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.
One of my goals each VIFF is to see a Canadian feature-length film. I had the good fortune when I went to see Edge Of The Knife. Not only is it a Canadian feature, but possibly the only feature-length film ever completely in the Haida language!
The film begins with the carving of a wooden mask and then burning it in a fire. The story begins with a meeting of two Haida families over at the Haida Gwaii in Northwestern BC in the 19th Century. It’s an annual fishing camp the families have together. Adiits’ii is the oldest son of and close to the family of Kwa and his son Gaas, who sees Adiits’ii as his mentor. Kwa’s wife Hlaaya finds his appetite for challenges to be too reckless for her son. However Adiits’ii often feels belittled by his own family. Sometimes Kwa makes him feel inferior.
In the evening, Adiits’ii decides to take Gaas onto the waters on boat. Overnight a storm hits the coast. The families fear the worst for Adiits’ii and Gaas. The next morning, the bad news. Gaas is found dead on the coast. Adiits’ii is missing and presumed dead. However Adiits’ii is still alive. He’s in a remote forested location and feels he can’t return because of the reactions from others he fears. Secluded, he becomes overtaken by a huge spirit. He transforms into a Gaagiid/Gaagiixiid — the legendary Haida Wildman — and his behaviors become feral and even demonic. The whole family searches for Adiits’ii. Kwa and his wife are first to discover Adiits’ii, but lashes out at him wanting to kill him. The wife tries to stop him, but that leads Kwa to speak out his belief of who he thinks Gaas’ true father is. The families work to get Adiits’ii captured before they can free him from his possession. They set up a trap and they succeed. It’s at a ritualistic ceremony that involves prayer and piercing of the chest that they have to free Adiits’ii from the possession of the Gaagiixiid. The film ends with Adiits’ii carving out a mask out of wood, the very mask seen at the beginning, and burning it. At the end, we notice it’s in the image of how Adiits’ii was when possessed by the Gaagiixiid.
As far as film quality goes, this is a film I’d call great, but not excellent. The story is very good as it focuses on physical actions and unspoken feelings. However I have seen Canadian films with better dialogue and better story lines. Culturally, this is an excellent film as it captures the Haida culture and the Haida language without any interruption of the English language. Also it captures Haida mythology with excellence. It introduces us to the Gaagiixid. I am not familiar with Haida culture at all, but the film gives me a good understanding about the mythological belief of other beings. We should remember that Adiits’ii is a person with personal demons. He feels like the misfit and he feels like he’s belittled. Although he doesn’t say it, it’s obvious. After the accidental death of Gaas, it’s his guilt that gets the best of him and runs away. It’s there when he turns into the Gaagiixid. I believe the Gaagiixid is all about his personal demons and bad self-image. He had to conquer the Gaagiixid inside of him to truly come to peace with who he is and what he did.
SPOILER WARNING – Ending Revealed In This Paragraph: The film begins with the scene of a mask being carved of wood and then burned in a fire. At first one would wonder why would a person burn a mask that was just carved? Then it’s repeated at the end. At the end, you see that the mask is the image Adiits’ii had as he was fighting his inner demon. Then as you see it burn again, you see why. It’s like the final step in ending the demon inside. That scene is a good interpretation of Haida culture and Haida mythology.
This is an accomplishment of a film as far as culture goes. First off, this is a film done by not one, but two First Nations directors: Gwaii Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown. Secondly, this is a film done completely in the Haida language. This is a film that is essential for the language. At first, Haida was the only language the people spoke. However with the happenings of past history and with modernization, there are only twenty fluent Haida-speakers left. Even though there is educating young people inn the Haida language or even a resurgence of bringing back the language, the struggle is still there. This film does an excellent job in displaying the language and the culture of the Haida people. The idea of the film came back in 2011 by University professor Leonie Sandercock. In making the film, those involved received a Partnership Development Grant of $200,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, so even arts funds knew of the importance of this film to be made. Also to create a time before European settlers arrived really involved a lot of effort.
Also the film has been widely welcomed and celebrated by the Haida peoples and other First Nations peoples of BC. I remember a couple of times during the VIFF, I was waiting to see a film after Edge Of The Knife over at the theatre I was to attend. Each time I was in line, I was given the news that there would be a 30-40 minute delay of the start of my film. As Edge Of The Knife finished, I saw more than just people exiting. I saw some dressed in traditional First Nations costume. Some even brought drums and performed a song of celebration. When I saw that, I felt I had to see Edge Of The Knife when I had the chance. This was more than just something. I’m glad I did.
Gwaii Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown did an excellent job in directing and creating a world far back in the past and appear authentic. The script by Gwaai and Jaalen Edenshaw, Graham Richard and Sandercock was not too intense in terms of dialogue, but it does present a very good story that’s more about emotions and image-based. Tyler York did a very good job as Adiits’ii. His acting was more about what was inside of him rather than what he said. Willy Russ almost stole the show as Kwa. The actors involved are more of a Haida community rather than actors by profession. All did a very good job. The film was light on special effects, but the effects fit the film and the scenes right. It didn’t need more effects than necessary.
Edge Of The Knife may not be the best Canadian film I’ve seen or even the best of subject of First Nations peoples. However this is a very culturally-important film that deserves to be shown. It also tells its story in both an entertaining and mesmerizing way. Definitely worth seeing.
The subject matter of The Post doesn’t sound like the type of subject matter that would win a big crowd, but it is a film worth seeing.
The story goes back in 1966 during the Vietnam War. Military analyst Daniel Ellsberg is in Vietnam with General Robert McNamara to document the progress of the war. McNamara admits to Ellsberg and President Johnson that the war is hopeless but has confidence in the effort, leaving Ellsberg disillusioned.
Years later, Ellsberg is now working for a military contractor and comes across classified documents showing the US’s decades-long involvement in the conflict in Vietnam going back to just a few years after World War II ended. Ellsberg discloses the documents to the New York Times.
It’s 1971. Katharine Graham is head of the Washington Post. It’s been a position she mastered with a lot of difficulty as it’s commonly seen as a ‘man’s position.’ Even though her family founded the Post, the position of the head went to her husband Philip instead of her. It was right after Philip’s suicide that Katharine became head. It’s not easy for a female to be head of a newspaper. Especially someone like Graham who has a good work ethic, but lacks experience and is constantly overruled by the aggressiveness of the men of the Post. On top of that, she seeks to gain an IPO for a stock market launch to propel the Post to greater strength. The Washington Post however is second-fiddle to the New York Times which always has the biggest news scoops, even the scoops of what’s happening in Washington.
Editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee is one of the men who work for her. He tries in vain to be one step ahead of the New York Times in coming up with the latest scoops, but falls short each time. Meanwhile McNamara, who is a friend of Graham’s, confesses to her of how he’s the subject of bad news in the New York Times. It’s through their constant expose of the government’s deception of the American public. However a court injunction blockades any further publication of such news by the Times.
Ellsberg is willing to provide the documents and opportunity to the Post to publish the stories. As they look through the stories to publish, lawyers to the Post advise against publishing the story, fearing the Nixon administration will press criminal charges. Graham seeks advice from McNamara, Bradlee and Post chairman Fritz Beebe of whether to publish. It’s made even more frustrating when the lawyer note that since the sources are the same as the New York Times, Graham herself could be charged with contempt of court. It’s a gamble. Graham risks terminating the newspaper her family established. Alternatively, the Post won such a legal battle, it would establish itself as a major journalism source, much on the same level as the New York Times.
She agrees to have the story published. The White House retaliated by taking both the Times and the Post to the Supreme Court to argue their case of publishing classified document information being a First Amendment Right. Both newspapers receive almost unanimous support from the other newspapers in the US and they win their Supreme Court battle 6-3. An infuriated Nixon bans the Post from the White House. And the rest is infamy… for Nixon.
The film is more than just about a top secret story that needed to be exposed and makes journalism history. The story is also about the newspaper behind the story. We shouldn’t forget that this came at a time when The New York Times was the newspaper that delivered the biggest news about what was happening in the Oval Office and the ones to do it first. Even though the Washington Post was the newspaper of Washington, DC, it was more of a second-fiddle newspaper like the newspapers of the rest of the cities. The New York Times lead and all other newspapers, including the Washington Post followed. This story allowed the Washington Post take pole position towards what was happening in Washington. This would also allow for the Washington Post to be the prime newspaper to go to upon the breaking of the Watergate Scandal. Even despite the Post competing against the Times, they united when they faced the heat of the freedom-of-speech debate and won together.
The film is not simply about a history-making story, a legal breakthrough or even a milestone for a newspaper. It’s also the personal story of Katharine Graham and how she had to achieve greatness for herself. Katharine Graham was born into the paper and assumed control of it right after her husband died. It was always tradition that a man headed the newspaper. After the suicide of her husband, she headed it. The paper her ancestors founded and the paper she wants to propel into marketability. This news story could help be the boost she needed, but the court injunction against the New York Times causes her to put it on hold. Basically she’s gambling everything with this touchy story: the Times, her status as a leader, her role as a woman with power, her role as a mother, even her own personal freedom. In the end, that one decision caused left all of us convinced she did the right thing. She did more than just allow a story. She did more than boost the profile of the Washington Post. She created a breakthrough in freedom of speech and freedom of press. On top of that, she earned the respect from her male colleagues. That was rare back in the early 70’s.
This story is very relevant to the present. We always hear those words ‘fake news.’ We have a feeling that Donald Trump is like a big brother monster who wants to control everything. There are often times in which I wonder if the times of Nixon were worse than the times of Trump. I know all about Nixon and his lust for control. Whatever the times, the story and the court ruling against government censorship of the press serves as a reminder to all citizens that the press has the right to publish the truth to the public. The ruling of the New York Times vs. The United States of America back then was clear: “‘In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” That ruling still applies today.
Leave it to Steven Spielberg to direct a story that will capture our intrigue. Some would describe this type of story as a ‘boring story.’ Steven Spielberg knows how to direct it into something interesting and have us glued to the screens. The screenplay by Josh Singer and Liz Hannah also creates the right interest and intrigue. They’re able to take the chain of events surrounding the publishing of the story and turn it into a story of intrigue. Even a story from a humanist side.
Once again, Meryl Streep delivers in creating depth in a public figure. She gave Katharine Graham the right dimension and the right humanistic tone to make the story work. Tom Hanks also does an excellent job in his role as Ben Bradlee. He delivers in the character very well as he adds some dimension to Bradlee too. The supporting actors may have minor or limited roles, but they add to the film too. Janusz Kaminski does an excellent job of cinematography and John Williams again delivers a fitting score.
The Post is a journalism story that will keep one intrigued. It’s a story that’s very relevant today as it’s also about our own right to know the truth.
“Am I a machine? Am I a war hero? Am I a criminal?”
The Imitation Game is a film that presents us a story of legendary scientist Alan Turing. It shows who he is and his life but also sheds light on many things we didn’t know.
The film opens in 1951 with Alan being investigated by detectives Nock and Staehl. This takes the film back to moments of the past starting in 1939. World War II has started and Turing applies to become part of the cryptography team at Bletchley Park. His ability to decode things and his knowledge that the Nazis use a code called Enigma impressed Commander Alasdair Dennison so much, he brings him on with the team of Hugh Alexander, John Cairncross, Peter Hilton, Keith Furman and Charles Richards.
Turing is difficult to work with as he distances himself from his colleagues. He has an idea for a machine to decipher Enigma but Commander Dennison doesn’t approve. Turing writes to Winston Churchill asking for assistance. Churchill is so impressed with Turing’s idea, he declares him the leader upon which he fires Furman and Richards. He uses a crossword puzzle to find his replacement. Upon which he hires a woman, Cambridge graduate Joan Clarke. Joan however has to deal with her overbearing parents as they don’t want her to work with men and marry immediately. However Turing is convinced enough she’s the right person for the job to the point he provides her a room to stay and work with female clerks while he shares his plans with her.
Difficulties continue as the code of Enigma needs to be reached. First the Germans change the code daily so that the enemies don’t succeed in breaking it. Secondly, Dennison is infuriated with the machine which Turing names Christopher and wants it destroyed and Turing fired. It’s only after the team threaten to leave if Turing is fired that he’s able to continue. Joan is pressured by her parents to either marry or leave her job, to which Turing proposes to her. On top of it, Turing’s team know of his homosexuality but promise to keep it secret.
Even after results happen and Christopher is able to successfully decipher Enigma, the solutions don’t start there. They can’t make it obvious to the Germans that they know Enigma so they have to carefully plan their strategies of attack even if it means considerable time later. Turing learns Cairncross is a spy for the Soviets but is told to keep it a secret or else Cairncross will expose his homosexuality. The place becomes too dangerous for Joan to stay and Turing tells her to leave, outing himself to her and even saying he was only interested in her as a co-worker. Joan leaves angrily. World War II was won and the cryptographers plans are burned.
The film progresses to the 1950’s when Turing was arrested first pursued for hiding confidential information only for them to uncover his homosexuality. His homosexuality was as much of a challenge as his eccentric way of thinking even as far back as his school days when he would be bullied. Fortunately a boy named Christopher befriended him and encouraged him with his coding and shared feelings with him. Unfortunately Christopher died before Alan had a chance to tell him he loved him. At the end, he’s shown with his final struggle with his homosexuality just before his eventual suicide as he’s sentenced to chemical castration: a sentence he chose over two years prison time. In his home where he secludes himself with his own concocted version of the machine Christopher, it’s Joan who comes to him in the end offering moral support and reminding him how significant he was because he was ‘not normal.’
Some would first come to the movie thinking it’s about him and his lifestyle. Some would first think this is autobiographical. It’s more. It presents the story of Alan and his eccentrically intelligent and creative thinking. It presents Alan’s side of the story from beginning to end focusing on the three biggest events in his life: in 1928 as a teenager when he’s first given support of his eccentric imaginative thinking and first learns of his homosexuality; during World War II and the story of the moment and invention that defined him; and in 1951 with Scotland Yard’s trying to link him of a crime only to discover his secret that would lead to his tragic fate. The focus of the story is especially clear at the beginning when Alan asks us: “Are you paying attention?” The film also presents why it was so important for this machine to crack Enigma had to be created as Alan would remind us it wasn’t simply against the War but against time. Especially for the UK which was suffering terribly. It also presents their strategy for helping to win the war as soon as they could.
It’s also very much about Alan the person as it is about Alan and the team working to crack the code. It presents Alan’s intelligence as creative in which he can decipher things through his work on crossword puzzles. It presents Alan as one who also has a very unlikable side including a ruthlessness his coworkers found hard to deal with though they stick with him because they feel he’s the only one who can succeed at cracking the code. They can’t stand him but they believe in him. It especially presents Alan’s homosexuality as for why he was about to go on trial. As he is about to be tried, he looks back on his life for when he was part of the mission to his schoolboy days and his encouragement from Christopher: the one person who truly understood him. It ends with Joan, the one colleague who knew him best and deserves to desert him after what he said to her but comes in the end to remind him of his significance to this world.
It’s obvious that Alan was able to solve Enigma in time but appeared unable to solve himself and even doubt his self-worth just after his sentencing of ‘chemical castration.’ A common thing as we see all too often in history how some of history’s biggest heroes would eventually become rejected by the people and even die lonely. Nevertheless we’re reminded that he still had people willing to stand by him even as he felt worthless. Especially Joan as she reminds him after he becomes a recluse after his defamation: “Do you know, this morning I was on a train that went through a city that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up, on my work, a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you.”
The movie tries to show more of what Alan Turing did as an effort to combat the war rather than focus on his lifestyle. Actually the movie does show about the struggle with his homosexuality throughout his life. His first difficulty came in high school as he fell in love with his friend Christopher and had to pass notes in his special code to him. We should remember that Alan was not beaten up in high school because he was gay but because of his intellectual eccentricities where it first showed its presence. He had continued difficulty during his work as even though his colleagues were supportive of him, they did remind him he could lose his job and be imprisoned because of it. Joan appeared to be the one who dealt with it best as she was not afraid to be in a sham marriage with him especially since it would help get her parents off her case. Then we see at the end as Alan has to deal with his ‘chemical castration’ which would eventually lead to his suicide at 41. We should remember those were the times. It’s because of the criminalization of homosexuality in the past that we had the pride movements that spawned out of the 70’s and are what they are today.
Benedict Cumberbatch did an excellent job in his portrayal of Turing. His performance was full of dimension for a person who was hard to like and had quite an imagination but quite smart and even troubled in the end. It’s a role where he not only acts off of his actors but us the audience too filling us in on all the details and making us think too. You can tell when Alan as narrator tells us to pay attention. Of the supporting players, it’s Keira Knightly as Joan who shines the best as the one who not only helps decipher Enigma but is the one person who can decipher Alan as a person in the end. The actors making up the cryptography team–Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode and Allen Leech– did great both as a team unit and in their own individual moments. Other standout supporting performances came from Rory Kinnear as detective Nick and young Alex Lawther who did a remarkable job playing the young Alan Turing.
Also deserving of acclaim is director Morten Tyldum. Very experienced in his home-country of Norway, this is actually his first direction of a English language feature and it’s an excellent first-effort. Also excellent is the script from Graham Moore. He did an excellent job in creating the story off of Andrew Hodges’ biography setting the three periods of Alan’s life that defined him most and piecing it all together. It succeeds in keeping us interested. Technical aspects were also excellent such as the set design, costuming, cinematography and the composed score by Alexandre Desplat.
The Imitation Game is a unique story about a scientist who went from a hero to a criminal of his time. It tells the story through his eyes and leaves us both interested and getting us to think as well. That’s the movie’s best quality.