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.

2 Stars Movies

Everything is… fine… in The Intern

Nancy Meyer’s 2015 trifle The Intern is a little outside the usual scope of this blog, but it sparked a couple thoughts I needed to get out:

What a waste of a decent premise: a retiree reenters a transformed workforce, while the young founder of a startup grapples with success. But so little is at stake for either.

Ben (Robert De Niro) enjoys a comfortable retirement, with a nice home, stable finances, and good health. While he’s a widower, he hardly seems overtaken with grief or loneliness. His urge to reenter the workforce stems from a vague, half-felt malaise, not out of any financial or emotional urgency. He’s… fine.

Jules’ (Anne Hathaway) primary dilemma is whether she should maintain her company’s status quo (which has been functioning… fine) or bring on a more experienced CEO as her business grows (which would also be… fine). She’s also… fine.

The overall feel of this movie is like taking a warm milk bath, where every character was fine, is fine, and will be fine.

But for all its gentle geniality, The Intern does briefly dally with melodrama, as Jules’ frustrated stay-at-home husband smooches another woman. Here, old-school Ben takes a more feminist stance than she. For once, she does not take his seasoned advice, and opts to avoid confrontation with her husband. Similarly, she decides to do nothing with her company. So… everything’s fine.

3 Stars Movies

De Niro and Brodin are somewhere between Toledo and Cleveland in Martin Brest’s Midnight Run

Martin Brest’s Midnight Run is an appealingly loose comedy built on a solid premise. It’s a classic, almost clichéd Hollywood scenario: Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) is one of the world’s last honest cops, rewarded for his integrity by divorce and demotion to the humiliating (and dangerous) level of bounty hunter. His handler Eddie Moscone (Joe “Joey Pants” Pantoliano) raises the lucrative prospect of One Last Job: to escort chief witness Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) in a federal mob case across the country, pursued both by the feds (led by the imposing and perpetually aggrieved Yaphet Kotto) and the mob (the ageless Dennis Farina) alike.

Midnight Run
It’s for you

Walsh has personal business with mob boss Serrano, and so the task quickly becomes a journey of the soul for him. The template is 3:10 to Yuma: an intelligent, articulate “bad guy” travels with gruff and serious “good guy” with money problems and deep-seated resentment for being punished for his honesty. But all this is beside the point. The true pleasure of the movie, and the cause of its continued cult appeal, is all in the actors’ interplay. Grodin has all the hilarious dialog, much of it with the feel of improvisation. In contrast, De Niro seems only equipped to continually retort with “Shut the fuck up,” perhaps by choice to be true to his character as opposed to a failure of creativity. Why has Grodin been in so few movies?

Midnight Run
Yaphet Kotto does not suffer fools lightly

Also of interest is an early score by Danny Elfman, later to gain a reputation for whimsical fantasy music for Tim Burton and The Simpsons. Brest, the director of Beverly Hills Cop, stages a massive multi-car chase approaching the absurdly funny levels of The Blues Brothers.

Midnight Run is actually not all that funny a comedy, not that thrilling a thriller, nor that penetrating a character study. But it is nevertheless great fun to watch, and crying out for a sequel.

Must read: the original Midnight Run shooting script

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