Categories
2 Stars Movies

De Diro and Pacino dunk their scrapple in Guinness in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman

Why am I reluctant to publicly pan one of the year’s most acclaimed films? What am I afraid of — being labelled a cinema rat, and getting whacked by a couple of film geeks?

It took me years and years of being a film buff, through film school and beyond, for me to realize that I’m just not into Scorsese. He made one of my personal all-time favorites: The Last Temptation of Christ, which led me to Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel and Peter Gabriel’s score, all of which gave my teenage self a lot to think about. But beyond that: yes, I appreciate how groundbreaking and influential works like Mean Streets, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas are, and the filmmaking craft is often outstanding, but I would rather not watch them again for personal edification. He’s one of those filmmakers I keep up with out of obligation to the canon, not out of any personal interest. I wouldn’t call it a blind spot; more of an immunity.

There’s close to zero new ground broken in The Irishman, and I just don’t understand the praise. A psychopath rationalizing his crimes as being in defense of his family? That’s the entire premise of The Sopranos. A mobster torn between loyalty or betrayal of an unstable friend? That’s 9 out of 10 mob movies ever made (I’m specifically reminded of Donnie Brasco, which boasts a much more soulful performance by Pacino). A peek into the day-to-day operation of the mafia? I guess if you liked the money laundering sequence in Casino, and get off on montages of tough guys collecting fat envelopes, there’s plenty more of that business for you here.

And there’s a limit to how intimidating I find movie-mob dialog (you gotta do that thing, you know the thing we talked about, no not that thing, the other thing, to that guy, no not that guy, the other guy, send him to Australia, no not that Australia, the other Australia, etc). Today, it seems pitifully quaint with reality-TV-money-laundering-compromised-wannabe-gangster Donald Fucking Trump issuing the same kind of insinuating orders to his underlings and soliciting bribes every day from the goddamn White House.

Even more frustrating, Scorsese remains blind to the women in his fictional worlds. I managed to recognize Aleksa Palladino at one point despite the camera practically ignoring her. I don’t want to hear about how pivotal Anna Paquin’s role was; she had about 1 minute of screen time, and maybe five words of dialogue (and that’s out of about 10 from all female characters, period). We know more about the countless male supporting characters all graced with freeze-frame epitaphs. So she recognizes her father’s criminality — so what? So did I, and I didn’t need an onscreen avatar or moral compass to do so. Yes, the mafia as an organization may be a man’s world, and men like Frank are the type to set aside the women in his life, but that doesn’t mean every gangster film has to.

Another thing that drove me nuts: I’m half-Irish and half-German, like Hoffa, and from the Philly area, like Frank, so I couldn’t suspend my disbelief for one second to imagine De Niro and Pacino dunking scrapple in their Guinness.

The most interesting part of the movie for me was when I recognized Jeff Beck playing over the end credits. I can’t find his name cited anywhere in relation to this film, but it had to be him; no one else plays guitar like that.

Categories
4 Stars Movies

Death of a BLEEPing salesman: James Foley’s Glengarry Glen Ross

For better or for worse, Glengarry Glen Ross is very pointedly set in a world of men. I believe only one woman so much as appears in the background of one scene. It’s no accident, oversight, or deliberate act of Hollywood misogyny to banish women from this 24-hour slice of the lives of five bottom-rung salesmen.

Glengarry Glen Ross is full of grand, showboating performances from a dream cast of male master actors Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, and Jonathan Pryce. Baldwin very nearly steals the entire movie with a hilariously aggressive motivational monologue: “What’s my name? ‘Fuck you,’ that’s my name.” It’s all the more extraordinary that Pryce, sometimes guilty of outrageously affected accents and scenery-consumption, masterfully underplays his part as a shy, passive man who can barely speak, let alone assert himself against predator Ricky Roma (Pacino).

Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross
All together now: “What’s my name? …”

The screenplay by David Mamet, expanded from his own stage play, set a high standard for gloriously poetic profanity not to be surpassed until David Milch’s series Deadwood. Famous for his naturalistic dialog (every “um,” “uh,” and stutter is right there on the page; there is no improvisation), Mamet is also a meticulous craftsman of mystery and suspense. But there is one plot detail that trips me up on each viewing: the morning after the sales office is robbed, Shelley Levene (Lemmon) brags about having pulled off an impressive sale of eight units of sketchy property. Roma’s ears prick up at his mention of the signing having been just that morning, obviously sensing something fishy about Levene’s claim. But the time of closure is not inconsistent with Levene’s story, nor is there any reason to suspect that Levene, whatever else he may be guilty of, falsified this particular sale in any way. Roma may simply be surprised that the lately taciturn and ineffectual salesman Levene could not have pulled off such a feat at such an unlikely time unless his spirits were buoyed somehow. Still, Roma demonstrates perhaps the film’s only act of kindness by being the only one to give the old master one last chance to swap victorious war stories.