine in Silver Linings Playbook.

“I was a big slut but I’m not anymore. There will always be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the same for yourself? Can you forgive? Are you capable of that?”

Do you think it’s possible to do a comedy about dealing with bipolar disorder? Silver Linings Playbook makes the attempt to make a comedy out of it and succeeds.

We meet Pat Solitano Jr.: a Philadelphia man with bipolar disorder who was just release form a mental institute after eight months following having given a brutal beating to the man who had an affair with his wife. The incident has hit him with hard consequences. Besides being institutionalized, he lost his job, his wife Nikki has put a restraining order on him thus him living with his parents. And adding to the difficulty, his father Pat Sr. is out of work and resorts on gambling for income and hopefully launching a restaurant. His parents give him strict orders to take his medicine and see a therapist. It starts off rocky as he neglects his medicine and throws violent raging fits such as two incidents at 3 in the morning in front of his parents and when he hears My Cherie Amour, the song played when he caught his wife with his coworker. He does however see his therapist Dr. Patel but doesn’t open up to him too much.

One night, he’s invited to dinner with his friend Ronnie and his wife. He meets Tiffany, a young widow who also has a neurosis condition of her own and also lost her job because of it. Over time, Pat and Tiffany develop a friendship and the friendship becomes closer when it’s obvious she can work with his condition for the better. He even offers to have her relay letters to Nikki. She agrees to as long as he’s willing to be a partner for her in an upcoming Latin dance contest. He also agrees and things get better. It’s through the friendship that Pat is able to open up to Tiffany. Tiffany is even willing to let Pat know that right after she lost her husband, she slept with ever man at her job, which explains why she lost it. Pat hopes that the dance competition will get him to win Nikki back. Tiffany even assists in motivation by giving him a typed letter from Nikki.

Things take a turn for the worse when Pat Sr. asks Pat to come to an Eagles game as a ‘good luck charm’ because he bet a lot of money. Pat agrees but that would mean missing out on the dance practice with Tiffany. It turns out to be a bad idea as Pat sees Dr. Patel with a group of Indo-American Eagles fans. Young males throw bigoted slurs at them, which leads to a fight where Pat gets involved and gets carried off by the police. The Eagles lose the game and Pat Sr. loses the bet big time. Tiffany then gets in on this by telling Pat Sr. and all that their dance practices together are better good luck charms for Philadelphia sports games. So a final bet is made: The Flyers win against the Dallas Cowboys and Pat and Tiffany score at least a 5 in the dance competition. Pat is nervous about it until he rereads the letter from Nikki. Tiffany even says Nikki will be at the competition and is willing to lift the restraining order if they score well.

The day of the game and the competition approaches. Both Pat and Tiffany are nervous, as expected. Nikki arrives to see the dance competition but Tiffany is horrified. Why? She said Nikki would be there, right? The family is busy paying attention to the game at first while Tiffany tries to calm herself down with drinks. Pat is able to spot her in time for the dance and before she could drink any more. The game ends with the Flyers winning and the two are able to score a 5.0 in the dance. Pat Sr. won the bet and will get the restaurant and Pat Jr will get his restraining order lifted. But just when you think things will end as you think it will, it doesn’t and leads to an ending that’s a lot happier and ending you feel it right.

This movie is a surprise. Normally you’d think that making a movie about dealing with bipolarism would not make for a good movie, never mind a comedy, but it does. I believe the biggest reason why this movie is so well is that it does show the negative sides of bipolarism and people reacting to personal tragedies but it shows a ray of light. It shows both the bipolar person and the person dealing with tragedy as 3D people instead of types. It shows them both as people struggling with their setbacks and weaknesses and people trying to fight it out. It shows the unique chemistry between the two that helps them triumph over their difficulties and eventually win both to the other in the end.

It was a big effort to make these two types main characters for a comedy but a romantic comedy… and it succeeds. Tiffany was the perfect one who knew how to make Pat overcome his condition. It was evident that Halloween night when Pat thought he was hearing My Cherie Amour again but Tiffany let him know he was not hearing that song. She was also able to get it through to his family that dance training with her was very helpful in winning the games Philadelphia played. She was also able to use a fake letter from Nikki to give him the motivation even thought it risked biting her in the end. You could tell that Tiffany was more for him than Nikki. A bipolar and a promiscuous widow makes for a bizarre pairing for a romantic comedy but it works here.

The best quality of the movie had to be the acting. Bradley Cooper has to have delivered the best performance of his career. He succeeded in making a 3-dimensional person with bipolarism and make him a character that first appears hateable but become more likeable later on and whom you want to succeed in the end. Jennifer Lawrence gives a performance nothing short of remarkable. It’s not just about doing a character who’s an emotionally-fragile person trying to be the one in control but also doing a character many years older than her (she’s 22) and look convincing, and she does it. If she wins the Oscar, I will not be surprised. Robert De Niro also did a good job as the struggling father who has problems of his own. Jacki Weaver also did an excellent job as the mother even though she didn’t have the showiest of roles. Good supporting turns from Anupam Kher and Chris Tucker add to one of the best acting ensembles of the year.

David O. Russell did a marvelous job in both writing the screenplay and directing the film. His follow-up to The Fighter also delivers excellently and has to be one of the best this year. What you think would be as expected doesn’t and works for the better in the film. Very good adaptation. The other standout feature in the movie is the music. There’s the score from Danny Elfman along with previously released songs. Many of which are already familiar. Its blend into the story works well.

Silver Linings Playbook makes an unlikely pair of characters for a romance movie turn out to be possibly the best romance of the year. Very smart, very sensible, very human and very winning. Definitely amongst the best of the year.