The Irishman (2019)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci

Screenplay: Steven Zaillian

209 mins. Rated R for pervasive language and strong violence.

IMDb Top 250: #221 (as of 1/2/2020)

 

It took a long time to make, and it took a long time to watch, but The Irishman has arrived. It’s a weighty tome of a crime epic, and it’s a crazy mixture of classic Scorsese gangster films and more contemplative, thoughtful filmmaking. It’s also, according to Scorsese himself, Cinema. Now let’s just see if it’s as good as I hoped.

Robert De Niro (Raging Bull, Joker) stars as Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman who climbs the ranks of organized crime, making friends but working for himself. Frank gets involved with Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci, Goodfellas, Love Ranch) of the Bufalino crime family and befriends Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino, Serpico, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood), a teamster with connections to illegal activity. Now, Frank, as an old man, reflects on the countless acts that raised him higher in the world of organized crime and, perhaps, why he’s so alone now.

The first and most notable strength of The Irishman is in its performances. There’s not a single squeaky wheel in the whole production, but specifically the three leads are giving truly strong, as expected, performances. There’s a level of restraint to each of them, specifically De Niro’s quiet, contemplative Frank. Frank consistently makes the decision to put his responsibilities to his work above most of his friends and all of his family, and De Niro capably performs each of these periods of Frank’s life with ease.

Al Pacino’s take on Jimmy Hoffa is more restrained than the usual Pacino performances (with all due respect), but he plays Hoffa’s arrogance with precision. Pacino does a whole lot with a smaller amount of screen time. Jimmy Hoffa has been played by several major actors, and Pacino provides another unique and worthwhile take on the teamster.

The most surprising turn of the lead actors is Joe Pesci’s triumphant return to the screen with Russell Bufalino. Pesci has been off the acting tree for the last decade, and I don’t recall seeing him in a movie since The Good Shepherd. Does Pesci seem like he’s been missing from acting? No, not at all! He’s incredible, and he’s so subdued. I think that’s why he’s so good here as well. In so many appearances, Joe Pesci is the loud one, the violent one, but here, he’s quiet, he’s thoughtful, and he’s engaging.

This is Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story) at his most contemplative. He’s using new themes like mortality and blending them with his mobster morality to create something we haven’t seen within the shell of something familiar. This is why we keep seeing characters popping up with their date and cause of death. We begin to see that, like with most people, his circle of friends, family, and confidantes gets smaller, but that becomes more accelerated due to his choice of work. It’s a sadder film, and it’s a film that Scorsese couldn’t have made even ten years ago.

The Irishman is not perfect, though, and its cardinal problem is its pacing. It doesn’t bother me that the film is long, but there are pacing issues that plague that lengthy run time. It didn’t sustain a speed to match the length. It sustained my interest, but not in the way that Scorsese’s have done before.

I also believe that the film does not showcase its aging technology as perfectly as I had hoped. There are moments that look incredible, and then certain shots and sequences in the film do not work at all. I don’t mind that Frank seems to move like he’s an older gentleman throughout his entire life, but some of it looked like plastic. Not enough to ruin the film, but it is noticeable enough to remind you that it’s there.

The Irishman isn’t a traditional epic in every sense, but it mostly works. It’s a view of an aging mobster seen through the eyes of an aging filmmaker, and it’s reflective and quiet and contemplative. It’s an incredible story and film, one worth its run time, one that I cannot wait to watch again.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 3 – Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Cast: Alexa Vega, Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Brightburn, Paris Hilton, Ogre, Terrance Zdunich, Bill Moseley, Paul Sorvino

Screenplay: Darren Smith, Terrance Zdunich

98 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, language, some drug and sexual content.

 

Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, St. Agatha) came off his run of Saw films with several dark operatic fantasy/horror films, the first being Repo! The Genetic Opera. I remember being extremely excited for this one, having been such a fan of the Saw franchise. I even had a few college friends (I’m dating myself here) come by my dorm so we could watch it when the home video was released (in those days, we had to drive to Walmart to get such films). As I put the disc in (in those days, movies were on discs) and sat back with the others to watch, a momentary question popped into my head: what if it sucked?

In the not-too-distant future, organ failures have crippled the planet, and the corporation known as GeneCo steps in to aid the crisis by creating payment plans for organ transplants, but if you are unable to make your debts, they send the Repo Men, trained killers who take the organs by, likely causing in the client’s death. GeneCo’s CEO, Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino, GoodFellas, Acts of Desperation) is sick and looking for an heir to his empire. Of his three children, he sees nothing but failure, so instead he looks to Shilo (Alexa Vega, Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams, Christmas Made to Order), the daughter of his ex-fiancé, Marni. Shilo’s father Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) wants nothing to do with the Largos, but he is in a situation where he cannot fight the family on his own while still keeping his sick daughter safe from the world.

Repo! The Genetic Opera has a lot of exposition to its science fiction elements, but it handles most of that info quite well through its operatic and amusing songs. Many of these songs stayed with me after watching the film once, and I kept going back to it. This is a strange movie, and I wouldn’t say that I quite loved it the first time I saw it, but the songs kept returning me to it, and it has now developed in me a cult following similar to other midnight madness films like the Rocky Horror Picture Show (though, not to that level) and The Room (though much better).

Anthony Stewart Head slays this movie. I had not been much of a Buffy fan when I first saw Repo! but I had others with me that knew of his abilities as an actor and singer, especially from the Once More With Feeling musical episode of Buffy.  That’s actually what got him the job for Repo! and it’s easy to see that it was a good call.

What’s so interesting about the casting for Repo! is how director Bousman took advantage of his small budget to cast the film with unlikely pairings of performers, some with singing talent, some with acting chops, some with neither (looking at you, Paris), and then performers who could mine the camp of the material, like Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects, American Exorcist) as the son, Luigi Largo. It reminds me of a term that the Russo Brothers came up with for their Avengers movies: strange alchemy. The way Bousman captures performers from wildly different backgrounds for Repo! gives it a special unforgettable quality that makes the cheesiness seem rather artistic.

Now, there’s a lot of things that don’t work. The film may have been too ambitious with its smaller budget, and much of the special effects look pretty poor. The idea to animate the flashbacks like a comic book sounds cool on the surface, but it does come off a little sluggish. Not all the songs work. Not all the performers do either. The ending leaves a bit to be desired. The film has its faults, but some of them actually aid the film while others detract from the enjoyment.

Repo! The Genetic Opera is not even close to a flawless experience, and it’s a movie that isn’t for everyone, but I suggest it to a lot of people looking for a fun musical experience that’s unlike a lot of films that came before it. Bousman tried to follow-up this film with two other dark fantasy/musicals in The Devil’s Carnival duology, but neither really hit where Repo! did. Repo! works due to a selection of amusing and mostly catchy music, a scene-stealer performance from Head, and a unique viewpoint from a promising horror director. Seek this one out.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

For my review of the anthology film Tales of Halloween, click here.

For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 22 – Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival (2015)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Cast: Emilie Autumn, Barry Bostwick, Chantal Claret, Dayton Callie, Briana Evigan, Brea Grant, David Hasselhoff, Kristina Klebe, J. LaRose, Mighty Mike Murga, Bill Moseley, Ted Neely, Adam Pascal, Tech N9ne, Nivek Ogre, Marc Senter, Lyndon Smith, Paul Sorvino, Jimmy Urine, Danny Worsnop, Terrance Zdunich

Screenplay: Terrance Zdunich

97 mins. Not Rated.

 

I was very on the fence about The Devil’s Carnival. I really enjoyed the collaboration between director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Abattoir) and Terrance Zdunich (Chain of Souls) on Repo! The Genetic Opera, and I was hoping to feel that same fire again. Sadly, I did not. Hoping that the first shorter piece was just a fluke, I ventured into the sequel, a feature-length follow-up with a grander story. I was unpleasantly disappointed.

Lucifer (Zdunich) is sending a train filled with condemned souls back to heaven. Meanwhile, in Heaven,  God (Paul Sorvino, GoodFellas, Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game) is figuring out a plan with his top Agent (Adam Pascal, Rent, Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2). Back in Hell, Lucifer is telling one of his favorite stories about a woman named June (Emilie Autumn) and her time in Heaven.

There’s somehow even less of a story in this longer sequel to the original film. Many of the musical numbers toss around parables and information but most of it is far too convoluted for anyone to really connect with it. Zdunich clearly has a mind and eye for the fantastical, but it is just poorly executed here.

I liked some of the grander additions to the cast this time around. Emilie Autumn gets way more screentime and she is quite an interesting character. Barry Bostwick (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Incredibles 2) appears as The Watchword, a sort of journalist of Heaven. David Hasselhoff (Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, TV’s Baywatch) is quite fun as The Designer. Ted Neely (Jesus Christ Superstar, Django Unchained) appears as The Publicist in a fun song-and-dancey performance that was enjoyable to watch. None of these interesting new characters are afforded the time in the film to raise its quality, though.

Sadly, Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival starts out promising and then makes the same mistakes that its predecessor did. Instead of the first film being a bad fluke, perhaps Repo! was just a good fluke.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

For my review of the anthology film Tales of Halloween, click here.

[12 Days of Christmas] On the Eighth Day… Home Alone (1990)

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Director: Chris Columbus

Cast: Macauley Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara

Screenplay: John Hughes

103 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Song “Somewhere in My Memory”
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Growing up, I was not a major fan of Home Alone. I can’t really say why, but perhaps I feel like the film was oversaturated and existed in such a wide capacity that it was just too much. Every year with this film, and I often confused the events of the first film with those of the second which was very jarring.

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At the behest of my mother, who adores the film, I took a look back on it a few years back. My feelings were very different that time around.

Kevin McAllister (Macauley Culkin, Richie Rich, Sex and Breakfast) doesn’t connect with his family. In fact, he wishes he never had a family. When he awakens one morning to discover that his family is gone, he is overjoyed that his wish came true. Kevin’s family has gone to France without him, but now he is home alone while two criminals named Harry (Joe Pesci, GoodFellas, The Good Shepherd) and Marv (Daniel Stern, TV’s Manhattan, City Slickers), known as the Wet Bandits, try to break into his home. It is up to Kevin to protect his home and himself while his mother (Catherine O’Hara, The Nightmare Before Christmas, A.C.O.D.) attempts to get back home to spend Christmas with her son.

I like this movie much more as an adult. There is something about returning to the imagination like a situation like this actually happening. I didn’t have the growing up experience where I wanted to get rid of my family. I enjoyed Macauley Culkin’s ability to carry this movie and the great supporting work from Pesci and Stern certainly help. John Hughes (Vacation, The Breakfast Club) knows how to write a screenplay, and this is one drastically different from his 1980’s teen comedy work. Then there’s Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), who isn’t so much a good director as he is a capable one. He does fine work here assisted by a powerful and unsettling score from John Williams.

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Looking back, Home Alone was a fun time to watch a movie. It has the insane premise which amazingly works quite well, it isn’t derailed by a less-than-amazing Chris Columbus or the bumbling thieves or even the quite rude family members. Still a fun time; still a Christmas miracle.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Dumb and Dumber (1994)

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Director: Peter Farrelly

Cast: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Lauren Holly, Karen Duffy, Mike Starr, Charles Rocket, Victoria Rowell, Teri Garr

Screenplay: Peter Farrelly, Bennett Yellin, Bobby Farrelly

107 mins. Rated PG-13 for off-color humor.

 

1994 was a very good year for films. I may have already discussed this, but I feel like I need to reiterate. 1994 was one of the best years for films in history. From a critical standpoint, we had such classics as Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, and Forrest Gump. From a comedy standpoint, audiences received a hilarious turkey (or triple play) from Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kick-Ass 2) with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb & Dumber. It was a great year.

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Dumb & Dumber is a bit of a comedy enigma. The film is far too stupid and outlandish to be good, and yet it is one of the most incredibly perfect comedies ever constructed.

Lloyd Christmas (Carrey) is an idiot. He has just fallen in love at first sight with a woman he doesn’t even know named Mary (Lauren Holly, TV’s NCIS, Spirited Away) and when he finds a briefcase she has lost in an airport terminal, he vows to return it to her. He enlists dog groomer and best friend Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels, TV’s The Newsroom, Good Night and Good Luck) who, like Lloyd, is an idiot, to help him in his quest and make a new name for themselves in the land of opportunity, Aspen. The trouble is, Mary didn’t lose her briefcase, and Lloyd and Harry have entangled themselves in a plot more menacing than either could have anticipated.

The film is made by its performances. Everybody in this movie plays it straight to the book except Carrey and Daniels, and it is made all the more goofy than it should be. We have some incredible supporting work from Mike Starr (TV’s The Young and the Restless, GoodFellas) as a hitman trying to take our lovable morons out of the picture. There is also the terrific late actor Charles Rocket (Dances with Wolves, Hocus Pocus) who is a family friend of Mary’s.

There are some truly laugh-out-loud moments and one-liners that keep this film at the forefront of fans’ minds long after viewing for the zillionth time. I still cringe at the encounter that the dumb-dumbs have with local law enforcement after getting discovered with an open bottle. I still giggle everytime the guy in the diner yells “Kick his ass, Seabass!” and I still find a happy place every time Seabass tries to get revenge on Lloyd in the bathroom stall of a gas station.

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To make a long story short, or for that matter, a smart story dumb, Dumb and Dumber is a perfect comedy that belongs in a hall of fame alongside other greats like Tommy Boy and Animal House. It stands the test of time even after twenty years and I can see it living on another few decades.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Frankenstein (1994)

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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hulce, Helena Bonham Carter, Ian Holm, John Cleese, Aidan Quinn

Screenplay: Steph Lady, Frank Darabont

123 mins. Rated R for horrific images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup

 

After the commercial and critical success that was Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, the decision was made to revisit another gothic horror classic novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Coppola made the decision to pass directorial duties to the talented Shakespearian director/performer Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Cinderella), something he would later in life admittedly regret, but we will get to that later.

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Frankenstein 1994 is closer to Shelley’s original novel than its 1931 counterpart, showing the story of Victor Frankenstein (played by Branagh) and his making of the iconic Creature (Robert De Niro, GoodFellas, Grudge Match), much to the tragedy of friend Henry Clerval (Tom Hulce, Amadeus, Jumper) and love Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club, Burton and Taylor).

Frankenstein suffers from a crisis of identity. On one hand, it is trying to be a gothic horror filled with a mixture of dark realism and fantastical surrealism; on the other hand, it is too much Shakespeare. Branagh seems to have difficulty playing to anything other than Shakespeare, with a series of over-the-top performances and exaggerated jubilation during the happy moments. I just couldn’t believe the events of this film as actually realistically happening.

De Niro dominates this film with his portrayal of The Creature. He studied stroke victims and other medical cases where speech patterns can be fractured in his line delivery. He becomes a tragic figure in cinema, a man who is ultimately an angry boy with a conflict of adult attraction and childhood longing for understanding. I could watch this movie just for Robert De Niro.

The rest of the cast really struggles here with giving viewers something to attach themselves to. Nobody can decide the tone and mood of a picture like this. I’m not saying the film is a complete failure, but it certainly has more detachers than strengths.

The screenplay is pretty strong here, delivered by Steph Lady (Doctor Dolittle) and Frank Darabont (TV’s The Walking Dead, The Shawshank Redemption). I enjoy the addition of unique steps in the creation of Frankenstein’s monster; this film has electric eels rather than the toted lighting. That being said, Frankenstein’s obsession with lighting in the beginning now makes less sense and has less impact on the actual movie.

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I would say that Frankenstein isn’t a worthless movie, but it has unnecessary conflict behind the scenes that reduces the tension in front of the camera. Coppola agreed that the film was scary and that Branagh completely mishandles the picture, and I can’t say my opinion differs.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 1 – The Devil’s Carnival (2012)

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Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Cast: Emilie Autumn, Sean Patrick Flanery, Briana Evigan, Jessica Lowndes, Paul Sorvino, Terrance Zdunich, Bill Moseley

Screenplay: Terrance Zdunich

56 mins. Not Rated.

 

Now, I get it, technically speaking, this isn’t a movie. More of a short since it doesn’t really meet the 75 minutes and up criteria that a lot of people consider a release as a feature length film, but I figured that it was something I needed to see, having heard good things for so long about it. I really loved Darren Lynn Bousman’s work with the Saw franchise and Repo! The Genetic Opera, so when it came time to test out another of his works, I was excited. Until I saw it.

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I must say, it wasn’t all bad, but none of it was particularly good. The plot revolves around three newly deceased souls who enter a purgatory-like place called The Devil’s Carnival, where they proceed to be judged based on the nature of their sins in life. The three stories are based on Aesop’s Fables, but I didn’t feel any connection to any of these characters. All we ever really know about any of them is how they died, which I would say is important information, but I can’t root for or condemn anyone based on the nature of death as it is usually something out of one’s control. John (Sean Patrick Flanery, TV’s Dexter, The Boondock Saints)commits suicide out of grief for the loss of his son. Tamara (Jessica Lowndes, TV’s 90210, The Haunting of Molly Hartley) is murdered by her boyfriend. Ms. Merrywood (Briana Evigan, Step Up 2: The Streets, Mother’s Day) is killed in a shootout. Each one goes through several macabre steps but the motive is unclear.

The performances from much of the cast fine, with special points to Paul Sorvino (GoodFellas, Jersey Shore Shark Attack) as God and Terrance Zdunich as Lucifer. The whole issues comes down to whether or not this is actually anything new. The entirety of the film felt to me like passed over ideas from Zdunich’s previous work with Bousman in Repo! The Genetic Opera, a more refined and much stronger rock opera with definite character development. I felt like the film I was watching came down to just watching these people meander this strange environment, but I just thought there would be more to it.

The music is another factor here. It is uneven and just not all that engaging.

The makeup is a reason to see it, but not a reason to love it.

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I would say that The Devil’s Carnival has been done before, and if given the option, I would pick the far superior Repo! for my viewing pleasure.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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